Minutes after the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet crashed in eastern Ukraine, close to the Russian border, Russian media exploded with graphic images of corpses — including those of women and children — lying amid smoldering debris.
What followed the footage and photos were commentaries by Russian weapons and media “experts,” blaming the Ukrainian military for downing the plane on Thursday.
Experts seem to favor the theory that the Ukrainian military shot the plane in an incident that was a blend of a mistake by the shooters and ill will by those who set them up.
The Russians, however, are the only ones seriously considering that scenario.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the incident an “act of terrorism,” said the Ukrainian military was not involved in any way, and called for an international investigation. Pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine also denied responsibility.
All commentators on official Russian media outlets agreed in alleging that the ultimate culprits are the “puppeteers,” the “enemies of Russia” who they claimed are bent on pushing Russia and Ukraine to an all-out war to weaken Russia. Since Russia annexed a part of Ukraine earlier this year, Russian propaganda has used the words “puppeteers,” “enemies of Russia,” and the “United States” interchangeably.
In support of the theory that the plane was shot down by mistake, the Russians cite the Ukrainian government’s concern about Ukraine’s air defense capability in the aftermath of an incident several days ago: A Ukrainian military aircraft was shot down with a ground-to-air missile over Ukrainian territory controlled by pro-Russia secessionists, who claimed it as their doing.
The proponents of that theory theorize that the Malaysian Boeing 777 with 298 people aboard was shot down by a newly redeployed Ukrainian air defense unit that was keeping the aircraft in their sights as part of a “live exercise” training. During that exercise, they say, someone inadvertently pushed the start button, which usually would be blocked in the training mode but somehow wasn’t.
Some Russians — such as those whose views appeared on LifeNews, a major Kremlin mouthpiece on the Internet — allege “the puppeteers” timed the incident to immediately follow the latest U.S. sanctions against Russia’s largest oil producer, second-largest natural gas producer, and third-largest bank to escalate the armed conflict in Ukraine, provoke an open armed intervention by Russia in Ukraine, and get the European Union to introduce similar sanctions.
Moreover, the outlet quoted an unnamed Russian official who alleged the Ukrainian military might have shot down the Malaysian airliner, mistaking it for Mr. Putin’s official plane with him aboard. Mr. Putin purportedly would have crossed the path of the Boeing in the vicinity of Warsaw had the airliner flown 30 minutes later.
President Vladimir Putin’s propagandists, however, are jumping the gun.
It will take some time to decipher the Boeing’s black boxes seized by pro-Russia rebels, let alone to collect other evidence that would shed light on what really happened. And we may never know the truth because their leadership already has said on air they are going to hand them over to Russia — read Mr. Putin — for lack of local expertise.
So far, at least equally probable are other theories, including those held by supporters of the Ukrainian government. They claim the plane was shot down either by the Russian military or by the pro-Russia rebels who have been parading heavy weaponry brought in from Russia.
One thing is clear. It is the pro-Russia rebels who are interested in the escalation of the conflict more than ever now that the new U.S. sanctions have added pressure on Russia to rethink its involvement in that Kremlin-provoked affair.
Mike Sigov, a former Russian journalist in Moscow, is a U.S. citizen and a staff writer for The Blade.