Moscow – By vetoing a Western-backed United Nations Security Council resolution calling for setting up an international tribunal to investigate the downing of Malaysian Airlines MH17 over eastern Ukraine a year ago, Russia has put itself in a precarious position.
President Vladimir Putin said in a call to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte before the UN vote that Moscow opposes the idea because it believes that setting up the tribunal is premature while the official Dutch probe into the crash is still ongoing.
All 298 people on board the Malaysian Airlines’ Boeing 777 died when the plane was shot down on July 17 2014. Ample early evidence pointed at the Russian-backed rebels as the likely culprits, and the disaster triggered new tough Western sanctions that badly hurt the Russian economy, helping drive it into recession this year.
Moscow’s move to block the U.N. resolution appears to reflect its concern that the United States and its allies could use the tribunal as an instrument to further isolate and weaken Russia amid the bruising Ukrainian crisis.
REBELS EMERGE AS TOP SUSPECTS
Shortly before the MH17 was downed, journalists of several international media outlets had seen a Buk-M1 air defense missile launcher move across a rebel-controlled area in eastern Ukraine. And just a few weeks earlier, the rebels had boasted about seizing several Buk launchers from a Ukrainian military base in the east.
Ukraine, backed by Western governments, immediately blamed the rebels for the MH17’s downing and also alleged that the Buk missile system had allegedly been given to the rebels by Russia. The rebels also seemed to implicate themselves: minutes after the Malaysian Boeing went down, they put jubilant posts on the Internet boasting about shooting down a Ukrainian military plane over the same area.
The posts were later retracted. The Ukrainian government also released what it said were intercepts of rebel radio conversations, in which they allegedly talk about a passenger plane shot down by mistake. The rebels have denied their involvement, dismissing the initial Internet posts as mistaken and rejecting the radio intercepts as fake.
RUSSIA SEEKS TO TURN THE TABLES ON UKRAINE
While Ukraine and the U.S. accused the Russia-backed rebels for downing the MH17, Russia quickly blamed the disaster on Ukraine. Russian military officials said that a battery of Ukrainian Buk-M1 missiles was deployed to an area near which the plane was shot down. Some Russian reports alleged that the Ukrainian air defense forces were conducting an exercise in the area and might have shot the plane down by mistake.
In June, Almaz-Antei, the Russian maker of the Buk-M1, said that the analysis of pictures of plane fragments showed that it was shot down by an older version of the missile, which is no longer in Russian service, but remains in the Ukrainian army’s inventory. Almaz-Antei experts also said that their analysis of shrapnel impact on the plane’s fragments indicated that the missile was fired from an area outside the rebel control. Russian officials also said that a Ukrainian air force jet flew close to the Malaysian Boeing just before it went down.
Russia’s top investigative agency, the Investigative Committee, launched a probe into the allegations made by a runaway Ukrainian soldier that he overheard a military pilot talking about downing a civilian plane. Ukraine has dismissed all those Russian allegations, and has continued to put the blame squarely on the rebels and Russia.
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