Editor's Brief

Shock and Awe

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January 11, 2020 11:11 a.m.

With Iran’s admission that it accidentally shot down a civilian airliner the night of its retaliatory strikes against the US military bases in Iraq it is worth remembering that Russia has still not made a similar admission about the fate of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shot down over Ukraine in 2014. The facts are not identical. In that case Russia provided Buk surface-to-air missiles to “separatists” operating in eastern Ukraine who seem to have thought they were shooting down a Ukrainian military jet.

Here we get into the inherent and intentional murkiness about which of these “separatists” aided by Russia were people who could legitimately be called “separatists” versus Russian military or Russian veterans operating with plausible deniability in Russia’s shadow invasion of eastern Ukraine. Whatever the precise details, the upshot is the same: As part of an intentional policy of using vaguely deniable proxies, Russia gave highly lethal weaponry (you need serious military hardware to shoot an airliner at cruising altitude out of the sky) to people operating with little command and control or oversight. The result was unthinkable tragedy. Not only has Russia never admitted responsibility it has continued to support and propagate various conspiracy theories and “false narratives” about what happened.

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