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[personal profile] danalwyn
So, first, a rant. I know it's a little Victim Blamey - but can't people at least think for a change? I know that you can go wherever you are legally allowed to be, but come on! You flew a giant passenger plane through an active combat zone. An active combat zone where not one, but several, planes were shot down during the preceding weeks. Yes, it still may have technically been an approved route, but why take chances? And yes, they shouldn't have shot down your plane, but why take that risk in the beginning?

That being over, here are the answers that I've come up with to some of the most popular questions regarding the crash - because I'm annoyed at the internet, as usual:



Who did it?

It's not sure (and it may never be sure), but the smart money is on the pro-Russian separatists grouped under the general heading of the Donetsk People's Republic. There are three groups in the area with the potential capability of shooting down a passenger plane like that - the separatists, the Ukrainians (and the various Ukrainian militia), and the Russians themselves.

The Ukrainians are the least likely to my mind. One important factor here is that they've confined their war to fighting with the separatists, and the separatists don't have airplanes. This doesn't mean that someone would not have been trigger happy, but there is a lot less reason for the Ukrainians to have slipped the leash since this would be the first time they bothered to go shoot down a plane. Additionally, the Ukrainians should have an air defense network tied in with a nationwide radar network, one which would be able to tag the plane as a foreign passenger jet. Add to that the fact that the plane would have been coming out of the west at the time of the incident, i.e. out of Ukraine, and it's hard to see why a Ukrainian would be so trigger-happy.

Similarly for the Russians. The Russian air defense network is presumably tightly integrated to prevent the Russians from shooting down their own planes. That means a centralized system and, given Russian capabilities, one that has a fairly comprehensive system of radars that can monitor aircraft. They would have been able to watch the plane come from a long way away, and are the least likely to be giving their local battery commanders permission to shoot down planes. It's not impossible, but this is an odd gesture for the Russians to make.

The separatists on the other hand appear to have some kind of air defense system capable of doing the job. By now the evidence for separatist possession of the Buk launchers suspected of doing the deed is widespread, even if not the best. Certainly they seem to have had one, and someone shot down a few planes flying suspiciously high for normal shoulder-launched weapons. Given that the separatists are the self-confessed most active group when it comes to shooting down planes, nd that they lack access to the sophisticated radar networks of the larger participants, or any centralized air defense network, the suspicion lies on them.

So the separatists are lying?

Even if they did shoot the plane down, who knows? There's a tendency to think of groups under single names (especially grandiose names like the Donetsk People's Republic) to be organized like we expect professional or government institutions to be organized. But remember, the forces that Donetsk has put onto the ground has mostly consisted of militias that are only vaguely connected. Although there is some kind of command structure that can allow them to execute widespread retreats, there's not necessarily the kind of structure that will allow global command.

It's possible that the leaders of the separatists were telling the truth when they claimed they had no weapons that could shoot down the airliner - after all they might not have known. The group that had the launcher might have omitted telling central about it for fear of having it appropriated, or they may have simply forgotten to. There may be no quartermaster department that keeps track of every single item in separatist hands. And it's easy for field commanders, who are essential dukes of their own piece of the kingdom, to forget to mention key pieces of information to controllers.

Or they could just be lying about it. It'll take a long time, maybe forever, to find out.


But if they were innocent, wouldn't they allow full access to investigators?

In two words: Hell No.

First, remember that there doesn't appear to be a tightly regimented command structure in Donetsk. This means that people don't necessarily talk to each other (or talk to the person in charge). So there are multiple layers of problems.

First, the people on the ground might not know anything about who did what. They might suspect that their own side shot the plane down. They might suspect that there's evidence that was in the wreck or was planted by enemy agents that would implicate them. It's entirely possible that the group guarding the wreck might be a different local group than any of the ones who shoot down planes, so they could be justifiably paranoid.

Second, there's always the suspicion that foreigners will plant evidence. Many of these people are nationalists, and have good reason to be suspicious of foreigners that arrive. Maybe the foreigners are spies, there to implicate the separatists. Maybe they're acting suspicious (walking around and looking at stuff). Either way, for now the separatists on the ground have all the authority, and they have many reasons to want to keep foreigners away.

Third, there's instinct here. Something happened. Something bad. Now a whole bunch of people are showing up to take a look. There's a little bit of policeman's instinct that could be at play; wrap the scene in yellow tape, keep everyone away from it, and wait for someone higher on the pay scale to come by and tell you what to do. Except in Donetsk there might not be someone higher on the pay scale. None of which will keep the enforcers from wandering around the crash site themselves looking for something interesting, which will just make the investigators even more mad.

Fourth, it could be an expression of independence or power by a local commander. Human vanity and arrogance plays a role in these affairs.

So, regardless of whether the separatists shot the plane down or not, there's good reason for the local separatists to play difficult bastards.

But it benefited Ukraine!

It's still an insane risk. The potential costs are terrifying compared to the minimal amount of benefit that they're getting out of the situation. There are multiple systems, Russian and American, that are capable of tracking where missiles launched from. The American evidence appears to come from one of our surveillance satellite networks. Other countries have those too. They also have radars, passive observers, and a whole bunch of other methods from other countries looking in. It could have been an accident, but it looks unlikely to be a very good one.

Of course, it could be the result of a conspiracy between the US, the Ukrainians, and the Russians. It could also have been a Ukrainian special forces group inserted with a launcher into separatist territory. This is possible, it just strains the bounds of believabilily, especially given the lack of skill demonstrated by the Ukrainians so far.


So why is the Russian media going ape?

Because the Russian media always goes apeshit. The theory that this was an attempt to shoot down Putin, and that the Russian president was passing over Ukraine in an aircraft that had not filed a flight plan, and that the Ukrainians happened to shoot down the wrong plane, is outwardly ridiculous, but it matches common behavior from Russian media.

There are a number of theories to explain this, most of them fairly prejudiced. My favorite (which I like to believe keeps the racism to a minimum) is that Russian society has spent several hundred years under a series of brutal dictatorships who had an uneasy relationship with the truth. Certainly the USSR was never one for explaining the actual purposes of their machinations. There's a tendency to believe that everything is a conspiracy when, in fact, everything around you is a conspiracy. This may have carried on into the Russian social model still in play today.

Regardless, conspiracy theories hold great sway in Russian published sources. And since the government runs many of those sources it's not like there's a great deal of pressure on them to change into more responsible media outlets.


Why Malaysia?

The biggest argument for the "it was an accident" hypothesis is that there's no good answer to this question.

What will the world do about it?

Nothing. Well, not really, but equivalent to nothing. That's what matters.
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August 2017

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