Escalation of Shelling in Eastern Ukraine


I learned of the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 when my plane landed in Montreal the same day, July 17, on my way home from Moscow. The Moscow-Munich leg of my flight departed one hour before the (delayed) departure of Flight MH17 from Amsterdam at 12:30 pm local time. I reckon the respective flight paths crossed each other somewhere just west of Ukraine.

Flight MH17 went down over territory controlled by self defense forces of the autonomous regions of southeast Ukraine, near the village of Grabovo (Hrabove), halfway between Donetsk and Luhansk cities, 50 km north and 100 km west of the Russian border. There are 298 reported victims. Here is the fateful flight’s route map.

A typical western media headline graced the front page of the Vancouver Sun the day after. It read, ‘Malaysian plane shot down by rebels’. Case closed. Guilty as charged.

Paul Koring of the Globe and Mail writes, “What brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is already known. A Soviet-era surface-to-air missile fired from separatist held territory in eastern Ukraine tore the Boeing 777 apart as it cruised more than 10 kilometers above the Donetsk region.”

The Guardian headlines a July 19 story with, ‘MH17: rebels block access to part of site of crash as evidence against them grows’. But the article doesn’t contain a word of the claimed evidence.

Toronto Star columnist Mitch Potter blames what he calls “nihilistic rebels” and “Putin’s monster” in eastern Ukraine, then proceeds to acknowledge that evidence they downed the aircraft is “circumstantial”. He cites a Washington Post writer who says the disaster is all a result of “Putin’s messy disaster he created in Ukraine”.

In an editorial today, Toronto Star editors cite Stephen Harper in fixing blame: “Russia’s military aggression and illegal occupation of Ukraine (sic) . . . is at the root of the ongoing conflict in the region.” Russian President Vladimir Putin, say the editors, should “shackle his dogs of war”.

CBC radio and television reporters have rushed to the scene for yet another stint of fly in, fly out disaster reporting à la the 2010 Haiti earthquake and the 2013 Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) that struck the Philippines. They already know the story. Their questions are not, ‘Who shot down the plane and why?’, but, “How did Russia provide the rebels in eastern Ukraine with the know-how to shoot down the plane, and why would it do that?”

British tabloids are universal in blaring on their front pages that ‘Putin’ or his hirelings in Ukraine are mass murderers.

Ukraine’s president knows. Within hours of the disaster, he declared, “Today, terrorists killed three hundred people with one shot. Among them innocent children, people of many countries of the world.” When the Kyiv regime speaks of eastern Ukraine, the term “terrorists” is synonymous with “the people who live there”.

 

Airplane disaster as pretext for war

Never mind that assertions of what happened to Flight MH17 are speculative and an investigation has hardly begun. The post-crash political assessment is all about something entirely different than finding truth—it is being seized as an opening for a political witch-hunt and more violent war against the people of eastern Ukraine. For months, they have been refusing and resisting a brutal, economic austerity turn to Europe and accompanying military violence by the governing regime in Kyiv and its NATO backers. Kyiv’s ground war against them has stalled because its foot soldiers are unconvinced of the cause or ill-prepared for what is required of them.

In the two days since the crash, the regime’s violence has reached new heights of brutality. Artillery and mortars are raining death and destruction upon people and communities throughout the rebellious region. In Luhansk, a city of 425,000, at least 20 people died from shelling on the day of the crash. The shells have cut electricity and water supply. Much of communication is also cut.

The press service of the Luhansk People’s Republic said on July 18, “The shells are bombarding practically all the residential districts of the city, including its centre. The number of killed and wounded is not immediately known.” (See videos here  and here of the aftermaths of inner city shelling on July 18–warning, shocking images.)

The Lisichansk oil refinery in the city, owned by Russia’s Rosneft conglomerate, has been targeted and is burning fiercely (videos here and here).

Already on July 16, an observer with the Sepcial Monitoring Mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported that one third of the buildings in the center of Luhansk were damaged by shelling and the proportions of damage are higher on the city outskirts (ten minute video interview here). A July 18 bulletin of the monitoring mission cites reports from local doctors that in June and July, 250 civilians in the Luhansk region were killed by bombings and shellings and 850 are injured.

 

Investigation needed

The accusations against self-defense fighters in eastern Ukraine are not only unproven, they are circumstantial. Did rebels in southeastern Ukraine capture at some time a battery of the advanced missile system alleged to have shot down the plane? We do not know. If they did, analysts say, they lacked the very sophisticated training required to operate it.

From where was the missile fired? We don’t know. The lengthy debris field of the crash (six kilometers long, according to one report) and its west-to-east direction may raise doubts about the claims of a missile hit from the east (ie from Russia or its border region).

Flight MH17 was hundreds of kilometers north of its normal course. Why did flight controllers in Ukraine direct the plane there, across a war zone over which many warplanes have been shot down by self-defense forces (at much lower altitudes) in the past several months and which airlines have been avoiding? Way back in April, for example, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration prohibited U.S. airlines from flying where Flight 17 went down. Its directive said, “Due to the potential for conflicting air traffic control instructions from Ukrainian and Russian authorities and for the related potential misidentification of civil aircraft, United States flight operations are prohibited until further notice in the airspace over Crimea, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov”.

Answers are needed as to who in the chaotic command structure of the Ukraine armed forces possesses the authority to fire missiles and how tightly this is controlled. What role and access to missiles might commanders of fascist and rightist militias have? The militias are playing leading roles in the murderous shellings and attempted ground assaults in the east of the country.

Self-defense forces deny firing a missile at the plane. This article in Vox details the internet hoax by which the rebels were said to have made such an admission. Lazy or biased news editors in mainstream media have widely reported the hoax, and U.S. government officials are repeating it as good coin, including U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power before the UN Security Council on July 18.

Self-defense forces are cooperating in bringing an investigative team of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to the site. Local residents, including coal miners, are taking part in the search for wreckage and bodies.

Both the Ukraine government in Kyiv and the Russian government deny that their forces fired missiles. U.S. Professor Stephen Cohen told Democracy Now in a June 18 interview, “There’s the possibility that the Russians aided and abetted them [self-defense forces], possibly from Russian territory, but I rule that out because, in the end, when you don’t know who has committed a crime, the first question a professional investigator asks is, “Did anybody have a motive?” and the Russians certainly had no motive here.”

Cohen calls the people who died in the plane, “the first victims of the new Cold War”, referring to the longstanding military threats against Russia by NATO countries that have escalated since last year over Ukraine. He has written frequently about the escalation, including in this June 30 article, ‘The silence of American hawks about Kiev’s atrocities’.

Maybe, just maybe, an official investigation will reveal the truth, or enough of the truth to make decision makers in NATO pause before upping their military intervention. But there are serious reasons to doubt that. The stakes for NATO countries in the war being prosecuted in eastern Ukraine by the government and its allied, fascist militias are just too high to let an inconvenient investigation get in the way.

The degree to which Canadian and international mainstream media are ignoring the rampaging and war of the Kyiv regime and militias in eastern Ukraine is scandalous. It gets little more than brief mention as undefined “fighting”. The Guardian has 14 articles on its Ukraine news page today dealing with the aftermath of the air disaster; not a single one reports on the shellings by the Ukraine army. A member of the self-defense forces tells the BBC at the crash site, “You are only here because foreigners are dead”.

Ominously, while the media broadcasts tears for the victims of the crash, it has none for the victims of shelling and bombing. Indeed, it seems even more war is required because “something” must apparently be done to save defenseless air travelers from the likes of “Putin” and unkempt self defense fighters in eastern Ukraine.

It all sets the stage for an escalation of the military intervention that NATO is already providing to Kyiv. It is so scripted that it tempts the observer to believe that people in Washington and Brussels pushed buttons to unleash it all. But no, that would be speculation, and that’s the last thing needed right now.

Here are some additional excerpts from the July 18 interview with Professor Stephen Cohen on Democracy Now:

By the way, the Ukrainian government shot down a Russian passenger jet, I think in 2001 [Siberia Airlines Flight 1812, Oct 4, 2001, 76 dead]. It was flying from Tel Aviv to Siberia [actually, Siberia to Tel Aviv]. It was an accident. Competence is always a factor when you have these weapons…

Another possibility is that the rebels—we call them separatists, but they weren’t separatists in the beginning, they just wanted home rule in Ukraine—had the capability. But there’s a debate, because this plane was flying at commercial levels, normally beyond the reach of what they can carry on their shoulders.

Let me mention, because I think it’s relevant to what you’re covering here, your very, very powerful segments before I came on today about what’s going on in Gaza, the pounding of these cities, the defenselessness of ordinary people. The same thing has been happening in East Ukrainian cities—bombing, shelling, mortaring by the Kiev government—whatever we think of that government. But that government is backed 150 percent by the White House.

The statement issued by the antiwar conference held in Yalta, Crimea earlier this month makes a nine-point call for an end to Kyiv’s war in eastern Ukraine. One of the points is “For an international inquiry headed by jurists and human rights advocates into the human rights violations and war crimes that have been committed in the course of this war”. Campaigns and solidarity mobilizations around these points are now more urgent than ever.

Roger Annis recently returned to Canada from a two-week visit to Crimea and Moscow. He attended the antiwar conference that took place in Yalta, Crimea on July 6, 7. He can be reached at [email protected]. You can sign onto the conference statement at this online petition website.

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