“A Bird Fell”: Malaysian Airlines 17, and The Growing Tragedy of the Ukrainian Crisis

Further evidence incriminating the Separatists in the downing of MH17 is found in a phone conversation between Russian intelligence officers and separatist fighters intercepted by the Security Service of Ukraine. The phone call, made at 16:40 (Kiev time), pinpoints the haunting moment where the Cossack fighters backing the rebel movement realize that the downed aircraft had not been the previously suspected AN-26 Ukrainian military transport plane:

“  -It’s definitely a civilian airplane

-Are there a lot of people?

-Damn it! Debris is falling into yards.

-Are there any armaments left?

–      Nothing. Civilian items. Remains. Towels. Toilet Paper. ”


The seized for conversation was confirmed by Ukraine’s ambassador to NATO, Igor Dolhov, in a radio interview for BBC 4 on the morning of June 18th.

Ongoing investigations into the tragedy suggest that the responsibility for the downing of MH17  rests on the shoulders of separatist fighters in Donetsk. It is not certain that the intent behind the attack, however, was malicious. It is possible that a lack of experience and training with radar technology prompted the fighters to shoot at a civilian aircraft, thinking that it was indeed a military transport plane.

The tragedy will do little to alleviate the tensions between Russia and the West over the crisis in Ukraine, which occurred a day after the U.S. government announced a fresh round of sanctions against Moscow. Senator John McCain has called on President Obama to step up aid to the Ukrainian government, tweeting his outrage that  “…we still won’t provide Ukraine with lethal weapons” in response to the news breaking about the events taking place on the 17th.  In a later interview, Senator McCain suggested that if the guilt of the rebels is proven, then it will equally incriminate Russia and Vladimir Putin. The fact that many of the casualties on board were citizens of NATO member states, only exacerbates the diplomatic fiasco behind the MH17 tragedy.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on his way to the emergency Security Council meeting on Friday (Special for Balkanist: Emil Ismayil)
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on his way to the emergency Security Council meeting concerning Ukraine on Friday (Special for Balkanist: Emil Ismayil)

The Russian president responded on June 18th, blaming the catastrophe on the “government on whose territory where the event took place,” and implied that the violence was the responsibility of Kiev, as their heavy-handed tactics had spurned the rebel groups into action in the first place.

As it stands now, the DNR has suffered a strategic loss in regards to publicity; global media sources have relentlessly criticized the rebels in this scenario, and their cause is now burdened with the events of July 17th, regardless of how the results of the ongoing investigation turn out. For the government of Ukraine, the tragedy has been  a publicity opportunity like no other to further the image of their efforts to win back the secessionist regions. This may be the event which grants the Kiev government the international support it has been calling for since the Euromaidan movement began earlier in the year. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk spoke earlier on July 18th, calling nations to assist Ukraine in order to “…bring to justice all these bastards who committed this international crime…everyone who supports these terrorists is to be held accountable, including the Russian Federation and the Russian regime.”

If Kiev did not have the semblance of a just cause in the past, the recent tragedy has given it the desired appeal. Cooperation with international observers remains the best option for the DNR if they hope to retain some sort of international credibility.

The events leading up to the downing of MH17 can be traced back in an almost sequential fashion: from the revolt of the Donetsk People’s Republic in early March in response to the overthrow in Kiev, to the continuous escalation in fighting between the government and separatists, to the eventual firing of a rocket at a civilian airplane. The 298 dead, largely vacationers or travelers returning home, have become casualties in a conflict which continues  to grow more gruesome and confusing with each breaking story. And as the families of the victims begin to mourn in the Netherlands, Malaysia, and around the world, the cogs of the international political machine have started to turn. The World’s political leaders will convert these deaths into rallying calls for their respective causes in an attempt to gain leverage against the other side, but only perpetuating the cycle of violence plaguing Ukraine. There is no denying that harrowing and senseless nature of the 298 deaths, but the responsibility for this tragedy is shared; there is innocent blood on the hands of all parties of interest.


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Andrey Matveyev

Andrey Matveyev studied International Relations at Franklin University, Switzerland and is currently living in the United States. His interests include literaure, travel, and foreign affairs, with a particular focus on the role of his native Russia in the modern world.