July 21, 2014

MH17 new info

Two interesting additional data points on the MH17 shootdown:

1) As Rachel Maddow has identified, the NATO head's briefing on the area from the end of June specifically referred to vehicle-mounted heavy AA missile systems being on both sides of the Russian border in the vicinity of the crash with evidence of Russians actively conducting training on those systems within Russia. The implication is, of course, that these were Ukrainian separatist fighters being trained, on the specific missile system in question, the SA-11 or Buk.

2) Russia's own civilian airspace authorities acted to stop civilian flights in Russian airspace close to the disputed area earlier the same day, as the New York Times has reported.

Now I'm inclined to think the timing of the latter was a coincidence, that the Russians took a couple days to draw the obvious conclusions that if a rebel force was taking down Ukrainian planes at airliner heights, it was past time to close civilian airways at all altitudes running through the same area. But it again, along with the first information, raises the question why Ukrainian civil aviation authorities did not act much earlier here, and why the international airline risk community was not acting much more promptly as a whole.

Simply put, Ukraine had all the necessary information to stop this. They closed part of their airspace, but only up to an altitude that wouldn't inconvenience anyone, even though their military authorities had to have known that the same missile that took down their transport plane 3 days before almost certainly had the capability to take down any airliner above that altitude as well. It does not speak to a government functioning at a high level or with a strong sense of its international responsibilities. Of course, compared to the Russians here, they're still looking like the more responsible, aggrieved party in all this, as they should.

There is no doubt in my mind that Russia and its proxy fighters in Ukraine deserve all the blame here. But these were still avoidable deaths if some combination of Ukrainian and international aviation authorities and the airline itself, had been more on the ball.

I will also say that the pro-Russia pushback in all the comments sections of all major news outlets' stories on this has been remarkable the last couple of days, way more than one would expect from disorganized first- and second-gen Russian immigrant communities. That an organized push of a pro-Russian counternarratives is partly responsible for that seems highly likely.

Posted by BruceR at 07:52 AM