Opinion: Putin’s responsibility for MH17

The entire course of events, incited by Russia, was leading to this or some similar disaster. If madhouse inmates are supplied with explosives, fire and encouragement to fight the “hostile world” – nothing good could possibly come out of it.

As Vladimir Putin was making tours in South America, Russia stepped up its arms supply to terrorists in south-east Ukraine. The West would not buy that the escalation was happening without the Russian president’s knowledge and adopted a fresh round of sanctions.

This must not have been unexpected, but there was no other way: the Ukrainian army is successfully advancing with its campaign, trying to encircle Luhansk and Donetsk, the terrorist strongholds, and to cut them off from the Russian border. It was therefore necessary to supplement the light arsenal with Grad rocket systems from Russia.

Kiev has taken control of the airspace over Donbass, its fighter jets Su25 successfully back offensives on land. The separatists are desperate to take over at least one airport.

On 11 July, the leader of the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic, Valery Bolotov, announced his men had captured one Su25 jet. It is unclear, though, where could it be stationed, since the separatists haven’t got a single runway in their control. If they managed to get their hands on one, we would probably start hearing about a multitude of “captured” jets over Donbass, allegedly piloted by miners revolting against the “Kiev junta”.

Moscow’s plans to keep the terrorists going until next autumn’s elections to the Ukrainian Parliament are caving in. If the elections failed in the south-eastern regions of the country, there would be some basis to claim that the two separatist-held regions are not properly represented in the government and therefore not entirely part of Ukraine any more. Another option is to allow the elections to happen under the command of the separatists and declare their pro-Russian henchmen legitimately-elected government.

The terrorists must be having a particularly tough time, if, on 16 July, Russia got directly involved in battles for airspace. During the morning briefing on 17 July, Kiev announced that, the day before, a Mig29, launched from the Russian territory, hit the Ukrainian Su25. What’s special about that missile, R-27, is that they are made in Kiev. As the announcement about the attack was being made, the MH17 flight was making preparations for a take-off from Amsterdam.

Until then, the terrorists only had short-range anti-aircraft rockets that could be fired from man-held launchers. They used them to down several low-flying Ukrainian helicopters and planes. On 29 June, the terrorists fired a portable Igla rocket at a Dniproavia passenger plane with 50 people onboard flying from Kharkiv to Tbilisi. Luckily, the Igla can only reach targets below 4 kilometres, so the aircraft was safe in the altitude it was flying.

On the same day, the Russian Ministry of Defence’s broadcast “Zvezda” was the first one to announce that the separatists captured several anti-aircraft systems Buk from the Ukrainian forces. According to vesti.ru, “the sky over Donetsk will be protected by Buk”.

The Ukrainian side, however, did not confirm that the terrorists had taken over a single operational Buk system. The fact that international planes were not forbidden to fly in the 10-kilometre altitude over Donbass shows that the Ukrainians had no information about separatists being in possession of such weapons.

The two stories of the captured Buk and Su25 have much in common – once they are released, Moscow can freely supply such weapons while maintaining they are not Russian aid but rather war booty. Russia can thus remain out of the spotlight and evade responsibility for supplying heavy weaponry. The same is true about tanks – it was initially claimed that they were Ukrainian and came from Crimea.

When tanks became old news and stopped drawing much attention, Russia started sending them openly across the Ukrainian border. Ukrainian sources say that, on the night between 12 and 13 July, a convoy of tanks, armoured vehicles and trucks entered the Ukrainian territory; they were marked with Russian peacekeeping insignia and, for the first time, drove under Russian flags rather than Saint George ribbons. The invasion was prevented with land and air strikes and, on 13 July, the Ukrainian army reached the suburbs of Luhansk, cutting the city off from Russian supplies.

The separatists found themselves in a critical situation which somewhat disturbed the fable that their heavy weaponry was war booty. Sergey Kurginyan, the Kremlin’s own political commentator, came to Donetsk and scolded terrorist leader Igor Girkin-Strelkov for abandoning Slavyansk; on 13 July, Kurginyan posted a video, claiming that the “civil society” of the Russian Federation would supply the separatists with Buk systems.

On 14 July, the rebels downed a Ukrainian military transporter An26 that was flying at 6,500m to Luhansk Airport to assist a besieged Ukrainian unit. The Ukrainians speculated that the plane could have been hit by a missile launched from Russia. According to the Russian online source “Vzglyad”, it was actually downed by separatists themselves with a captured Buk. The airport in question was of strategic importance, thus the use, for the first time, of heavy weaponry against the mission to assist the besieged unit.

On 17 July, 4.20 PM Lithuanian time, a Boeing777, flying at 10,500m, disappeared from the radars near Donetsk. Seventeen minutes later, Girkin-Strelkov posted a message on the social network VKontakte, boasting about downing the “little bird” An26. The Kremlin’s “Life News” picked up and shared the message immediately. It turned out soon that the “little bird” was a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane. The boastful message was removed from the social network – futile though it is to try to have anything removed from the internet.

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