Cold War II: Electric Boogaloo

It sure feels like we’re in the 1960s doesn’t it?

On July 18th, Malaysia Air flight MH17 departed from Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and was scheduled to land at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The flight path had the airplane flying over the Ukrainian-Russian border, which has recently been a hotbed of civil strife and fighting since last December. Approximately 50 miles from the border, Ukrainian Air Traffic Control lost contact with MH17.

MH17_map.svg
Flight path of flight MH17

At around the same time, social media accounts of many pro-Russian separatists operating in the area were filled with celebratory messages. According to the separatists, they shot down a Ukrainian military aircraft, the third one this week. Their Twitter and Facebook accounts were full of now-deleted tweets and posts bragging about their latest victory.

 

Facebook account of Colonel Igor Strelkov of the separatists.
Facebook account of Colonel Igor Strelkov of the separatists.

The post above reads: “In the Torez region, they have destroyed an AN-26 transport plane. Its wreckage landed near the ‘Progress’ mine. This will teach them: Do not fly in ‘our skies.’ And here is the video confirming the ‘crash of the bird.’ The bird fell on open fields. It did not damage inhabited sectors. Peaceful people did not suffer. And there is information about a second destroyed plane; looks like an SU.”

Video also soon surfaced of a massive fireball erupting in a field near the Ukrainian town of Hrabove.

The separatist had indeed shot down an airplane, but it was a civilian aircraft, not a military one. All 283 passengers and 15 crew members died in the crash. None of them were Ukrainian nationals, none of them had anything to do with the conflict in the area. Among the dead were over 190 Dutch and many revered AIDS researchers/advocates that were en route to the 20th AIDS Conference in Melbourne.

Wreckage of flight MH17
Wreckage of flight MH17

The investigation is still on-going as to who was the perpetrators of this atrocious act of terrorism, but all the evidence at the time being would suggest that the Russian-backed separatists were the ones who shot down flight MH17. The separatists have taken control of the wreckage and the crash site. Many of them can be seen patrolling the area, fully armed and masked.

 

Pro-Russia rebels survey the crash zone.

 

As the plane was hit mid-air, the bodies of a couple of the passengers rained down on surrounding fields and even a few of the homes. The bodies of the dead have been left to rot; not until recently have the bodies been boarded into refrigerated trains

Only until recently have the separatists allowed a more open investigation to take place. The crash sight, however, is far from intact. The separatists have combed through the wreckage as well as the bodies and the scattered luggage. There have even been reports of separatists using the credit cards of the Dutch victims. The black box, a crucial part of the investigation, was also seen being carried off by a separatist, which could further hamper any investigation efforts.

The separatists might be preventing access to and disturbing the wreckage field in a futile attempt to draw the blame from themselves. Although both the separatists and Russia have denied any involvement (with Russia even pinning the blame on the Ukraine), there has been much evidence that points to the rebels.

Along with the since-deleted social media posts that were mentioned earlier, Ukrainian officials have also intercepted calls between rebels. In these leaked calls, the separatists discuss These calls are still unconfirmed, but United States intelligence officials say they have no reason to think they’re not authentic. Reports have stated that the separatists got their hands on a Russian-designed surface-to-air missile system called the “buk” in June when they took over control of a Ukrainian military base. Video of the buk crossing back into Russia from Ukraine shortly after the downing of MH17 has also surfaced.

Picture of Buk missile system being smuggled back into Russia with two missiles missing.

While Russia has denied any involvement in the crash of MH17, it’s evident that Russia did play some role in this. Since the beginning of this conflict, the Russians have supported the separatists both logistically and militarily. As previously mentioned, the buk missile system was believe to have originated in Russia. The buk isn’t a point-and-shoot piece of equipment; it is sophisticated and officials believe the  separatists needed some sort of formal training from the Russians to operate it.

The crash of flight MH17 and subsequent lack of cooperation on behalf of the Russians has struck a sense of deja vu among some; after all, this wouldn’t be the first time the Russian government has shot down a civilian airplane and have hampered the investigation.

On September 1, 1983 the Russians (at the time the Soviet Union) shot down a civilian Korean Air flight that was passing over Soviet airspace. All 269 passengers, including The parallels between this crash and the crash of flight MH17 are uncanny. In both incidents, the Russians denied any involvement, though it was somewhat self-evident they had some involvement. In both incidents, the Russians also covered up and denied any involvement. In the Korean Air incident, the USSR didn’t release the flight data recorder or the cockpit voice recorder until 1992, nine years after the incident.

This terrorist attack has escalated what has been a local conflict into a global crisis. While the toughest the United States and its allies have issued Russia is some strongly worded messages and economic sanctions, it does not appear as if Russia is backing down anytime soon. Global relations with Russia, our post-WWII Nemesis have once again frosted over, and for now there’s no telling if they’ll thaw out anytime soon.

 

 

 

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