Tag Archives: MH17

“They sow the wind…”

So in case you’re not a regular Russia-watcher (I envy you. Please tell me how it feels in the comments section) or you are but you’ve been living under a rock for the past two days, the Joint Investigative Team announced its conclusions from its investigation into the destruction of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. Surprise, surprise, they confirmed the basic story that most rational, sane people figured out long ago. The plane was shot down by a Buk surface-to-air missile system from territory controlled by the Russian military and their proxies rebels. The investigation also found that the Buk system was moved back across the border into Russia so as to hide the evidence. Of course it doesn’t help the cover-up when your state run media forgets to take down the original article from the time when the “rebels” claimed they had shot down an AN-26 cargo plane that actually  turned out to be MH17. It’s still up there after more than two years.

At the same time Russia has been in the news a lot lately, from a string of malicious cyber-attacks on high profile Western targets to the bombing of a UN aid convoy. Naturally the Kremlin response to all of this is that it’s all lies and “provocations.” They do nothing but good, yet for some strange reason the United States and its puppets (i.e. any country that refuses to do what Moscow wants) have been engaging in this pointless, mean-spirited conspiracy against poor little Russia. But what Peskov and the Russian state media don’t seem to understand is that while they can continue their pathetic denial routine, the rest of the world isn’t buying into the bullshit. Even those who might have been willing to give Putin the benefit of the doubt are now waking up to the fact that he has nothing but contempt for them and thus cannot be reasoned or negotiated with.

Though I find it morally reprehensible, I think it’s fair to say that much of the Western world might have been willing to turn a blind eye to Putin’s actions in Ukraine and Syria, particularly if MH17 had never happened. But Putin and his cronies, paranoid and delusional as they are, could not resist pretending that they are running a relevant superpower. Hence the propaganda attacks, including high profile fabrications like “Liza” in Germany, and hence the cyber-attacks on targets like the DNC and various Western media outlets. Now the FBI suspects that Russian hackers might be targeting American voter registration databases, possibly trying to take over the GOP’s job of disenfranchising minority voters. Who knows for sure? The point is that after the MH17 and the sanctions, Putin should have reined in his propagandists, agents, and hackers. He should have tread lightly. But for some reason he felt he couldn’t, and he didn’t. And he soon might pay the price.

The West has been ridiculously tolerant of Putin’s antics for quite some time now. In the past Russia was a good business opportunity as an emerging market, and Putin generally didn’t screw around with his Western “partners.” Now he’s started and he can’t stop, and eventually Western patience is going to wear thin. Once that happens, you’re going to see retaliation, and it’s not going to be pretty for Russia.

Professor Mark Galeotti has in the past written about numerous measures the West could easily implement against Russia that will do far more than sanctions. Many a Putin fanboy dreams of a shooting war between NATO and Russia (which is odd because Russia would be crushed), but if the West decides to up the ante none of those precious Topol-Ms or Ka-52s are going to do any good. They can cut Russia off from SWIFT, impose blanket travel bans and asset freezes on whole swathes of Russian government officials and their family members, mess with trade, and even launch cyber-attacks of their own. Given the situation Russia is in now, the effects of a coordinated all-out economic warfare campaign would be devastating. Color revolution? No need. The Russian people have shown plenty of times in the past that their patience with incompetent leadership is also limited.

Putin’s Russia has been dubbed a “troll state” in the recent past- it’s not a serious threat to the West but it can cause a lot of trouble. But just as the internet troll cowers when made to face his targets in real life,  Russia may face a painful humiliation when the West finally tires of Putin’s angsty teenager act.

A Tale of Two Incidents

I’m quite certain all my readers have already heard plenty about the Dutch Safety Board’s investigation into the downing of MH17. If you haven’t read it yet, here’s a summary, and if you want to slog through the whole thing, look here. As if on cue, as tends to be the case every time some new evidence from the investigation leaked out in the past, Russia turned the bullshit up to 11 and pre-empted the release of the DBS report with another press conference held by Buk Surface-to-Air missile manufacturer Almaz-Antey. Once again, previous Russian stories were contradicted, but the fun didn’t stop yesterday. Shortly before I began writing this, the head of Russia’s aviation service was throwing out all kinds of accusations and claims, including some that contradicted yesterday’s Almaz-Antey claims. This wasn’t the first time. In other words, this satirical story is pretty close to the truth.

Some Western journalists act perplexed at this incredibly guilty behavior, particularly in light of the fact that the DSB report didn’t even attribute blame for firing the Buk and it also said that Ukraine should have closed the air space in the region (Gee, guess what part of the report Team Russia will deem reliable!). Some of us aren’t surprised at all. Personally speaking, I liken this to the recent behavior of the conservative propaganda machine back in the US when they float rumors or mock scandals about illegal immigrants committing voter fraud or Obama not being a natural born citizen. Nobody who puts these theories out there actually plans to act on them. Sure, some politicians will promote voter ID laws, but this is just about disenfranchising poor people. The real reason for these conspiracy theories is that it reassures Republicans that when they lose elections, it’s only because the other side cheated, and therefore the winning party is illegitimate.

Same thing is going on here. Russia’s foreign ministry claims that the Dutch board didn’t consider facts from “Russian experts,” without naming the experts or talking about which facts they are referring to, no doubt because the folks at the MFA can’t be bothered to keep up on the latest alternative scenario. These public statements and the media coverage they get in Russia’s domestic press is enough to reassure Putin’s base that the whole thing was unfair, and the whole world is part of a massive conspiracy against Russia.

It’s a shame though, because what Russia is doing is spitting on the graves of the victims. Then again, this is a government that spits on the graves of 25 million Soviet citizens, many of them Russian, so I guess I shouldn’t expect more sympathy for foreigners flying out of “Gayropa.” But I digress, I wanted to compare the MH17 to another recent incident, one which will suddenly have all of Team Russia nodding their heads along with my text. I’m talking of course about the airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan.

Now as an aside, while I post links about this, I’d just like to remind you how “the mainstream media” like CNN would never report something like this.  Okay maybe they would, but they wouldn’t air allegations that it was a war crime. Okay, maybe CNN would do that, but I bet Fox news wouldn’t! Oh…wait…no. But I keep hearing from the pro-Kremlin side that state-run outlets like RT are no different from CNN and Fox. I guess this means that we should soon expect CNN and Fox to start personally attacking journalists and airing “experts” who will insist that the Taliban, Doctors Without Borders, or literally anybody but the US forces were responsible for the deadly airstrike. I mean it’s all the same, right?

Okay enough of that. The fact is that I am as disgusted by this Kunduz attack as I was about MH17. I could start pointing out how in the case of the former, the gunner on the AC-130 could at least see what he was shooting at, whereas a Buk operator is looking at blips on a screen. I’m not going to get into detail there, however, because I don’t want some Team Russia fanatic to get overexcited, whip his dick out, and start beating it right there in his office. Part of my anger is due to the fact that it’s 2015 and we’re still involved in Afghanistan, as though we’re going to somehow get some kind of victory out of this. Another part of me is angry at the lying that took place afterward. When this story broke, I have no doubt that there were people all across America who wanted to see justice be done, because this incident is a stain on the country’s flag (some Team Russia folks might need to change their pants now). In Russia, by contrast, 3% of people believe the version of MH17 that the Western world does.

With the myriad of alternative, contradictory stories that have circulated, sometimes within 24 hours of each other, it’s no wonder that these people can’t really tell you what they think actually happened. They only know it wasn’t the rebels, and it wasn’t Russia’s fault. In other words they know exactly what the Kremlin wants them to know. When the White House and Pentagon change their story or squirm in front of cameras, Americans sense bullshit and get angrier. Russians just throw up their hands and say: “Who knows what’s true? Everyone lies! We lie, they lie!” That’s the Russia Putin’s regime has built.

Before anyone balks about the comparison of MH17 to Kunduz let me point something out. Even in spite of the Pentagon’s failed attempts to spin the events, and in spite of the White House’s reluctance to support an international, independent tribunal, the administration has accepted the blame for these deaths on behalf of the United States. And of course, they admit the presence of US forces rather than pretend that only the Afghan national army is doing the fighting. They are not crying information war and claiming that the Taliban did it, or that the hospital patients and staff did it as a “provocation.” If there is an independent investigation, don’t expect its progress to be met with periodic White House press conferences featuring new experts that will “prove” alternative theories absolving the US military of blame.

Just another example of how when it comes to political regimes, the slightest difference can have a big impact on behavior. Whatever happens, however, I think it’s clear that the victims of Kunduz will get justice long before the families of the victims of MH17 ever will.


So this morning I saw this amusing tweet from Runet Echo’s Aric Toler.

Indeed. Maybe there are MH17 “truthers” who don’t believe 9/11 was an “inside job,” but vice versa? I doubt it. But there’s something that makes MH17 trutherism even dumber than 9/11 trutherism. What is it exactly?

Well first of all, 9/11 involved a lot of things which ordinary people never think about. Many of us are not familiar with the science of architecture, piloting aircraft, and dozens of other complex fields of study that come into play when investigating a terrorist attack of that nature. For many people, the simple politics of it were overwhelming. One major problem with 9/11 is that it was so unprecedented and complex that many people missed or confused the basic facts of the case. More often than not it seems like this lack of basic knowledge left many people vulnerable to conspiracy mongers. For example, how many times have you heard someone talking about how fire from jet fuel couldn’t have melted the steel beams in the World Trade Center? Problem is, nobody ever said that’s why the towers collapsed. It’s not part of the “official story” and never was. Because of its unprecedented, extraordinary, and incredibly complex nature, one can at least understand how these conspiracy theories got started.

Another aspect of the 9/11 theories is that while they often tend to assert phony “evidence” like the aforementioned claims about jet fuel, each purveyor of a 9/11 theory, at least each one with a book to sell, has his or her own explanation. One guy says it’s “micronukes,” another says “death ray with no planes,” another says remote control planes, and so on. My experience has been that the audience for these claims is rarely picky- they’ll cheerfully talk with adherents of other, contradictory hypotheses all the time. If you’re selling a book or trying to become an internet celebrity, however, you need at least a superficially consistent story, and that is why, for example, there are three versions of Loose Change, with major revisions.

MH17 is another matter though. First of all, you had a plane flying over a war zone and it got shot down. It’s not complicated at all, really. Civilian airliners aren’t equipped to deal with any sort of anti-aircraft weaponry, thus if they get targeted and hit, they’re going to suffer catastrophic consequences. So the “plane got shot down” side of the equation is pretty straightforward.

The problem is that unlike the 9/11 truth community, whose con men authors attempt to build and popularize their own proprietary hypotheses, MH17 conspiracy theories basically come from one source, or I should say sources all controlled by one government, and yet they are as rapidly changing as they are contradictory. Within days we already had a theory that it was Ukrainian ground fire aimed at shooting down president Putin’s plane, then an SU-25 based on the story of a non-existent Spanish air traffic controller, then Russia’s ministry of defense pinned it on both Buks and SU-25s at the same time, then there was the infamous satellite photo, and so on. This parody blog tells the “real story” of MH17 while detailing almost every Russian-produced conspiracy theory on the topic to date.Even when independent pro-Kremlin bloggers write their “analysis,” you can rest assured they’re working off of RT and other Russian sources. None of those people ever go outside the house and actually investigate something, nor do they bother calling anyone.

So if you’re looking at the two sides of the debate, here’s what it looks like with 9/11 and MH17. For 9/11 I picked a sample truther theory, in this case Dr. Stephen E. Jones. I chose him because he is one of the few who actually attempted to make a coherent alternative hypotheses (ridiculous though it is, if you know anything about thermate), and he tried to give his theories and air of academic quality.

9/11 “official story” : 19 hijackers, after years of planning, managed to take control of four aircraft taking advantage of FAA training which instructed flight crews to comply with all demands in case of a hijacking. They crashed their planes into the WTC towers, the Pentagon, and the fourth plane crashed into a field after passengers tried to storm the cockpit. The WTC towers collapsed due to structural damage to their load-bearing cores, and their steel beams were weakened and sagged under the weight of the upper floors. This led to a pancake collapse.

9/11 Stephen Jones edition: The buildings were brought down by controlled demolition, there were precursors of thermate in the rubble. (PROTIP: Thermite and thermate are very simple compounds and their ingredients are used in dozens of products you might find in a home or office building.)

Obviously Jones had more to say and you can read all about it on his Wiki page, but basically you have two explanations, both of which are complicated and are likely to get into fields which the reader might not have any experience in. Now let’s look at MH17. Note that unlike with 9/11, all alternative stories can be traced back to the Kremlin via its state-owned media and other organizations.

MH17: Ukrainian, German, Dutch, American “official story”: Rebels, who had shot down several Ukrainian planes before, mistook MH17 for a Ukrainian military plane and shot it down with a Buk SAM system. There has been some confusion about whether the particular Buk system in question came from Russia or whether it had been captured from a Ukrainian army depot or base. Keep in mind Russia claims the rebels got all their weapons from Ukrainian depots, bases, and arsenals.

Russia’s version…er…versions: The Ukrainian army fired at MH17 from the ground because they thought it was Putin’s plane. No wait! This Spanish air traffic controlled who will later turn out not to exist monitored an SU-25 following MH17. No wait! Look our ministry of defense has shown how it could have been SU-25s or Buks, but Ukrainian Buks, of course! No wait, an anonymous eyewitness serving at a Ukrainian airbase in Dnepropetrovsk somehow managed to witness the whole thing, and says a pilot named Captain Voloshin shot the plane down. Not that we’re going to look into this Voloshin guy any more, of course. No wait! An engineer from MIT who doesn’t exist sent us a satellite image from a random foreign satellite that managed to capture the whole thing on film! Turns out it was a Ukrainian SU-27, not the SU-25 that looks totally different. No wait! A Dutch investigator said a fragment from a Buk missile used only in Russia was found in the wreckage? Nonsense! That fragment is from a Buk missile that Ukraine uses! It’s a Buk again! Oh wait! Zakharchenko says he say two SU-25s shooting at MH17 as it was over 30,000 feet in the sky! It’s planes again! No wait, it’s a Buk again! Goddammit can’t you see it’s anybody but us?

Obviously the purveyors of 9/11 truth claims often change their stories in ways that are sometimes contradictory, but as I said before, they try to maintain their overall hypothesis because it’s theirs. There have been particularly amusing examples of fights within the 9/11 Truther community between con men scholars with competing theories, often resulting in opposing sides accusing each other of being shills, disinformation agents, and so on. If Stephen Jones kept changing his 9/11 hypothesis on an almost weekly, occasionally daily basis, even people inclined to believing in conspiracy theories would probably pass him up for someone who seems more consistent.

Not so with Russia’s MH17 story. The Kremlin’s propaganda strategy isn’t concerned with credibility, only confusion. Put simply- If you believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories, you should probably examine your critical thinking and read all the evidence again, making sure you actually know what the “official story” says. If you buy into MH17 conspiracy theories well, there’s just no good way to put this so I’ll just keep silent.

A Warrior against Bullshit: Mark Adomanis

I recently got acquainted with the work of Mark Adomanis via this rather popular Washington Post piece entitled “It’s not just about the Malaysian flight. Russians are living in an alternate reality.” From what I gather in the article, he hasn’t spent much time here, but he catches on very quickly. I’ve been reading a few of his other articles and each time I see the things I’ve been saying for years, telling me that there are people out there who really get it, even without spending nearly a decade in Russia. Here are a few articles that deserve your attention.

“Russia is not Nigeria”

Here Mark uses a revolutionary concept known as “citing facts and reality,” to debunk pithy, bastardized quotes about Russia in the media. Quotes like “Russia is Nigeria with snow” are derived from the German chancellor Schmidt’s quote that the Soviet Union was “the Upper Volta with rockets.” The fact that this meme gets reworked and regurgitated shows how unoriginal and stuck in the Cold War many journalists are.

The Nation Accuses Ukraine Of Plotting To Seize Its Own Territory

Here Mark simultaneously takes down Stephen Cohen’s Putin apologetic while giving the Ukrainian government criticism it justly deserves. Amazing!

This kid is gonna go far!