Will the West sleep through this final wake-up call?
Western media sources have widely reported attempts by Russian pro-Kremlin media to deflect the blame for the Malaysian airliner disaster as being bizarre and grotesque. This they are, however they remain dangerously effective, especially against a background of western inaction.
As of late Sunday evening, the black boxes and other crucial evidence from the MH17 disaster were in Kremlin-backed militants’ hands and many of the bodies had still not been recovered. The man known to have direct control over the militants, Russian President Vladimir Putin, had been quoted incessantly on Russian media expressing willingness to help the investigation but had done nothing. Noises had been made by western countries about ‘considering new sanctions’, but there had also been the old mantra from the foreign secretaries of France, Germany and Poland about “paving the way for a solution to all disputed issues through true dialogue”. France’s sale of Mistral war ships to Russia was still on track, and no other specific measures had been indicated.
This is despite the damning report issued on July 20 by the US State Department which stated that it considered the flight to be “likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory” and that “over the past month, we have detected an increasing amount of heavy weaponry to separatist fighters crossing the border from Russia into Ukraine. Last weekend, Russia sent a convoy of military equipment with up to 150 vehicles including tanks, armoured personnel carriers, artillery, and multiple rocket launchers to the separatists”
With the area under militant control, and the need to retrieve the bodies of victims paramount, the situation was clearly sensitive, however time is solely on the Kremlin’s side and by Sunday any delay fatal. The militants have had the opportunity to tamper with and in other ways compromise vital evidence. Their very behaviour incriminates them and their Kremlin patrons, yet compromised proof could mean that future conclusions will still require words such as ‘likely’. As memories fade, and they always do, this is no small matter. The first of a likely stream of articles placing the blame for the tragedy on the EU has already appeared in a UK publication and more can be expected to claim the USA to be responsible, NATO, the West, or, of course, ‘fascists’ in Ukraine. The western media practice of only saying that a person committed a crime if he or she has been convicted by a court is in principle correct. Yet what do you do when those almost certainly guilty are seen to be preventing access to the evidence? The answer now, provided by political leaders when the images of the victims and of the monstrous behaviour of the militants are so vivid in our minds, is easy. This will be quite different in months and years to come.
In the meantime, Russian media has carefully expunged its most incriminating video footage presenting the crashed MH17 as another downed Ukrainian military plane. This had been reported by the militants minutes before it became clear that the plane in question was a passenger plane.
The Russian media are also assiduously doctoring other evidence and going all out to suggest that the Ukrainian authorities or the west generally are interested in delaying a proper investigation. In a report entitled “International experts are not in a hurry to get to the Boeing 777 crash site”, Rossiya 24 effectively turned the entire situation on its head. Alexander Borodai, the Russian PR manager cum ‘prime minister’ of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic was quoted “unable to understand” why the international experts were not already there when time was of the essence. It is difficult to remain calm hearing such cynical distortions, including those lavishly laid on by the Russian Foreign Ministry, but they do warrant the closest attention. The English-language version of Russia Today which is widely watched throughout the world is marginally more subtle but no less manipulative in its presentation of the same story entitled “Donetsk militia put MH17 bodies on train amidst concerns over international experts’ absence” While the report mentions criticism of those they call the ‘Donetsk militia’, the overall impression is undoubtedly that any delay is suspicious but nothing to do with the militants. Russia’s likely complicity is not mentioned at all.
The Kremlin-funded Russia Today is widely watched throughout the world. One step which could usefully be taken in the wake of this tragedy is to clearly determine the boundaries of freedom of speech. Such freedom cannot include a carte blanche to mislead the audience and this is precisely what Russia Today is doing. The channel was reported on July 17 to have removed its report of a Ukrainian military plane shot down. In so doing, Russia Today, LifeNews and a number of other Russian media were tampering with vital evidence of a crime.
The horror of what has happened is so immediate that Russian propaganda can seem offensive, yet too inappropriate to be dangerous. Few Ukrainians would agree after the lies told about the Odessa events on May 2, about supposed “fascists” being behind EuroMaidan or the overt lies in a supposed RT ‘documentary’ claiming that the Ukrainian military was committing genocide in eastern Ukraine.
There is another aspect, however, that should be borne in mind. In April 2010 Poland mourned the deaths in a plane crash of the President and 95 others, many highly respected figures in Polish society. They had been travelling to Russia for the seventieth anniversary of the Katyń Massacre carried out by the NKVD, on Stalin’s orders in 1940, making the poignancy of this tragedy unbearable. Four years later, following efforts by certain politicians, a worrying percentage of the Polish population believe that the plane crashed as the result of a bomb. There was a full investigation into the crash which happened in terrible visibility when trying to land. There is no proof of any explosion, and the ‘scientists’ roped in by the political opposition have been debunked, yet as many as 30 percent at one stage believed, against all evidence, that there was some truth in the claims.
This was in a country where the media is basically free and critical and no other power had any interest in supporting the explosion theory. Both the Kremlin and the State-controlled media in Russia have worked fulltime over the last few days to obscure and conceal the facts regarding the MH17 disaster. Russia has a major propaganda apparatus which extends far beyond its own borders, and at the moment there is every reason to believe that it will be deployed.
US President Barack Obama and others have spoken of the shooting-down of MH17 in an area controlled by Kremlin-armed and backed militants, many of whom are themselves Russian nationals, as a “wake-up call”. The west has slept through too many of these. The time for acting is now.