On July 17, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 MH 17/MAS17, an international flight, took off from Amsterdam for Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
It was scheduled to reach its destination in 11 hours and 45 minutes. But the flight–and its 283 passengers and 15 crew–never made it.
Instead, as the plane cruised above Hrabove in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, it came under fire by Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists. A single Buk surface-to-air missile slammed into the aircraft, almost instantly killing everyone on board.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
Since March, 2014, pro-Russian groups have aggressively–and often violently–tried to destabilize the Ukrainian government.
The reason: Ukraine has been showing an increasing desire to align itself with the West, especially the European Union. And Russian President Vladimir Putin has made clear his intention of preventing that.
A former KGB agent, Putin has called the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union as “a major geopolitical disaster of the [20th] century.”
According to John Bolton, a former United States ambassador to the United Nations: “It’s clear he wants to re-establish Russian hegemony within the space of the former Soviet Union. Ukraine is the biggest prize, that’s what he’s after. The occupation of the Crimea is a step in that direction.”
The most damning evidence for Russian separatists’ culpability in the airliner’s destruction came from United States military officials who cited:
- Sensors that traced the path of the missile;
- Shrapnel patterns in the wreckage; and
- Voice print analysis of separatists’ conversations where they claimed credit for the strike.
Furthermore, data and photos from various social media sites all indicated that the missile had been fired by the separatists.
But the Republican Party quickly found another culprit to blame for the tragedy: President Barack Obama.
Just hours after the shootdown, Arizona Republican Senator John McCain appeared on the Sean Hannity show, which is carried on the Right-wing Fox News.
“It’s just been cowardly,” McCain said. “It’s a cowardly administration that we failed to give the Ukrainians weapons with which to defend themselves.”
McCain then told Hannity what he would do in response to the deadly crash:
“First, give the Ukrainians weapons to defend themselves and regain their territory. Second of all, move some of our troops in to areas that are being threatened by Vladimir Putin, in other countries like the Baltics and others.
“Move missile defense into the places where we got out of, like the Czech Republic and Poland and other places. And impose the harshest possible sanctions on Vladimir Putin and Russia. And that’s just for openers.”
Yet America’s frustrations with Russia generally–and Vladimir Putin in particular–long predate those of Barack Obama.
And relations between the United States and post-Soviet Russia were definitely not helped by the naivety of President George W. Bush.
In June 2001, Bush and Vladimir Putin met in Slovenia. During the meeting a truly startling exchange occurred.
Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush
Putin, a former KGB Intelligence officer, had clearly done his homework on Bush. When he mentioned that one of the sports Bush had played was rugby, Bush was highly impressed.
“I did play rugby,” said Bush. “Very good briefing.”
But more was to come.
BUSH: Let me say something about what caught my attention, Mr. President, was that your mother gave you a cross which you had blessed in Israel, the Holy Land.
PUTIN: It’s true.
BUSH: That amazes me, that here you were a Communist, KGB operative, and yet you were willing to wear a cross. That speaks volumes to me, Mr. President. May I call you Vladimir?
Putin instantly sensed that Bush judged others–even world leaders–through the lens of his own fundamentalist Christian theology.
Falling back on his KGB training, Putin seized on this apparent point of commonality to build a bond. He told Bush that his dacha had once burned to the ground, and the only item that had been saved was that cross.
“Well, that’s the story of the cross as far as I’m concerned,” said Bush, clearly impressed. “Things are meant to be.”
Afterward, Bush and Putin gave an outdoor news conference.
“Is this a man that Americans can trust?” Associated Press correspondent Ron Fournier asked Bush.
“Yes,” said Bush. “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue.
“I was able to get a sense of his soul, a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country. I wouldn’t have invited him to my ranch if I didn’t trust him.”
Of course, no one from the Right is now willing to recall such embarrassing words.
It’s far more politically profitable to pretend that all of America’s tensions with Russia began with the election of Barack Obama.
And that those tensions will vanish once another Rightist President enters the White House.