Flight from Amsterdam to the Sunflower Fields of Donetsk
The Ill-Fated MH17
When body parts and aircraft debris showered over the sunflower fields and nearby sombre villages of the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, unsuspecting villagers of the region could have hardly been expected to suspect that the incident had all the makings of a tipping point in the ongoing Kyiv-Moscow face off. The crashing of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, carrying 298 people including 3 infants and dozens of HIV researchers on way to an AIDS conference in Australia, over the killing fields of the strife-torn eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014, not only had the dubious distinction of ranking among the worst disasters in the history of international civil aviation but also was a crucial development in yet another attempt by Moscow to redraw its borders with Ukraine.
Remainder of the Attack
The Kuala Lumpur-bound flight brought down by a Russian surface-to-air Buk missile was the second ill-fated aircraft of the Malaysian Airlines in a slightly over four month period of time, the first one (MH370), carrying 239 passengers, having simply disappeared on its flight path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March 2014. That jet has not yet been traced. Heart-rending stories of tragedy have come to light. To cite but one, an Australian family which had lost their son and daughter-in-law in the mysterious disappearance of MH370, suffered another blow when their grand daughter and her husband were killed in the missile attack on MH17. Every life lost was indeed precious and irreplaceable. In fact, the grief and sorrow which the twin tragedies have brought about have plunged the whole of the international community into a pall of gloom.
The US and other western countries have all along held Russia and Vladimir Putin responsible for providing political, material and technological support to the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. They insist that without Russian training and arms, the rebel separatists, who have been fighting a bitter war with the legitimately elected government in Kyiv, could not have brought down the Malaysian Airlines flight which had been flying at an altitude of 33,000 ft. They have, along with Ukraine, demanded full cooperation from Russia in an international investigation into the attack on the aircraft. To this end, they have called for an immediate cease fire by the rebels. Ukraine has claimed that it is in possession of recordings of a conversation between Ukrainian separatists and Russian intelligence officials regarding the firing of the missile. Russia, on its part, has denied charges of its involvement and squarely held Ukraine responsible on the grounds that the incident had taken place on the latter's territory. To make the troubled waters further murkier, conspiracy theories, including the following, are doing rounds:
● The missile attack was a botched up attempt by the separatists, of their original plan of hitting an Ukrainian military transport plane.
● The real target of the missile attack was a plane carrying President Putin, on its way to Moscow from Brasilia. Curiously, as coincidence would have it, both Putin's flight and the Malaysian Airlines flight, had the same kind of colours and markings, and flew over the Ukrainian territory within a short span of time. If Putin's flight was indeed the intended target, the perpetrators would be the Ukrainian army, which has its own batteries of Buk missiles, for the purpose of discrediting the separatists. Hence Putin's statement that Ukraine should take responsibility for the incident.
● Putin has, by his open support to the separatists who have not been able to clinch a conclusive victory against Kyiv, painted himself to a corner. Already under the heat of the US-imposed sanctions, he engineered the ploy of the attack to attract the attention of the international community to bring the impasse to an end. As a sequel to the attack, even as investigations are carried out, multilateral talks between Ukraine, Russia, USA and EU are likely soon to settle the feud.
● Many international airlines have already declared their decision to stop flying over the Ukrainian territory on account of fear for the safety of their own flights. This may be followed by a complete halting of flight operations to Kyiv. Such a course of action by international airlines would likely deplete Ukraine's doddering economy, rendering that country even more vulnerable and susceptible to Russian influence. In effect, a typical Russian way of imposing economic sanctions against Ukraine.
Notwithstanding the veracity or validity of the conspiracy theories, Malaysia has sent a team of experts to the site of the crash to carry out an investigation. Despite their requests to let the debris remain untouched till their arrival, two black boxes salvaged from the debris have been removed by the separatists. Furthermore, teams of international experts were reportedly allowed only partial access to the site. Bodies have been removed by pro-Russian rebel forces to undisclosed places. The Ukrainian President has warned that attempts to destroy evidence would not be tolerated. Russia has, on its part, warned against levelling of charges without evidence.
Kyiv-Moscow Face Off
What has been the cause of the strife between Ukraine and Russia? Ukraine is heavily dependant on Russia for gas supplies and is in no position to pay the current prices, let alone old dues. Russia has been breathing down the neck, demanding an immediate payment of $1.95 billion as part payment of $4.5 billion of old dues on account of supply of gas. Successive Presidents and Prime Ministers of Ukraine have been too happy to be supplicant and play second fiddle to Russia's political agenda, while bleeding the country's economy by indulging in monumental acts of corruption. Resultantly, Ukraine is neither politically stable nor economically strong.
The eastern part of Ukraine, placed by a quirk of fate cheek by jowl with Russia, has been a political hotbed in a tussle for hegemony over the province, between Ukrainian nationalism and Russia's unbridled expansionist ambition. The tussle has seen many an ugly spate between the two countries ever since the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic broke away from the erstwhile Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in August 1991 and declared itself an independent sovereign democracy. The region is predominantly inhabited by a Russian-speaking majority of people(about 17% of the total population of Ukraine) who make no secret of their political leanings towards their northern neighbour whom they unabashedly look up to as their benefactor in the face of an increasingly assertive Ukrainian national leadership.
A Quick Rundown of Events
● Protests broke out in Kyiv in no small measure in November 2014 against President Viktor Yanukovych who was widely seen as a Russian lackey. In February 2014, Yanukovych fled the country and was granted political asylum by Russia.
● The reins of power were taken over by a new set of President and Prime Minister who have the unenviable task of keeping the country together before setting the country's economy back on the rails and steering the country toward its avowed aim of integration into the European Union.
● The Russian-speaking Ukrainians were peeved with their government for its pro-EU and pro-Western policy. These people also had a grudge against the government over its policy of introducing Ukrainian as the sole official language. Crimea, with nearly 60% Russian population, decided in March 2014, by means of a referendum, to secede from Ukraine and join Russia. They were supported by the Russian army personnel in Sevastapol (posted in terms of an ongoing Agreement between Ukraine and Russia).
● In April 2014, pro-Russian armed groups took over Donetsk and Luhansk, two more provinces with large concentrations of Russian population.
● Despite a counter-offensive by the Ukrainian government, the two provinces merged and declared themselves the independent republic of Novorossiya.
● The US condemned the role of Russia in the above developments and imposed economic sanctions against Russia.
● Fighting has since been raging between the Ukrainian army and the forces of the Russian-supported rebel republic.
● On 16 July, an Ukraianian military plane was allegedly shot down by Russian fighter jets.
War and Loss
The civil war in Ukraine had already claimed hundreds of military and civilian casualties. The passengers and crew of MH17 have been the latest victims. With no end to the war in sight, more human lives and material loss are likely to be added to the litany of the war's toll.
With the twin tragedies taking place in quick succession, Malaysian Airlines is an unintended victim of the sad sequence of events, being confronted with the formidable and daunting task of overcoming the negative perception among the passengers and tidying over huge financial losses (the Airlines has already announced a compensation of $5,000 to the kin of every victim).
Humble Tribute to the Departed Souls
Sunflower for Love
MH17 was not merely a carrier of people from point A to Point B. It had on board God's children, every one made with great care in His image, and a living symbol of hopes, ambitions, aspirations and, above all, peace and love for humanity. The dastardly act of plunging so many homes into darkness by snuffing out those little lights of love, was truly an unpardonable act of a war crime committed during peace time against peace loving people who were not a party to any dispute.
Every member of the international community has verily lost a brother or sister. We should now look beyond lighting candles and placing flowers at the pictures of the victims, which is all fine. The following meaningful actions are the need of the hour:
● An investigation into the shooting down of the airliner by a team of international experts should be mandated by the UN for the purpose of identifying the perpetrators of the despicable act.
● The perpetrators of the crime should be tried in the International Court of Justice for waging war against humanity.
● Any State which refuses to fully cooperate in the investigation should be declared an offender for abetment of the crime.
● The State responsible for engineering or allowing the crime should be made responsible for payment of adequate compensation to the families of the victims and the huge financial loss suffered ny Malaysian Airlines.
● An international conference should be held with the participation of all countries operating commercial airlines to evolve ways and means of strengthening the existing measures for ensuring safety of commercial aircrafts and passengers.
● Another international conference should be held, this one with the participation of States which produce or stockpile Surface-to-Air or Air-to-Air missiles to discuss an audit of their stockpiles with a view to monitoring sale of such weapons to ragtag armies or terrorist outfits. (If this sounds a too specious or ambitious call, let us remind ourselves that such weapons are produced in the first place to defend and save lives and not to take them away)
Beacon of Love and Peace
Let the sunflower fields of Donetsk where lay the scattered body parts of the victims of flight MH17 not be remembered as the burial grounds of our hopes for justice. May a million blooms blossom, each one reflecting renewed faith and rekindled hope in humanity's resilience and resurrection of Love and Peace on the face of earth. Say No to War every time you see a smiling sunflower!
© 2014 Kalyanaraman Raman