One year ago today I was relaxing in the sun at a party when the atmosphere suddenly changed. Somehow the news filtered through that a plane flying from Schiphol had crashed in Eastern Ukraine. At first it seemed like a horrific coincidence that this had happened precisely in a region where there was already so much chaos, but it soon became clear that this was a crime of unbelievable callousness. Separatist rebels had shot down an aircraft with 298 people on board. With God knows what on their minds, they decided that this plane flying at cruising altitude was clearly a Ukrainian military transport. Firing at their target on a complete guess, their missile’s shrapnel tore MH17 apart. Ukrainian villagers below had to endure the horrific sight of bodies plummeting into their fields and houses. Continue reading
This morning Eastern Ukraine woke up to what is supposed to be the ceasefire that leads to peace. On Thursday night in Minsk, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande managed to bring Putin and Poroshenko to a deal to end the violence; a deal that the rebels also signed up to. With the agreement being that the guns would fall silent at midnight Saturday, the artillery pounded away until the last minute. This morning though, the quiet seems to have held so far, with only sporadic shelling. So what does this second Minsk deal agree to? What chance does it have of succeeding? And what will happen if it doesn’t? Continue reading
This week it’s been a struggle to find a single news story that I can really get into on this blog. Events are either continuing that I’ve written plenty on, or are once off events that are hard to come up with much background for. So this Wednesday, here are some events or articles from across the world that I simply found interesting.
Yesterday the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, at peace for months now, was ripped back into the war. Separatist rebels launched rockets directly at the city, taking its residents by complete surprise and killing 30 people. The attacks follow a month of intensified fighting, with the ruins of Donetsk Airport finally falling to the rebels, and dozens of civilians dying due to artillery. So why is what happened in Mariupol so important, and what does this say about the separatists? Where to from here? And on a more personal note, why do I care so much about Donetsk? Continue reading
This is a terrible thing to say, but three weeks after a ceasefire was declared in Donbass it’s the way I’m feeling. While the ceasefire has ended the large scale fighting, there has been a slow trickle of casualties ever since, with seven Ukrainian soldiers killed on Monday. With the two sides as far apart as ever, I’m starting to think that the current situation is the worst possible one for the region. I know this needs some explaining, so here goes. Continue reading
This week Russia stepped up its involvement in Ukraine, apparently sending in Russian troops to open a new front in the war. The town of Novoazovsk, close to the Russian border, was smashed by Russian troops and the Ukrainian army sent fleeing towards Mariupol. The new and more open involvement in the conflict was accompanied today by President Putin calling for “talks on statehood for Eastern Ukraine”, a sign that he is not backing down. So is it certain that Russian forces are operating in Ukraine? What’s so new about this latest turn in the conflict? And why now?
As most people will have heard by now, on Thursday afternoon a Malaysian airlines flight was shot down over the conflict zone in Eastern Ukraine. All 295 on board died, including 154 Dutch citizens. While much is still unclear about the crash, there are still a number of points that can be made.
Who did it?
- The most likely cause is that the jet was shot down by pro-Russian separatists. They have shot down Ukrainian military planes before, including one carrying almost 50 soldiers. They also boasted on social media about shooting down a plane, before deleting the posts.
- The Ukrainian army on the other hand has no reason to shoot at planes. The government would certainly not want this to happen, and it would be an unlikely accident as well. The separatists don’t use aircraft (certainly not at the high altitude MH17 was flying at) and the Ukrainians know which planes are in their airspace.
- It was however most likely a mistake. The separatists lack access to air control information or good radar, meaning that they probably had no idea what they were shooting at.
- It is extremely unlikely that either the Ukrainians, nor the separatists, nor the Russians would purposefully shoot down a commercial jet. It serves no purpose, and would be a horrific crime.
How did this happen?
- Commercial jets flying at these altitudes can’t be hit with handheld missiles, like have been uses before in the area. It would require a much bigger system, according to experts the Buk missile system. The Buk also requires trained men to launch it.
- The blame for this will land squarely at Russia’s feet. They have been encouraging the separatists in the Donetsk region and allowing Russian and Chechen ‘adventurers’ to cross the border and play at soldiers, with the sole purpose of creating chaos. They have also allowed all sorts of weapons to cross over, and the role their security services are playing is very murky. They are responsible for dragging Eastern Ukraine into war.
- The other question being asked is: What was MH17 doing there? It’s utterly bizarre that airlines were still flying a route that passes over militias with missiles. This will probably become a big issue.
- According to current reports, the black box is on its way to Moscow. With trust at an all time low, Western countries (especially the Netherlands) will loudly call for an independent investigation.
- This will destroy the separatists in the eyes of the world. If it’s fully proved they were responsible, they will have been shown to be trigger happy and careless. They don’t seem like freedom fighters, but more like violent and foolish adventurers.
- Russia will probably have to take a big step back from its support for the rebels. Backing militias shooting down jets will do terrible damage to their image on the world stage. Putin has already said that it’s the fault of the country whose airspace the plane was in, but he is the one heavily responsible for the violent condition of parts of that country.
With the news cycle moving fast, the attention will quickly focus on the political responses to the attack. Tonight though, the Netherlands especially is mourning the loss of 154 of its citizens. In such a small country, such a tragedy has a terrible impact. It can only be hoped that this disaster can open the eyes of those involved in the conflict, and bring it to a swift and just end.
To find out more about the conflict in Ukraine, click here.