MH17 Disaster: Is Russia “The Monster At The Bottom Of The Abyss?”

THREE DAYS after the criminal atrocity of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, the finger of world condemnation is pointed directly at Russia, whose denials of all responsibility over the incident have also attracted the full force of international fury; amid reports of looting and stealing evidence by Russian-backed separatists at the crash site, and with the risk of military confrontation real, is it the case that Russia is the monster at the bottom of the abyss?

I have to admit that when I first posted on this matter on Friday, I took great care not to prejudge Russia in seeking to lash out at a scapegoat; it does seem — based on the millions of words printed and broadcast on the subject since then in the mainstream media, and elsewhere in the commentariat — that I needn’t have bothered to be circumspect.

From the moment news broke that MH17 had been shot down over Ukraine it seemed inconceivable that anyone else could be blamed for what increasingly appears to have been the state-sanctioned butchery of nearly 300 Western civilians, and I’m sorry if readers misinterpreted caution as confusion.

Those who’ve been with me for the long haul know, however, that I have never had any faith in “democratic” Russia, nor in its purported bona fides as a responsible and honourable international citizen. Something like this was always going to happen, unfortunately, and whilst what has transpired is and will be horrific for the families and friends of the deceased to now have to deal with, one has to wonder exactly where this will all lead — and what, at the end of the day, Russia might do next.

I want to start this morning by sharing something with readers; it’s an article by American scholar Jeff Nyquist, whose area of speciality is strategic geopolitics and, specifically, examining modern Russia through the prism of its Soviet past in order to understand, interpret and anticipate how it might behave in the future. Some of what Nyquist writes has a distinctly conspiratorial whiff about it, just to be clear. But the vast bulk of it is right on the money, and it is important to remember that when Nyquist talks of something that is “near” or “close,” or which might happen “tomorrow,” he isn’t necessarily speaking literally.

Back in October 2008, Nyquist posed the question of “the monster at the bottom of the abyss;” remembering the context — the global financial crisis was unfolding, and Russia’s activities in Georgia and South Ossetia had shocked the world — the article is obviously historical in nature viewed in connection to current events. Yet some of the points he makes (and even the issues at play even then) are chillingly salient.

For one thing, the strategic Russian objective of splitting Europe from its march in lockstep with the United States is arguably more advanced today than it was in 2008; for another, Germany is central to the European response to the MH17 tragedy and in this context, the outrage it expresses toward Russia is telling. Further, Nyquist speaks of the Russian tactic of using energy security (or the threat of withholding it from Europe) as a means with which to advance its agenda, and as we all know, Russia has readily done so where its eastern European “partners” — read, reunification targets in Vladimir Putin’s USSR reconstruction project — are concerned.

He does reference “President Medvedev,” the puppet quisling exploited by Putin to circumvent constitutional term limits on the Russian presidency, although no-one should be fooled as to who was really running Russia during the so-called Medvedev years. And perhaps most importantly, Nyquist has (rightly) been a trenchant and resolute critic of the Obama presidency in the USA, calling out its weakness, and ripping into the Obama agenda of American nuclear disarmament at the very time Russia has modernised and upgraded its strategic forces.

(I published an article dealing with that last point — which also touches on the Ukraine issue — in April, that can be accessed here).

For me, the killer passage in this article lies in the lines that read “Everyone knows that Russia is dangerous. Partnering with Russia is like playing with fire.” And it is there — right there — that I draw the link back from the contemporary events Nyquist discusses in his article to the travesty that took place on Friday morning, Melbourne time. The global community — and the West in particular — has contrived to “partner” with Moscow. Now that push is beginning to come to shove, it seems the West is destined to be burned for its trouble.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has labelled Putin’s dismissal of any responsibility for MH17 being shot down, and for the lives of murdered innocents, as being “deeply, deeply unacceptable;” in return, Putin has delivered Abbott a tongue lashing of his own. His contention that the rocket that downed the Boeing 777 was either supplied by the Ukrainian government directly or stolen from it by pro-Russian separatists defies and beggars belief on many levels, but the bottom line is that Putin will not tolerate criticism from those he deems to rank beneath him, even among his peers.

In the meantime, there is ample evidence that directly or indirectly, the blame for what happened on Friday lies squarely at the feet of Russia and its master.

Global news broadcasters showed footage last weeks of shipments of arms and other materials continuing to be transferred across the Russia-Ukraine border and into the willing hands of Russian-backed insurgents even as Putin himself was giving US President Barack Obama assurances he would do everything to de-escalate the explosively tense situation in Eastern Ukraine.

Ample evidence has been presented in the mainstream media that instruction and training in the use of weapons such as the Soviet-built BUK surface-to-air missile system believed to have been used to bring MH17 down was provided to the insurgents by Russian forces, as have intercepted recordings of telephone conversations between the insurgents gloating about their success in “hitting” a passenger plane. (There are reports of intercepted telephone conversations between insurgents reporting back to Moscow, too, although these remain, at time of writing, unverified).

Since the ill-fated MH17 crashed, it seems insurgent forces have looted the wreckage at will: everything from the aeroplane’s black box flight recorders to debris from the crash, and to the passports and valuables of its passengers — and even, in one report I saw, dead bodies — has been a free for all for these barbarians, and where and/or to whom the materials taken is unknown. Yet Russia, in explicitly backing the insurgent forces and almost overtly partnering in their campaign — going so far as to claim the Russian Army uniforms it supplied them had been stolen — lies at the core of every aspect of the disaster that has cost nearly 300 innocent lives to date.

The eventual cost, of course, is unknown, and not just measured in the lost lives Russia obviously judges to herald no value.

In the spirit of sharing news articles on this issue, here and here are a couple of the better ones doing the rounds this morning.

I said on Friday that there was a possibility that the shooting down of MH17 and the senseless slaughter of civilians posed the prospect that World War 3 might have started; nobody has laughed, and nobody has dismissed the carefully nuanced suggestion out of hand. In fact, here in Australia, both the Fairfax and Murdoch press have also opined, explicitly, in similar terms over the past few days.

What might have been paranoid conspiracy theory a week ago certainly isn’t that now, and whilst the enduring hope that sane and rational heads prevail still carries with it the probability that they will, there is too much “grey” in the Russian response to what it endeavours to dismiss as a black and white portrait fashioned entirely in the brush strokes of others — even when the fingerprints of Russian complicity are all over the painting, and visible to anyone who cares to look at it.

What went on in Georgia and South Ossetia entailed the loss of thousands of lives, as has Russia’s protracted and ill-fated misadventure against insurgents in Chechnya.

But Putin’s objectives in South Ossetia at least were realised, and whilst Georgia might not have been such a success for the Russian leader, a question of strategic priorities would suggest Georgia and South Ossetia were a trial run for the more serious (and potentially more lucrative) undertaking that Russia, by proxy, is now attempting to prosecute in Ukraine.

A key question is what comes after Ukraine. Nobody knows. But it seems decreasingly likely that if Putin gets what he wants in Ukraine — using, it seems, any or all means possible — that the Russian juggernaut would simply stop.

Remember that Russia has variously suggested nuclear responses to any Western attempts to intervene in Libya and Syria; it has been linked to multiple political assassinations over the past decade on British soil; it has provided sanctuary to the seditious US traitor Edward Snowden; it has proven willing to use non-military means to achieve political objectives (like turning off European gas supplies during winter) with the implicit threat of actual force to back them; and in Ukraine at least, it has been seen to arm and abet militia forces bent on realising the objectives of Moscow in defiance — and at the intended cost — of the West.

There is of course a litany of other “incidents” Russia is suspected to have been involved in that have never been proven, including a theory Nyquist has in the past explored that the September 11 attacks on the US in 2001 were — ultimately, and at deliberate arms’ length — the work of the KGB/FSB. But even to look beyond those, that first list — coupled with the fact Moscow under Putin has assembled economic and military co-operation pacts with Brazil, India and (ominously), China, the picture that emerges is an unpleasant one indeed.

If the shooting down of MH17 proves to be the catalyst for events to spiral out of control and to trigger a global conflagration, it’s a fair bet that unlike the first two such wars, Russia will not be fighting on the “Allied” side.

In fact, recent events, considered alongside the recent past, warrant the question Nyquist first asked.

Is Russia the monster at the bottom of the abyss?



Malaysia Airlines Ukraine Crash: A Spark To A Powderkeg

THE CRASH OF A MALAYSIA AIRLINES Boeing 777 over Ukraine — with all 295 passengers and crew killed — could very well be the spark that ignites the smouldering powderkeg in the uneasy confrontation between Russia and Ukraine; already, accusations and counter-accusations are flying, with both sides denying involvement. Depending on who shot the plane down, and whence the missile was launched, World War 3 may have started this morning.

For now, what we know has transpired overnight (Melbourne time) is that a Boeing 777, owned by Malaysia Airlines and operating flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, has crashed in Ukraine airspace, 56km east of Donetsk and 40km from the Ukraine-Russian border.

All 280 passengers and 15 crew aboard the 777 — their identities and nationalities presently unknown — are believed to have been killed. It goes without saying that I minute my deepest sympathies and condolences to the families, colleagues and friends of those who have perished. The crash of a commercial aircraft is an horrific event and can entail a terrible loss of life, and this event, clearly, is very much that.

But it seems clear these people have been murdered; at the time of writing (just after 3am in Melbourne, about an hour after the crash) the consensus of analysts and commentators is that the aircraft was shot down, most likely with a surface-to-air missile, and the ominously chilly situation between Ukraine and Russia lies at the heart of the disaster.

It is too early to draw any conclusions as to who may have been responsible, or even the type of weaponry used, although this incident follows the shooting down of a Ukrainian cargo plane some days ago — allegedly by pro-Russian separatists operating on Ukrainian soil — and the shooting down of a Ukrainian fighter plane the day before, allegedly by a missile fired from the Russian side of the Ukraine-Russia border.

The Boeing 777 was being tracked by air traffic control radar and was flying at 33,000 feet before the incident; the consensus among government and military analysts being featured in the overnight news feeds is that any missile capable of shooting down an aircraft at that altitude would need to be “a very sophisticated system;” The Telegraph in the UK is reporting the missile was a Soviet-era BUK surface-to-air missile, and if this is confirmed it raises questions as to who supplied it, where it was fired from, and by whom.

A shoulder-launched missile has been ruled out: such a weapon would have neither the range nor the accuracy to hit a target at such a high altitude.

Already, the Russians are blaming the Ukraine government in Kiev for the string of aviation incidents; the Ukraine government is blaming Moscow; and the role of the pro-Russian separatists remains unclear, although I have just seen US Senator John McCain on CNN pointing out that the head of the “separatists” in Ukraine is, in fact, a prominent Russian figure with links to the FSB.

The accusations and counter-accusations, finger-pointing, and apportioning of blame and denial that will now ensue is a fraught stage of what is a deadly escalation of an already dangerous situation — and a period in which any miscalculation or inflammatory gesture could provoke even more lethal consequences.

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke earlier in the day in relation to the first two planes shot down; at the time of writing it is not known what the two Presidents discussed. It is, however, widely speculated that Obama chided Putin over the vast quantity of Russian-made armaments that continue to flow across the border into Ukraine, and into the hands of the pro-Russian insurgents.

It was also made public at the weekend that some kind of terrorist attack in the region was being anticipated “imminently.”

But it is known that the West has been close to announcing a far tighter sanctions regime against Moscow in retaliation for its support for the pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine, and it had been widely speculated that even before this latest incident with the Malaysia Airlines plane, the situation between Ukraine and Russia has degenerated in recent weeks to now border on all-out war between the two countries.

Questions are being asked about why civilian airlines were continuing to operate passenger flights through a region so clearly at risk of posing dangers to the integrity of their aircraft; in the post-Soviet era many airlines have operated through Ukrainian airspace to cut some time off the journey to Europe and the UK, and one can only presume a misplaced sense of the risk factors involved is the explanation. Since the demise of MH17 Lufthansa has announced it will no longer fly through Ukrainian airspace and is set to be followed by similar announcements from a slew of other Western airlines, but I would make the observation that the horse has very clearly bolted on this issue.

The fact foreign civilians have now been murdered adds a new dimension to the Ukraine-Russia standoff, and adds a more ominous and sinister consideration to any military repercussions that might follow.

As I have noted, the nationalities of those on board MH17 is presently unknown; if there were Americans or Britons aboard the development would further strain already fraught relations between Russia and the West, and add to calls for the US and its allies to intervene despite Ukraine not being a member of the NATO bloc.

And whilst I am being deliberately circumspect as to who might have been responsible for this latest atrocity, or who I might believe to be so — it is too soon to make such pronouncements — if the investigations that have already started tie the Russian government to either the commission of the act of shooting down MH17 or supplying the weaponry and/or support to insurgents to enable them to do so, those fraught relations between the West and Russia will potentially escalate to boiling point.

Certainly, current reports are that the US military is already looking at the evidence available in relation to the shooting down of the Boeing 777 to ascertain whether responsibility for the act can be sheeted home to Russia in any way.

I will watch this over the next couple of days, and post again if and when I think it appropriate; I suggest readers keep an eye on my favourite mainline UK news sites here and here, both of which are providing a number of rolling, updating feeds on the plane crash and the political situation in Eastern Europe more broadly. There are, of course, plenty of other available resources, and I’m flipping between CNN and Sky UK on Foxtel as I write this as well.

It is to be hoped that whatever the washout from this disaster, that cool heads prevail; readers should make no mistake that the Ukraine/Russia flashpoint is one of the most dangerous military standoffs in the world today, and how this plays out very much has the potential to spiral out of control and into something very, very nasty indeed.

Simply stated, World War 3 might have started this morning; and whilst we are fervent in our hope that things never progress to something like that, it does now seem inevitable that at the very minimum, the situation between Ukraine and Russia is set to escalate into conflict. Any involvement of the USA in such a conflict just became a hell of a lot more probable.