A Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 bound for Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam was shot down in eastern Ukraine Thursday afternoon, killing all 298 passengers and crew. It was hit as it cruised at 33,000 feet above the war-ravaged Donetsk Oblast, 35 miles west from the Russian border. The airliner’s demise has the potential to escalate the Ukrainian crisis to an entirely new level.
The White House was quick to imply that the Russians were to blame for the disaster: “While we do not yet have all the facts, we do know that this incident occurred in the context of a crisis in Ukraine that is fueled by Russian support for the separatists, including through arms, materiel, and training,” its statement read only hours after the crash. “This incident only highlights the urgency with which we continue to urge Russia to immediately take concrete steps to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine.”
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko promptly accused the rebels for the incident, calling it an “act of terrorism.” Late last night I received an email from the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry with the link to an audio file containing two “intercepted conversations” in which pro-Russian separatists discuss having just shot down a civilian plane with their alleged GRU handlers:
---------- Original Message ----------
Subject: MFA: English and German Subtitles - Evidences of shooting down the civil Boeing-777 by terrorists in Donetsk
Date: Fri, 18 Jul 2014 00:27:11 +0300
Evidences of shooting down the civil Boeing-777 by terrorists in Donetsk region, Ukraine, on 17th July
(Rus lang - ENGLISH SUBTITLES)
---------- End of Original Message ----------
The link was simultaneously released to various media outlets around the world, and reported as credible. The authenticity of the tape was challenged almost immediately, however, including the apparent evidence that the Ukrainian security service USB had prepared its recording for quick release several hours before the airliner went down. (Thus far I have not been able to track any refutation of this interesting claim.)
There is at least one “known-known”: it is widely accepted that the plane was hit by a ground-to-air missile, probably launched from an SS11 “Buk” medium-range, self-propelled battery (NATO codename “Grizzly”). It is certain that the Ukrainian government forces have had such missiles in the region since July 4 at the latest. It is not certain whether pro-Russian rebels also have them. They have denied it, but last Monday they shot down a government-operated Antonov An26 transport plane at an altitude of 20,000 feet, which is well above the range of shoulder-launched missiles (MANPADs) or anti-aircraft artillery which they are known to possess. Furthermore, a Russian website reported the downing of a government transport plane yesterday afternoon in the area where the Malaysian airliner was hit. From the Russian-language text it is unclear, however, whether the source of the report on the ground knew with certainty who fired the missile or made a hasty assumption about the plane’s identity after the crash.
Even if the rebels pressed the launch button, the key question is whether they were deliberately set up to do so by the Ukrainian authorities. A key piece of information, overlooked elsewhere, came in this report by The Guardian:
Igor Sutyagin, a Russian military specialist at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, said … that a Ukrainian transport plane had been flying overhead close to the time that the missile was fired at the Malaysia Airlines plane, suggesting that may have been the original target. The transport plane had been trying to relieve a beleaguered Ukraine garrison.
The Malaysian airliner was guided by the Kiev flight control center at the time of the accident, in apparent violation of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council decision to close the airspace over eastern Ukraine because of the government’s ongoing “anti-terrorist operation” in the region. Significantly, on July 8, Ukraine’s State Aviation Service banned all flights over the Donetsk and Lugansk regions in order to provide “adequate safety and security for all flights of civil aircraft.” No civilian airliner should have been there, on Kiev’s own reckoning.
In a rare show of tacit agreement with Kiev, a representative of the self-proclaimed Donetsk Republic said that civil aviation planes could not fly over Donetsk and Lugansk regions since all necessary traffic control and navigation equipment was damaged. “Dispatching support of all passenger flights is being conducted from Kiev. How this plane could be there – is not clear,” he said, adding that the Donetsk airport communication tower, “which is a part of the integrated air traffic control system, was blown up during fighting. Planes cannot fly here.”
An outright false-flag operation would have entailed the Kiev authorities shooting down the airliner and blaming the rebels. An elaborate false-flag operation would have entailed guiding the airliner into a war zone, in contravention of the regime’s own proclaimed rules, sending a government military transporter into that same zone at exactly the same time when the Malaysian airliner was entering it, and hoping that the rebels fire the missile in the reasonable assumption that anything that flies is non-civilian and therefore a legitimate target.
This is what I believe has happened, less than 24 hours after the event, having spent a sleepless night examining the available evidence. I may be wrong, but reputation-defining gut feelings have been proven right in the past. The Western media pack’s inevitable focus will be on “who fired the missile,” and not “under what circumstances, and why.” The intended political payoff is summarized in John McCain’s predictably bloodthirsty howl that there would be “hell to pay” if the plane was shot down by the Russian military or separatists. The Nulandesque clique in Washington will use such statements prudently. It is likely to have engineered the ploy – the exercise would be way beyond Pororshenko’s or the Right Sector’s league – and the trans-Atlantic advisors have ample experience in the field: think Saddam’s WMDs in 2003, Bosnia’s Markale in 1994, Kosovo’s Racak “massacre” stage-managed in January 1999 compliments of CIA agent William Walker, Bashar al Assad’s “gassing of his own people” in the suburbs of Damascus last August, or Gaddafy’s “imminent genocide” in Benghazi two years earlier…
Yes, there will be calls for an all-out proxy war against Moscow, or lethal sanctions against Russia as “the ultimate culprit” for “the atrocity.” It will be conveniently forgotten that an Iranian civilian Airbus with 300 passengers and crew was wantonly shot down – with far less contextual justification – by the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf in 1988. It will not be mentioned that on October 4, 2001, a Russian Tu-154M passenger plane flying from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk crashed over the Black Sea, having been shot down by a Ukrainian S-200 missile fired during military exercises in Crimea, killing all 78 passengers and crew. It was flying at 33,000 feet – just like the Malaysian airliner – but it was not subject to any restrictions, unlike the doomed Boeing 777, whose 298 passengers and crew were sacrificed to broader geopolitical objectives.
Dr. Srdja Trifkovic, Foreign Affairs Editor of Chronicles, is the author of The Sword of the Prophet and Defeating Jihad.