The shooting down/crash of a Malaysia Airlines (yes, them again) plane over the disputed Eastern Ukraine has got the conspiracy theory bandwagons rolling again. There are three main theories:
- It was an accident
- Russia did it
- The Ukrainians did it
Whichever view you are drawn to, will of course simply be reflecting your emotional disposition to the various actors in the above list.
If you think that Malaysia is a racist society that uses a system of affirmative action to reserve pilot jobs for ethnic Malays, then Number One looms larger. The main objection with this and the accident theory in general – or even with theories that it may just have been the usual Muslim passenger blowing himself up – is the location.
The crash occurred very precisely in a comparative sliver of rebel held territory close to the Russian border. As Bogart says in Casablanca, “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the World . . .” Weird coincidences sometimes happen, but they only allow us an awed silence. They are not suitable material to base our deductions on.
This leaves the other two possibilities – the Russians or the Ukrainians. This inevitably will be the real Rorschach test. Most debates on this matter will grab at factoids, snatches of news, technical details to “prove” that their side couldn’t have done it: “They simply didn’t have the right kinds of missiles on that particular Thursday” or “The smoke plume from the crash site couldn’t possibly have been caused by the plane being hit by one of our missiles,” etc., etc. Yes, it will get that tedious – and then it’ll get tedious some more.
The fact is that both Russia and the Ukraine have the clear possibility of having missiles or other devices that could shoot down a Boeing 777. Technical details will simply serve to obfuscate the issue.
Next, we have to state just what is meant by each of these groups. The Russians are the Russian state (presumably under Putin’s direct control although he may have been bear wrestling at that precise moment), but it also includes the separatist rebels, supported by Russia but having a certain degree of freedom of action.
The Ukrainians are a trickier problem, as the Ukrainian state is looked on by those who loathe it as a mere puppet of America – and even of Israel! One of the main memes to emerge already is the synchronicity of the plane crash with the Israeli ground offensive against Gaza.
We can perhaps shear off some of the wilder excrescences of the theory that the Ukrainians did it by stating that Israel has never previously felt the need to start WWIII in the past just to cover up its minor border wars, and that, anyway, with Iraq and Syria falling apart, there is plenty of other Middle Eastern noise to offset Israeli brutality in the media.
Now, even if we concede that the Ukrainian government is part of a wider Western conspiracy, what purpose does shooting down a 777 full largely of Dutch people have for them?
There are two possibilities:
- To cause a rift between the Russian state and the Russian separatists in the Ukraine
- To serve as a false flag justifying Western action
Causing a rift between the Russian state and the Russian separatists in the Ukraine, could lead to a lessening of military support or at least supplies of certain weapons, so there is a rationale behind this theory, although wiping out a planeload of innocent passengers seems too high a price to pay even in the deepest pits of Realpolitik for this marginal gain.
Also, with Russia being very well informed of who has what among the rebels, as well as excellent surveillance of the area, it is unlikely that such an effect could be achieved in the first place.
More intriguing is the second possibility, a false flag in order to launch Western action. The only problem here is that apart from sanctions, which they can step up anytime, and which are constrained by wider economic interests, the West clearly has no will to involve itself militarily in the Ukraine. There is no point in having a false flag unless you have your panzer columns parked over the border revving their engines or your mighty fleet vectoring in on the enemy shore.
The only conditions under which the West engages in war these days is when a state is so weak, destabilized, and Third World that they can’t lose. There also seems to be a sensible racial rule in play. Arabs, Africans – yes! Whites, East Asians – no! Persians – maybe. But even here – as we saw with Syria last year – there is a skittishness and trepidation when it comes to hard action rather than soft destabilization.
If the West is currently engaged in an active struggle against Russia, the frontline will not be the frontline. The West is losing the qualities that once suited it to fight on frontlines. Instead its efforts will be aimed at destabilization in Russia or in supporting one clique against another. Escalating the conflict in the Ukraine in a way which directly pits NATO against Russia is simply not on the menu.
“Cui bono?” must be our guide here. Apart from a little PR – offset by a thousand and one conspiracy theories – the Ukraine and the West gain little from this tragic incident.
This leaves the Russians. The Eastern Ukraine has been transformed into a war zone, whether rightly or wrongly, thanks to the policies of Vladimir Putin. The shooting down of a Malaysian jet over the area reminds us of this but serves no Russian interest. They clearly lack a nefarious motive. But in warfare, once it is under way, most actions happen with a brutal randomness that no one fully intended. In this case the airline was either mistaken for an enemy plane or was just shot at by some ill-disciplined irregular because it was there. Fact sometimes is a lot duller than fiction.