The Panic in Red Square

Do I look worried? I do?

The one emotion most of us who study Russia never associate with the men of the Kremlin is panic. They’re not the type. They’re more like mobsters, prone to say “we have a problem,” rather than to freak out. They think everything has a solution, although sometimes that solution might mean someone has to take nine grams of lead behind the ear. They do not raise their voices — my experience is that most Russian tough-guys are mumblers, not yellers — and they get things done, even if the final outcome might lack a certain, say, elegance.

That’s why it’s unusual to see the government of Vladimir Putin, and maybe even Putin himself, panicking over the downing of Malaysian Airline Flight 17. For the first time in a long time, maybe even since Putin’s first election to power, the Russian regime has a problem it cannot solve, one that will cost the Kremlin in both money and reputation.

First, let’s review what’s happened, and use the real-world version of events, rather than the paranoid, flaky stuff coming out of less responsible news outlets (like, say, all of the ones in Russia.)

Malaysian Air Flight 17 was crossing the Ukraine-Russia border when it was blown out of the sky. We have a high degree of certainty (and probably more inside the governments of the US and NATO) that the plane was downed with a BUK anti-missile system. In fact, it’s starting to look like there was a BUK battery in the area when the airline was destroyed.

We have a mountain of evidence that the Russians were up to their necks in this. The BUK is a Russian system, found in both Ukraine and Russia, but it looks like the Russians brought some over the border, along with Russian military intelligence guys — the men actually running this “partition Ukraine” operation — and they taught some of the locals, including transplanted mercenary “separatists,” how to use them. The thing is, the BUK is really too complicated to use without adult supervision, and that’s especially true of a battery.

And now we get to the panic. Evidence is mounting not only that the BUK that killed MH17 came from Russia, but that the firing on the airliner was either supervised or ordered, or even operated, by Russian personnel.

If this is the case, the “lone rebel with an itchy trigger finger” theory goes out the window, and the “Russia is running a reckless and undeclared air war inside Ukraine” theory comes into sharp focus. Suddenly, an act of terrorism becomes an act of interstate war, directed with subterfuge and deniability (what my colleague John Schindler has dubbed “Special War”) with the goal of dismembering the Ukrainian state.

Putin, I’m sure, was briefed ahead of time and told that such an accident could never happen.

No, Mr. President, we will sweep any Ukrainian military jets from the sky. Yes, Mr. President, we will control their airspace, and paralyze them, until they accept partition, as we did with Crimea. No, Mr. President, we are professionals and there is no chance of error or detection. We have trained to fight Americans, this will be a piece of cake.

In other words, a slam-dunk. (Assuming the Russians were more inclined to basketball metaphors. It’s not really their sport.)

And then a few weeks later, some somber-looking, sorry bastard walks in and says: Sir, we have a problem.

The briefing begins, and the bad news rolls.

It was our stuff. Our missile. Our goons. Commanded by our officers. Yes, we’ve been caught on camera. Yes, there was some clumsiness on social media. No, we have not allowed anyone near the crash site, but we can’t hold it off forever. The men involved are in hiding. Except Strelkov, who has said the plane was full of dead bodies. (He freelanced that one, sir.)

How far does this go, Mr. President? Well, sir — and here the aide might shuffle some papers uncomfortably to avoid noting that the orders came from the very top — we can deny it all, but sooner or later the trail leads back through military intelligence to special channels in the military, to special channels here in the President’s office, to…well, you know…

At this point, Putin and his advisers have to know the game is up, and thus they have resorted to the only time they remember when they felt really competent and in control of events: the Soviet days. And the stupid, dangerous ideas begin to tumble out, the product of panic rather then policy:

Put out the story that Ukraine was responsible. Suggest the plane was off course and thus imply it was doing something nefarious. (Didn’t we work that angle in the 1983 crash?) Pledge our cooperation, but tell those idiots in Donetsk we want the black boxes in Moscow immediately. Don’t talk to the Western press. Send Churkin to take his obligatory ass-whipping from Sam Power…

But most importantly, keep doubling-down on everything.

Make sure the crash site belongs to us and no one else. Obfuscate as much as possible about who was doing what, and where. Suggest the Ukraine military planned this all along. See if you can dig up old stories about that Iranian plane the Americans hit, what was it? Iran 655? Yeah, work that for a while.

None of this will go anywhere. The Russians are busted. To use an American folk saying, they are screwed, chewed, and barbecued. They know it. Someone’s got to go down for this, and there are obvious candidates. The question, as in any Mafia where something’s gone bad, is who rats out whom first. Because sooner or later, all will be known.

Panic in Moscow is hard to spot, but even from 6000 miles away, it’s easy to smell, and the metallic stink of fear is rising off the palace offices of the Russian executive as if from the gurneys in a cancer ward on the morning of an operation.

The only question, really, is how far Putin wants to go toward a trade war, economic collapse, further status as a pariah, maybe even open war, only in order to save face. The conventional wisdom is that he has to cut the insurgency loose.

Maybe. But if he doesn’t want to, he may settle for leaving a grinding conflict in place for now, in which he will claim that any real investigation and closure is impossible. He can then place his hopes in the West’s short attention span, and wait until all this blows over.

That would all work if it were 1975. But it’s not. I suspect the investigation, the tick-tock of the moments before the BUK fire, are already clear enough and widely distributed enough that we have the complete case against the “separatists” with a bill of particulars that stretches right to the rug in front of Putin’s desk.

And he knows it, and he knows that we know it. And until he finds a way to square this circle, panic – and more death – will be the order of the day. I wish I had good advice for him to extricate himself. But there isn’t any, and it would not be mine to give even if there were.

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  1. I think it quite ironic considering the words coming out many outlets recently that Putin and the Russians could do no wrong, would continue to run circles around the West while dancing home to a new Soviet Union all run but the Kremlin with joy and trembling. Of course, the building up or enemies while ignoring one’s own strength and the weaknesses of the enemy is becoming a bit of a theme in today’s commentary (China anyone? Iraq in the run up the Gulf War I?) But the pure unforced error of the thing would be humorous if it didn’t involve the accidental shootdown of so many innocent and uninvolved people. While I certainly hope this doesn’t lead to war (like the other accidentally downed airliners of the recent past), nor do I think it should, the brazenness of the Russian blunder and the sheer panic of the Russian reaction reveals the bluff that Russia has been playing up to this point.

    Even if open war were to come of it, NATO’s spine has been strengthened to the point that collapse is not a viable option; both from allowing the US to deploy even a small number of troops to central Europe and from giving the West a pretty blatant example of the attitude the Russians will take towards anything with the downed airliner. What ever the flaws of the West, shooting down an uninvolved airliner by a professional military is going to get the public itching to take the offender down a peg. So for the sheer luck of it, the West through no action of it’s own has stumbled up a pretty good position, revealing the weak position of the enemy while groping it’s way to the strategic and moral high ground.

    But much like the enemy, the West must be very careful; the cracks in it’s own coalition haven’t disappeared, they have become less prominent than Russia’s. The best thing to do now (which I have severe doubts about happening since this administration seems completely unable to think politically when it comes to the international realm) is to try and build up the coalition links in NATO: increase deployments to Poland and the Baltics, perhaps to the point of setting up permanent bases and reintroduce ballistic missile defense to NATO; build infrastructure links to Europe to transport American gas and power; start to tear down the ‘bad money’ that the Russians have used to great effect in leveraging Europe; and finally put the squeeze on other Russian allies such as Syria and Iran.

    Russia is an inherently weak position. True they supply much of the gas and power that Europe uses to run, but they have abused their position too openly and have pushed too many of their potential clients to be open to alternatives. They don’t control all potential access points for those commodities which are their economy’s life blood, and in fact their move could not have come at a worse time: America’s vast untapped gas reserves are now being exploited and are desperately searching for markets to exploit. The Russian government is for all intents and purposes and mob-run oligarchy, and lack the institutional strength of their opponents. They played an excellent hand and are still probably the better strategists, but you can only bluff a hand so far.

  2. While I defer to your expertise (did I get ya at Hello?), I discern neither panic nor fear, but rather a haphazard, slapdash response to a bungled covert military operation. What, after all, do Putin and the Kremlin have to fear? At every strategic point on the globe, they appear to be in the catbird seat.

    The Russians are supplying extracted natural resources to Western countries who have ideologically made resource extraction into an off-limits economic activity. They’re working with the Iranian mullahs to destabilize Middle Eastern oil and gas supply lines, increasing the price of Russian and Iranian oil and gas supplies. Even if the current administration in Washington cannot prohibit American extractive industries entirely, they’re certainly helping to contain an all-out wildcat energy boom, as we witness them succeeding in their War on Coal.

    Their collaboration with the Chinese has grown steadily stronger, and some (okay: I) feel the SnowdenOp may have been a major collaborative coup to apply containment to the American hyperpower, as the leftist Euro-wags describe us.

    The blanket attitude in the wealthiest parts of the West is anti-military and abhors any sort of open dispute. As we’ve tried to cozy up to the Russians, they’ve consistently responded with an attitude of contempt (as has been the case with the Chinese and Iranians). The worst Putin has to fear is a harshly worded letter of rebuke, which comes with easily laughed-off targeted sanctions and little else.

    The idea of fear or panic playing a role might be somewhat plausible if there were internal rivals to Putin’s rule, but domestically he appears entirely unchallenged. And as to the rest of the “international community,” I don’t see Putin and his Kremlin quaking in their boots over another State Department-led Twitter hashtag campaign.

    • Well said, MarqueG. Tom lays out the damning evidence well–Putin and his gang are guilty, and we all know it–but the key is whether there is a judge, jury, or “executioner” in the US or Europe willing to carry out a sentence. There is not. There will be expressions of concern and outrage and another mild sanction or two, but meanwhile, Russian gas will continue to flow to Europe, Russian money will continue to flow to London, and political hacks with poll numbers showing that most Americans don’t want another military conflict will continue to flow into the White House. 😉

    • I tend to agree. The separatists murdered over a hundred Dutch, including 22 kids from one elementary school and the response from the Dutch PM has been, “We sincerely apologize that our citizens got in the way of your missile and caused so much trouble. It won’t happen again. Please send us more cheap gas.” It’s shocking how blase the response was. The Dutch people are very angry, and the PM’s pro-Russian position might not be able to hold very long lest his party gets kicked from power, but if American bodies were dragged in the fields like this, do you think that any American would even think of appeasing Russia like the Dutch leadership is? The addiction to oil and gas is a strong one. Look at how quickly we forgave Exxon for destroying the Gulf of Mexico and insisted on more drilling immediately. Russia has conquered Europe like a crack cocaine dealer would have–making them addicted to the energy they supply and being able to do whatever they want as a result.

      • So it’s a bit like the US, letting Saudi-Arabia get away with anything because of the oil? Even as your Twin Towers were smoking with 3000 dead on the ground, you led the Bin-Laden family to safety: “Sorry that our military instructors in Afghanistan put these weird ideas in the head of your son mr. Bin-Laden, we’ll let him be for as long as we can and we’ll even try to blame someone else sir. Would you like Iraq to be the target? Will do!”

        You are right, the addiction to oil and gas is a strong one.

        The only difference is that The Netherlands has to speak softly, because the stick we carry is not that large. This postage stamp of a country has been a good ally to the US though, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have been good members of NATO and the EU. Hell, our king drank beers with Putin at the Olympics. We even salvaged the Koersk for him.

        And now look what all our ‘friends’ are doing to help us. Zero. Nothing. Nearly 200 Dutch nationals are rotting away in two trains near the crash site, and nobody will do anything because they’re either too busy fighting off idiots back home or too f*cking afraid to admit they had anything to do with it. It’s heart-breaking, and I hope it changes the Dutch attitude forever. Thanks, friends!

      • You’re Dutch? You speak Dutch? There is no appeasing. As a matter of fact the Dutch are not so much dependent on Russian gas as you may think.

        “but if American bodies were dragged in the fields like this”
        Please, see my remark about this here below. Of course fat chance that in the case you mention the USA would gladly have lighted the fuse for World War III.

        Anyway for decades the socalled West “guided’ by the USA has been pestering Russia and at a certain point it would blow a gasket. Yep, only I am very very sorry and mad as hell that the people in the plane have hit the fan. We the common people are only good for “donating” our money the the high and mighty and if it is called for also our lives. Cannonfodder that is what we are. There’s raptor-capitalism for you.
        Ah… ça ira, ça ira, ca ira!
        Salut! Edmond V.O. Katusz

      • Mike,
        What little do you know:
        – Exxon was near the North Pole;
        – it was BP in the Mexican Gulf;
        – your summary of the Dutch position is offensively incorrect.

  3. Putin terrorist, not ‘Putin’s terrorists’
    The fact that Moscow has closed 4 hours before the catastrofe the air- coridors on Russian side of the border shows thatt it was long-before planned tr trap.

    • Feel free to translate it into gorodki or domino (domino resurgence in Russia seems quite likely) metaphor for Russians, but I’m afraid it’s gonna be lost on most of the Western readers.

  4. That comment about cancer ward is really off. Nowadays, cancer surgery is about giving life. To those who suffer from cancer, you really don’t need to make a comparison with Putin or with death.

      • Are the Netherlands attacked?
        Is a plane a country, and a signatory to Article 5
        Salut! Edmond V.O. Katusz

        • The nation state of the Netherlands has not been attacked. However, a good number of it’s citizens were ruthlessly murdered, and the actions of the Russians regarding the crash in it’s cause and it’s aftermath call into question the use of certain responses.

          BTW, the plane that traveled the same flight path just hours before was Flight 772- Lufthansa. Russian agents were lucky in that regard.

  5. Ask yourself an old litmus question: Who profited from the Malaysia catastrophe? Whoever profited, they did it. Or are you too brainwashed by your media propaganda frenzy to use your own brain anymore?
    Wait until the results of the investigation are ready, and then make your judgement! This is what any rational person should be doing. ICAO and OSCE commission have barely started their investigation but you people already have all the facts and have your verdict. The fact that Poroshenko made a statement about the air crash barely 5 minutes after it happened, and he already “knew” who is behind it, makes me wonder. The fact that the so-called intercepted conversation was placed on the server hours before the crash, makes me wonder. Let’s wait and see.

    • “Wait for the investigation!” You mean the one the Russians and their stooges are subverting at this very moment by stealing the wreckage, looting the luggage, and desecrating the bodies of the victims? You “wonder” and you want to wait and see. The only question is whether a Russian officer pulled the switch or was standing nearby giving orders when one of the “separatists” pulled it.

      • Explain how this is a big deal, please? Assuming everything you said is true (and I think it likely is), so what? You think the West does not know that Russians are subverting Ukraine? No one has shown or claims that they purposefully decided to take down a passenger jetliner (and, looking at the Dutch guy, even if they had he probably would have waived that away too).

        Next time airlines will be more carefully in avoiding war zones (as some already have been).

        Our pres cares more about hiding his school transcripts than about Ukraine.

        American triumphalism after the “end” of the Cold War was wishful thinking. When the dust settles Europe is where it is – far from America and close to Russia. To win the war we would have had to march US Marines through the rubble of the Kremlin – but we weren’t going to do that – so we declared victory, had Fukuyama write his version of Chicken Soup for the Soul, and moved on.

        Today, our commitment to Europe is about the same as our commitment to Afghanistan – at some point the US will leave – the Afghanis knew it back in 2001 and the Europeans have known it for a while too. The only difference with Europe is that the ruling class in the US used to have ethnic ties to the continent but now even that is changing.

        • And I do not be disrespectful to the Dutch – look what we’ve allowed to be done to Patton to keep the peace (I forget, you do not believe in conspiracy theories – everything is always the way it’s portrayed in the media/academia).

        • The distance from Washington to Paris is about 4000 miles. The distance, intellectually and culturally, between Moscow and any Western capital is now about a million miles, give or take. Why Russia wallows in so much pity and self-isolation is beyond me, but if they must constantly feel sorry for themselves, I wish they’d do it without getting so many people killed.

        • Brilliant comment! It’s only a big deal to those in the West (or what remains of it, rather) who believe their beliefs matter to anyone outside of their inconsequential elite circle. People like Prof Nichols can chirp all day long and it means jack shit without follow through. Putinistan is running roughshod through Ukraine and no embassies have been closed, no visas rescinded, no meaningful trade sanctions rolled out.

      • “desecrating the bodies of the victims?”

        What do you mean, for Pete’s sake. Letting the bodies lie there and rot away in that climate. Are you persoanlly familair with the climatic conditions there; I am. Letting them lie there is a real desecration. What a hell there, what a terrible job for the people who have to do it.

        And no, that is not the only question. There is the question why the Ukranian government did not totally close air space. (Read NOTAM A1492/14! FL 260 – Fl 320) as two planes were downed.

        The other question is why did Malaysia Airlines choose to fly over the war zone (yes, yes, the were allowed according to the NOTAM); but they had the choice like Quantas and they did not follow the example of Quantas. The VP of MA EU said that they had to fly that route was impossible; they would not be able to make flightplan. Bollocks!

        I wonder if the Poroshenko government and Malaysia Airlines can be sued for damages.
        Salut! Edmond V.O. Katusz

  6. Where the court of public opinion and the popular press are now calling it “Putin’s missile”, the game is up on his “plausible deniability doctrine” so all of his current propaganda, spin, conspiracy theories and deception are just digging a deeper hole.

    How much Russia is hurt by this self inflicted wound is in their hands. They can continue with their obstruction or they can try to redeem themselves as much as is possible in the circumstances by fully co-operating with investigation and by ordering his rebels to allow full access to the crash site by crash investigators, the handing over of the black boxes and the repatriation of the victims of MH-17.

    Beyond this they need to stop their illegal incursion of irregular Russian troops and equipment into Ukraine as this is also causing many innocent civilian deaths.

    • Yes, “many civilian deaths” – avoiding those has been the hallmark of Russian foreign policy for centuries.

      • “Yes, “many civilian deaths” – avoiding those has been the hallmark of Russian foreign policy for centuries.”

        Pity it wasn’t so considerate with it’s DOMESTIC population over the years.

  7. Having recently read Simon Montefiore’s biography of Stalin I simply can’t ascribe any admirable attributes to the Russians. I think their current leaders are just a lighter version of the bads guys who have ruled them for centuries. They are like gangsters but with no Feds to worry about. This tragedy is an merely an annoyance for them. Admittedly, it’s a big annoyance with all the evidence to destroy and the spin and obfuscation they will have to engender and the like.

      • Yes, as was Beria, his chief enforcer. For that matter, the Georgian “khost” in Moscow set out to remove and replace east Europeans, especially Jews, as Stalin ascended to power.

      • True. Sloppy post on my part. Georgia was an admirable kingdom with an interesting history itself. But to clarify the point i was attempting to make (which I realize is obvious) is that the Russians (or Soviets, or Russian Empire) seem to select (i didn’t say “elect”!) leaders who are, for lack of a more elegant word, thugs. I know America isn’t perfect, but I still think it’s exceptional. We may elect scamps (Clinton) or people who are a bit pompous (Carter) or simplisticly idealistic (Reagan) or paranoid/slightly criminalistic (Nixon) but at least they aren’t thugs.

      • Was he, though? Or was he a trailblazing human rights activist? As you well know, etot Gruzin’s pre-revolutionary area of expertise was ostensibly the question of nations – yet he chose to self-identify as Russian and was generally recognized thusly. Perhaps today’s western males who choose to self-identify as women have Stalin to thank for opening that door?

  8. This is all very good and well, but what do you think anyone proposes to DO about it? I mean, short of a Samantha Power Intercontinental Hashtag barrage? #StopShootingDownCivilianAirliners

    Then what? Nobody has the stomach to confront Putin in any meaningful way, be it diplomatically, politically, or militarily. #TheBearIsLoose, but it’s not who the White House wants you to believe it is. Putin is not worried. Annoyed, perhaps, but more likely he’s amused. He’s been biding his time for years, waiting for the soft, war weary West to fall into complacency, and that time has arrived. You honestly think Vladimir Putin is worried about a country that doesn’t even have the spine to police her own borders? Ninja, please.

    • I agree. Like KAL 007, not much we can do except mobilize public opinion – but just like KAL 007, opinion does take a steady toll on a regime over time. Just ask Putin’s old bosses, the Soviets.

      • I respectfully disagree. Putin is only in power because he lets he small circle of friends get very rich from the resources of the land. These kleptocrats are to some extent depended on export to the West (and on the import of some very narrow technologies). It is not that hard to hit these people in the wallet with specific sanctions that are supported by a large group of countries. This will sink Russia in an economic depression and can over time mean the end of the regime (just like we won the cold war economically).

  9. “Well, except do keep in mind that Stalin was actually a Georgian.”

    what a difference if such thing as russians in fact an artificial term to describe different nations and races at particular geopolitical location. it’s like americans, canadians, australians, except latest did created own states on the base of human values such like civilization, freedom, democracy but Russia were built on tyranny, blood and death.
    there weren’t since time of establishment of the Moskovia state in XII century a single period in their history with any sort of prosperity, liberal rulers, leave alone democracy.
    that is the way they used to live for century and they continuing to. if there wouldn’t be Putin, they would find another person with different name but with the same values and mental characteristic. the biggest mistake americans did back in 90th is that they did shrink the size of empire of evil but not split it into smaller independent states according to nations and races, which were always been major habitants of those particular regions.
    since 1991 Kremlin had initiated 14 war conflicts on the territory of it’s own and former USSR. the stronger Kremlin feels itself, the more chances this aggressive nature will spill on the neighboring states and eventually continent.

    • “Moskovia state in XII century a single period in their history with any sort of prosperity, liberal rulers, leave alone democracy.”
      I’m goign to have to check my timeline but I believe that Velikii Novogrod was doing a fairly good job as a Merchant Republic/Oligarchy (but with voting!) before it was conquered by Muscovy….
      but otherwise yeah pretty bleak looking in the liberal democracy area. Check out Krapotkin’s Memoirs of a Revolutionist if you can, its a very revealing book.

  10. This is one of the best analyses I have seen so far. The somewhat improvised behaviour of Putin goes further back than just the last few months. It is clear that he does not have a good plan on how to deal with a Ukraine that is more and more getting focused on the West. The uprising against the democratically elected Yanukovic must be frightening for him. Although he has a much firmer grip in Russia, it shows it is possible for people chase these corrupt leaders away.

    It is now really time for the Europeans to step up with sanctions. 2% of Russia’s exports are to the US, 51% goes to Europe. This is when sanction are really going to hurt, especially if companies of Putin supporters are specifically targeted.

    To address the comment of Mike regarding the response of the Dutch government. The response has been rather careful and not driven by the anger in the Netherlands. This is probably wise, after all the bodies are still in a train in rebel controlled area and any chance for some kind of meaningful investigation will depend of some cooperation. However, when this is behind us, I expect a much more forceful approach, starting with forcing Germany to get serious.

    • @Daniel & Mike,

      I am with Daniel on thsi one, although I am not a fanboy of PM Rutte, he’s actually doing the right thing and even barking up the Putin tree. Go Mark, go!
      Salut! Edmond V.O. Katusz

  11. The only panic I can notice is panic in this article. It looks like a blind man crying and screaming because a mouse is going towards him. The catch is that someone lied him that a mouse is 90ft tall, having big teeth and eating blind people. Completely misinterpreted subject and superficial and ammateur approach with only one goal, to support russofobia and spread delusion of the “God given USA empire” led by sinless people.

    • …and this is where you fall down so terribly. This bitterness. This awful, nasty, bitterness.
      You’ll corner your own self versus a world you’ll claim is awful, and take bitter, spiteful potshots at what could well be the strengths of others, and amazingly (given the reality) you make yourself look so small, petty and ridiculous. It’s self-pitying, and it’s lonely.
      In the same breath as you talk of ‘russofobia’ and how terribly you’re wronged, you still take that incredibly childish, hissing snipe at another culture (which I can only assume is flawed and failed culture, of course).
      You make these comments as if the USA (of which I am not a citizen) is totally lacking self-awareness… and yet you seemingly have no time to assess yourself or your flaws.
      This miserable self-pitying bitterness is awful. Please. Give the embittered violins a rest.

      On a different note: Stay away from similes, mice, drugs and writing.

  12. I think this is an opportunity to debate Russias permanent seat in the security council. This plane shooting act has alienated Russia against the rest of the world. A world-wide questioning of Russias permanent seat would hurt more than did the exclusion from the G8.

  13. Here’s 2 questions to help you to contain yourself:

    1)How come a civilian airliner could ever come close to the combat area where several military planes were lost already? What if it was sent there intentionally?

    2)Were you just as triumphant when Americans wiped out scores of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan on numerous occasions? It didn’t look like the US was “screwed, chewed, and barbecued” about this.

    • Hundreds of planes used that flight path every day, but glad to see you’re taking the old Soviet era line that it was a provocation. And yes, I was always triumphant about every US military accident in history, starting from the burning of Atlanta.

      Your regime is not going to lie its way out of this. It’s not 1983 anymore.

        • Gee, what an authoritative news source. I’ve seen rank apologists before, but you’re kind of, uhmmm, OBVIOUS.

        • Kostya Yablokov! Ya tebya nyesmotril uzhe
          Oh, sorry, didn’t see you’re at work, but we got to get in touch later, when your shift’s over.

      • Dear Tom,

        “Hundreds of planes” were deliberately taking the risk being shot out of the air. Nice, nice. Some carriers care more for their passengers then others or so it. seems. Money is more important than lives of people.

        You did not pay attention to my post about the NOTAM. I repeat: If in the airspace of country, your miliary planes are downed during a civil war then you are bonkers to keep your airspace open.

        But the Poroshenko gang couldn’t apparently care less. At the start of the crack down Poroshenko also made it clear that Crimea would be taken back by Ukraine. Great way to say to Putin: Hey buddy wanna pick a fight!

        Anyway Tim Clark of Emirates is waking up and wants an international conference: “”We have traditionally been able to manage this. Tripoli and Kabul were attacked, Karachi was attacked and we have protocols and contingencies and procedures to deal with this,” he said.

        “That was up until three days ago. Now I think there will have to be new protocols and it will be up to ICAO and IATA and the aviation community to sort out what the protocols have to be.” (via Reuters)

        It will be most interesting to wait and see what the result of such a summit would be.

        Luckily he is also against putting anti-missile devices of commercial airliners.

        Of course some hardnosed idiots would love more weaponry in this world and want to militarize the whole of society anywhere in the world. Like JM here above. More missiles, more guns, more bombs, more bases, more chances for the war industry to make more money and kill off more people.

        More stand-offs between competing block of power and then all of a sudden there is no sensible Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev but two John F. Kennedy’s mind-a-likes willing to blow up our earth.
        Salut! Edmond V.O. Katusz

        • You’re suggesting that Ukraine should have declared the biggest country in Europe (entirely in Europe, that is) a NFZ, and cleared its skies indefinitely, based on the chance that Russia would provide SAM batteries with a 72,000 foot range and employ them indiscriminately.

          Okay. That’s beneath serious comment.

          • Dera Tom,

            A NOTAM can be very precise, so if you chose FL UNL it can be about a certain area and there can be a time limit and a new NOTAM can be issued at any time, depending on development. The relevant airspace is now closed afaik. We know that the rockets were there, planes were downed. Malaysia Airlines also had the choice. 300 people could be safe in Kuala Lumpur

            “Okay. That’s beneath serious comment”
            That’s the easy way out, sir. Educate yourself on matters of airmen.
            Salut! Edmond V.O. Katusz

            • With the benefit of hindsight I’m sure many parties involved with this tragedy would have done things differently, but sadly we are where we are.

              Up to the point of MH-17 being shot down, no aircraft had been fired at above 25,000 which is about the limit for an SA-10 all other aircraft that were shot down were supporting the Ukrainian ATO and were considerably lower than this. So above 32,000ft was considered safe.

              There was a NATO briefing at the Pentagon on the 30th June saying that the Russian terrorist had more sophisticated SAMS than the MANPADS but at that point there was no mention of SA11’s.

              I’m sure that once a full investigation into all aspects of what happened there will be recommendations that will hopefully stop a repeat of such a sad episode.

              What can’t be got away from is that the circumstantial evidence points to it being shot down by illegal terrorists inserted with their equipment by Russia to attack a neighbouring country where he doesn’t like the result of their right to self determination or their right to sign a trade on any other agreement with any country they wish to.

              What I find particularly despicable is the spin, lies and deceit coming from the Kremlin and their agencies. Where they have been caught red handed with their finger by proxy on the fire button. The conclusion I have come to on this is that he is more scared of the 2012 demonstrations, so is playing to his domestic audience and they worry him more currently than the West and their sanctions. This suggest that the sanctions screw needs to be turned until he is more scared of their effects on the Russian economy where the effective pact he has with the Russian people is they will put up with restricted rights in return for ever increasing living standards. His Russian nationalism, assertive foreign policy and illegal military ‘adventures’ are designed to cover the fact the economy is currently between stagnation and tanking. This is why it is so important that effective and hard hitting sanctions are applied to say enough is enough.

              • “You did not pay attention to my post about the NOTAM. I repeat: If in the airspace of country, your miliary planes are downed during a civil war then you are bonkers to keep your airspace open. ”

                “Up to the point of MH-17 being shot down, no aircraft had been fired at above 25,000 which is about the limit for an SA-10 all other aircraft that were shot down were supporting the Ukrainian ATO and were considerably lower than this. So above 32,000ft was considered safe.”

                Whose bonkers now?

                • @Max Planck
                  “So above 32,000ft was considered safe.”

                  Ah, yes, “considered safe”, but not in my book and not in the book of Quantas, but in the book written in hubris by the Ukranian government. Commercial interests perhaps ruling?

                  So we just have to wait till people die and then we act. We have a nice Dutch proverb: Als het kalf verdronken is dempt men de put. When the calf has been drowned, only then the well is closed.

                  Dear Tom,

                  You wrote: “You’re suggesting that Ukraine should have declared the biggest country in Europe (entirely in Europe, that is) a NFZ, and cleared its skies indefinitely, based on the chance that Russia would provide SAM batteries with a 72,000 foot range and employ them indiscriminately.

                  As you must have read by now I did not say that at all, you were putting words in my mouth that I did not use. Not very neat for a person of your standing.

                  But if push comes to shove and Ukraine had closed ALL its airspace and that would have saved the lives of the MH17 passengers, then yes, I would be all for it!

                  Could you kindly explain WHY in your opinion that would be so strange as to deserve “beneath serious” We have had enough collateral damage in this world latetly, don’t you think?
                  Salut! Edmond V.O. Katusz

                  • The most dangerous thing that we all do is travel around and in each of our lifetimes it kills about 1 in 80 of us!

                    By far the biggest killer are motor vehicles (motorcycles are the most dangerous). In 2010 globally there were 1,240,000 motor vehicle fatalities. So if we say there is a global population of about 7bn, the current average age span at birth is 71 years this gives 7bn / (1,240,000 * 71) = 79.50.

                    This link is a well balanced article on the compromises that are made when routing aircraft:


                    A quote from this:

                    “If authorities closed airspace above all [conflict-prone] regions in the world, we would not be able to fly,” said a senior executive at one airline. “There are so many conflicts.”

                    There is inevitable a compromise between cost, time and safety for all methods of transport including flying and there were hundreds of flights over East Ukraine everyday with no problems until MH-17.

                    I do think one of the recommendations is going to be improved and faster assessment of changing threats for civilian airspace operations, but sadly operational safety in many areas of transportation are only improved after the event.

                    Where flying is much safer (take-off and landing account for most accidents) then the chances are if you survive the car journey to and from the airport then you will have a safe journey.

                  • “Ah, yes, “considered safe”, but not in my book and not in the book of Quantas, but in the book written in hubris by the Ukranian government. Commercial interests perhaps ruling?”

                    As has been pointed out by rational people: no Civil Aviation Authority on the planet ruled this flight path unsafe, AND, IN FACT, the Ukrainian authorities DID mandate a no fly zone UNDER 32,000 feet, because that exceeded the capability of the weaponry Russian agents had until Putin shipped them the Buks later.

                    Salute THAT, buddy.

      • “And yes, I was always triumphant about every US military accident in history”

        Of course Tom, I can understand that you seem to be the example of an American who thinks that the USA should rule the world, preferably by force? In my book the USA is the biggest terrorist state since its inception. It sorta started with the “downing” of the kingdom Hawaii by the then bussiness community, isn’t it.

        Ah, well, being Dutch, we gave you guys a good inital example by wiping out the Wapingers in New Amsterdam, yes I apologize, we were your teachers but you are very apt pupils.

        Oh, and I admire the PR of the Great White Fleet, man that was a great way to impress the world with potential firepower, all very well dressed of course.

        Well my dear arch enemy, that’s it for the moment.
        Salut! Edmond V.O. Katusz

        • Now I kinda envy Tom for acquiring a personal arch enemy of his own and even one that calls himself Hangman (hope I got that one right, my Polish went down the drain since imperialistic forces of cheap internet turned me off watching Televizja Polska). I mean, how cool is that? Is there some chain of stores where one of these guys could be bought, something like NemesisForYou, FSB or nearest high school?

    • Don’t you think that blaming the airline or flight planners for the disaster is akin to saying that the girl was asking for it by wearing a skirt that was too short?

        • “Yes, in a way, if the girl was wandering in a dangerous part of town.”

          What a preposterous response. Just so you know, the use of that flight path was quite routine, up until the shootdown.

          • @ Max Plank
            So “quite routine” equals “safe”???
            Coen on now, sir!
            Salut! Edmond V.O. Katusz

            • Sir, fatal accidents on highways are “quite routine” but that doesn’t mean they aren’t safe. This was a deliberate attack which, as was pointed out to you, wasn’t deployed until Putin decided to put the area in play again.

              It is now being discussed that it is likely that a Russian officer pushed the button.

      • @Daniel,

        No I don’t think so, but please read what I have said about the NOsTAM. Already days ago I discussed this matter at

        The flight planners are not obliged to take that route over the war zone, but they did, others did otherwise. The first one to blame is the Ukranian govenment for keeping airspace open. Anyway I have written also here in the commenst about it.
        Salut! Edmond V.O. Katusz

        • Actually, it is. The NOTAM said no lower than 32,000 feet, which was well above the capability of the weapons that the separatist had. There was no way of knowing for the Ukraine that Russia was willing to give them weapons that can reach twice as highs and to use them recklessness. Hindsight is always 20/20, but to say that the Ukraine should have foreseen this type of thuggish behaviour is indeed blaming the girl with the short skirt.

          • Dear Daniel,

            Yes I know what the NOTAM said, better then most people perhaps as I had to put “Nieuwsuur” on that trail. In war there is always no way of knowing all and everything and therefore you got to be careful, more careful then in other circumstances. Anyway other carriers did and choose to not enter the war zone. Some people mind collateral damage and others don’t.

            Everybody is shouting that Putin is helping the rebels so you can expect real deep shit. But Mr. Pororshenko wanted to flex his muscle, showing what a “leader” he is. He was woefully wrong as wrong as Malaysia Airlines was wrong when Huib Gorter stated the there was no way to make a flight plan without flying over separatist country.

            Please also refer to Tim Clark of Emirates.

            And just for the record, I am againts the death penalty but sometimes I think that the Spanish garotte is too good for the trigger pullers.
            Salut! Edmond V.O. Katusz

    • Please research the NOsTAM in question. Air space was open above FL 320 per decree of the Ukranian government. That is Flight Level at 32,000 feet. An air carrier can fly there if they want or make a detour that is up to them.

      BTW, it’s a lost case confronting Tom with a link to PressTV being from Iran and you know how the Americans-in-charge-of -the-world feel about that country.
      Salut! Edmond V.O. Katusz

  14. To use an American folk saying, they are screwed, chewed, and barbecued. They know it. Someone’s got to go down for this, and there are obvious candidates.

    If only. The reaction by the EU leaders and US thus far has been utterly pathetic, more empty warnings amid calls for “peaceful resolutions”. Our glorious leaders in the west have been utterly silent on the subject of the investigation team being denied access to the crash site, save for a few mumbled requests to Putin to ask the separatists to cooperate. If there was panic in the Kremlin on Thursday, they must be back to their normal selves by now.

    • What are suggesting that they are supposed to do? Send in the Marines?

      Let’s first get the bodies out, perform some kind of limited investigation and then orchestrate a wide support of crippling sanctions.

      • No need for military action, but at least a few threats of such if the separatists – who are operating on Ukrainian soil, not Russian lest we forget – don’t get out the way and let the investigators in. Waiting is all very well, but by the time we get in the bodies will be mixed up and rotten, and the wreckage scattered to four corners of Ukraine.

        And Russia should be told, immediately, that unless they start cooperating – and we can begin by asking them straight what their missile batteries in the region were up to at the time and which military personnel were on Ukrainian territory – then overseas assets are going to start being frozen as the proceeds of terrorism. Not that this needs to actually happen, but noises need to be made. At the moment the silence is deafening.

        • Threatening the separatists with what? Air strikes?

          A lot is happening right now. It may not be directly visible or noticeable, but the response from Europe will change. I am curious what it will be. Will Germany get a spine or does the EU break into a US/UK focused group and a Germany/France focused group?

          • Maybe deploy a sniper team or two, start knocking off any Ukrainian separatist wearing officer insignia. Deny all knowledge when asked, knock off a few more, maybe an air strike here or there. They want to wage an unofficial war in which the commanders don’t wear insignia and don’t take any responsibility? Play them at their own game. They’ll pack up and start staying at home within a week or so once they realise they stand a high chance of getting killed by somebody smarter and better trained.

            • Are you actually suggesting to deploy a military team inside a foreign country and start shooting at random people wearing camouflage gear?
              What is the legal basis for this?
              How do you know your are shooting on the right kind of camouflaged people?
              What would you do if your snipers get killed or captured?
              Is it really necessary to give Putin an excuse to conduct a full military invasion into the Ukraine?
              How would the Ukraine like it that foreign soldiers are conducting a small war on their soil?

              It might feel good to be saying that you are taking tough action, but your suggestion in the first step in a lot more misery.

              • Are you actually suggesting to deploy a military team inside a foreign country and start shooting at random people wearing camouflage gear?


              • How would the Ukraine like it that foreign soldiers are conducting a small war on their soil?

                And that’s got to be the funniest thing I’ve read all week. It may come as a surprise to you but the Ukraine *already* has foreign soldiers conducting a small war on their soil.

                • Exactly that…
                  Also I’m pretty sure the Poroshenko government (and lots of Ukranians…) would unofficially welcome the completely unofficial volunteer snipers and airmen with legally purchased aircraft and drones built from off the shelf components.

                  Really though the people I feel sorry for are the ones being more or less held hostage by the…whatever they ares from Russia. Friends in Russia with family there pretty much say that they pretty much don’t care about who’s shooting but they would like the shooting to stop…

                  • Yes Dave, we are dead scared what could happen to our family over there. We have no means and no way to airlift them out of Ukraine when things seriously go wrong.

                    Getting VISA is already a terrible hassle. The Italians are way better at that. A Ukrainian friend living in Italy got for her mother a multiple entry/exit visa for the duration of three years. That’s a far better safety net then we can manage.

                    We can only hope and pray that our war-hungry self-appointed overlords use their brains for once in a while. Fat chance that that happens of course.
                    Salut! Edmond V.O. Katusz

                • Yes, and they are attacking them. They have not asked for soldiers from other countries to help.

                  • Yet. But there has been a lot of…agitation (at least on some social media) to somehow convince/force the US to sell Ukraine Javelin ATGMs…

                • And by the way, there is nothing funny about this. I was born in the Netherlands and yes, indirectly, I know some of the people that were murdered.

            • You want 1914 all over again?

              You have absolutly no idea at all about the toughness of these rebels/soldiers. You should educate yourself about the fighting spirit in that part of the world.

              If that involves the soldiers of Russia then you’ll be in for a surprise. Right or wrong their country. Well it’s not now WW II, but then about 9 million soldiers died fighting at the eastern front to liberate us. But it gives you an idea about their will to fight, their toughness and being able to look death unflichingly in the eye.
              Salut! Edmond V.O. Katusz

              • You have absolutly no idea at all about the toughness of these rebels/soldiers. You should educate yourself about the fighting spirit in that part of the world.

                Oh really? I lived in Russia for 4 years, have been travelling the country for the past 12 years, speak Russian, have a Russian wife, and am attending the wedding of a Russian paratroop veteran in two months.

                Firstly, 9 million Soviet soldiers did not die liberating us; rather, millions of Soviet soldiers and citizens died defending Stalin from having to feel the consequences of his blinding stupidity.

                Secondly, the Russia of 2014 is not the Russia of 1942. The place has changed, as have the people.

                Thirdly, Russians have proven themselves extremely tough when defending the interior of their own vast lands, but not so much when occupying somebody else’s (e.g. Afghanistan) or defending their borders (look up the Nazi territorial gains per day before their supply chain got stretched too thin).

              • You need to go listen to the new intercepts where they talk about Strelkov whining that out of a million people in the region, he can’t get more than 1000 guys.

    • You don’t suppose they could be doing something like say ‘giving them enough rope to hang themselves’?
      Also given the rater…not sane propaganda coming out and that the world view of the decision makers in Moscow might be effected by it (so they stay on message ya’know) that pushing to hard might result in some kind of horribly precipitous reaction….

  15. Question for Tom:

    US intelligence just gave a briefing that separatists were likely to blame for the downing of MH17, that it was a likely an accident and that there is no evidence for direct involvement by Russia. Do you think this is meant as an opening for Putin to throw the separatists under the bus and extricate himself from the mess? Something like, we provided these weapons for self defense, they used them recklessly and now we have taken these weapons back.

    • Sadly it could end like that Daniel after reading this link:

      We’ll probably never know who is really responsible a rather uncomfortable thought that will reverberate for a long time through the Netherlands if it comes true. I don’t give up hope, but for now we just had a far more enjoyable piece of news. A baby in the family over there. We must concentrate on that. Das Leben geht weiter.
      Salut! Edmond V.O. Katusz

      • Congratulations on the baby. I too have family in Ukraine, so it is worrying time for both of us. Fortunately, they are all further west than the Donetsk / Luhansk regions, but nobody knows what will happen before this war reaches a conclusion.

  16. “Are you actually suggesting to deploy a military team inside a foreign country and start shooting at random people wearing camouflage gear?
    What is the legal basis for this?”

    Looks like the Russians have more creative lawyers than we do…

  17. this article from the globe and mail is, I find, particularly pertinent:


    in particular, two sections of it I find rather interesting:

    “The anti-American left

    In the wake of Iraq, Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and the NSA spying scandal, many Europeans, especially on the left, abandoned their traditional support for the United States and began to see Washington as a meddling threat to democracy and national sovereignty – many even used the word “imperialist.”

    But Ukraine tossed this belief on its head and proved a test for anti-Americans. Most inconveniently, the United States sided strongly with Ukraine’s democracy movement, to the point that State Department official Victoria Nuland was recorded, in an apparent Russian phone-bugging in February, discussing which opposition candidate to give Washington’s backing and support to (her analysis actually seemed, to Ukrainians, to be very sound). The fact of U.S. backing created an impossible, head-exploding paradox for many Europeans on the left: If Washington was supporting the anti-Putin, pro-Europe movement, then clearly Mr. Putin must be in the right and Ukrainians the victims of Washington’s, not Moscow’s, meddling.”

    It’s amazing, the mental contortions such people make, all so that they can slam their favorite international bugbear.

    However, what I find the better part of the article is its end, save for one small part:

    “What needs to be sought is not an amplification of Mr. Putin’s myth of a divided continent, but an end to it. A tough economic response is required, along with a generous democratic response that would bring Ukraine into Europe – alongside a refusal to play along with Mr. Putin’s attempt to manufacture a civilizational showdown. Ukraine and Russia are both European countries, as much as any other; it is time to put aside our old illusions and help both countries get on the path to peace, prosperity and European values.”

    I disagree with the “European Values” part because Putin’s war, for that is what it is, constitutes a fundamental rejection of Europe and “European values”; this war is about the reconstitution of the Russian Empire for Putin, not about any notion of shared values. Thus, promoting European values will not work.

  18. here you can see how russian TV does “investigation” of the tragedy of MH17 for millions of their viewers. yes, right – russian witches (so call extrasens) explaining to the public that they see as Boing had been shot not from ground, but from air, the passports were placed at the site afterward and in fact this Boing actually is the Flight MH370 , which disappeared on the way to Beijing back in March.
    and all that on very serious and official tone.

  19. While some may think the Bialer quote amusing, it seems to me that quoting from someone who was a political officer in the (regular) Polish police at a time when those units were involved in murdering Polish patriots, someone who had personal relations with and was protected by Jakub Berman and who escaped to the West seemingly only because his protector Berman as well as Minc and Bierut were being kicked out of the party after Stalin’s death, elevates such a person to a status wholly undeserved.

    Note also that Bialer claims to have been a member of an “anti-fascist” underground movement. It’s not specified what organization that was nor why it had to concern itself with fascists (or who they were) when there were so many actual Nazis running around.

  20. the point being?

    that that changes who he was before?

    or is the point, regarding his life in NYC, that he is above suspicion?