Plane Crash in Eastern Ukraine

Wow I’ve just heard the news that a Malaysian passenger plane has gone down in Eastern Ukraine, apparently killing all 295 people on board at the time. A tragedy for all concerned – nobody can imagine the pain their friends and family will be going through right now and my thoughts are with them.

Already different stories are whirling as to what happened. The plane crashed near Shaktarsk in Donetsk Oblast (region) of Eastern Ukraine, roughly 60 kilometres from the Russian border [1] and videos have already surfaced purportedly showing smoke from the crash site. [2] According to reports, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashenko has said the plane was hit by a missile fired by pro-Russian separatists, who control large swathes of the Donetsk region, and the Prosecutor General’s office has said the police are unable to investigate the crash site because the territory is in rebel hands. On the other side, representatives of the proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic have denied involvement and blamed Ukrainian government forces.

It is hard to reach any firm conclusions at the moment so these are just initial thoughts on what might result from this horrific tragedy.

Firstly I can’t imagine this was deliberate. No side in this conflict would want the consequences of this on their heads. No one had anything to gain from bringing down a passenger plane so I’d be shocked if this wasn’t a tragic mistake – somebody misidentified a passenger plane and assumed it was a military aircraft and took it down.

Secondly, there seems to be no direct Russian involvement. They may have supplied the weaponry to the separatists who may have shot down the plane, but they should be able to disown the attack and avoid escalation of the West-Russia conflict as a result. This doesn’t look like a mistake by the Russian Army, unlike in 1983 when the Soviet Union shot down a Korean passenger plane killing 269 people [3], so Russia may avoid further sanctions,

Thirdly, if the Ukrainian forces were responsible then this would weaken their hand diplomatically, playing into Russian narratives of the war-hungry nationalists using wanton violence against their own people, and strengthen calls for a ceasefire and end to the military campaign to re-conquer separatist regions. I doubt this would cause the West to change sides but it could be a catalyst for a reduction in Ukrainian Army action and a push to negotiate with Russia and the separatists. Ukraine also has history with air crashes, paying compensation for a plane ‘crash’ in the Black Sea that killed all 78 on board in 2001, allegedly hit by a missile mistake, while denying guilt. [4]

Finally, if the rebels did shoot this plane down then it seriously weakens their position with Russia and gives Russia a way out of the conflict if they so choose. They could use this as a reason to drop their support for the separatists, who have been fought back in recent weeks, and come to a negotiated settlement with the Kiev government. There have been hints that Russia was looking to calm things down again in Ukraine and reign in the new independent forces it helped establish and who were becoming too independent for the Kremlin’s liking. If it proves to be the separatists it highlights the danger of militia rather than professional armies – with unofficial forces the chain of command can be weak or non-existent and you have heavily armed squadrons of men with little training or oversight wandering around uncontrolled fighting for a cause and things like this can happen. If Russia has been looking for a way out of the conflict and negotiated settlement then this could be a catalyst for it – the tipping point when they realise things are getting really out of hand.

So hopefully some good can come from this terrible tragedy, the parties will return to the negotiating table and the undeclared war in Eastern Ukraine can be brought to an end as soon as possible.






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