Mark Nuckols

Vladimir Putin is hoping to get away with murder. Last week a civilian airliner was shot down over eastern Ukraine by a sophisticated anti-aircraft missile system, and 298 innocent people died as a result. Simple logic and all the early evidence to point to Russia as the guilty party, but Putin smugly believes that he will get off scot-free. And he has good reasons to think so.

He enjoys strong support from a gullible and fiercely nationalistic Russian public that uncritically believes the Kremlin’s propaganda. The militants who almost certainly brought down Malaysian Airways Flight MH 17 with Russian support are apparently now frantically trying to remove evidence of their culpability from the crash site. And Putin is counting on feckless and vacillating European leaders to bend over backwards to avoid a confrontation with Russia that would endanger their multi-billion dollar business contracts with the Kremlin, Inc.

For months, Russian backed separatists have been waging war against Ukraine’s legitimate government, and employing increasingly advanced weaponry which Russia is covertly and illegally supplying them. A few days before the Malaysian flight was targeted for destruction, Putin’s proxies knocked a Ukrainian transport jet out of the sky with a high altitude missile of the same type, the Soviet designed “Buk.”

According to the claims of the Russian backed militants and numerous other sources, they had at their disposal at least one Buk battery. And the most plausible origin of such missiles is Putin’s military machine. It is a highly complex weapons system that would have required considerable technical assistance and advice to operate, which could only have come from Russia.

But in the black-is-white counterfactual universe of Russian state media, Malaysian Airways MH 17 couldn’t have been shot down by the Russian-backed militants. One theory propagated by the Kremlin’s spin doctors is that the Ukrainians themselves launched the fatal missile, despite the obvious fact that the militants don’t operate any aircraft which the Ukrainians would target.

This logical obstacle is swept aside with wild conspiracy theories, which the Russian public has been conditioned to believe by years of non-stop paranoia spread by Kremlin broadcasters. Russian media feverishly speculate that the Ukrainian government deliberately shot down the flight to discredit the militants and their patrons in Moscow.

Mark Nuckols

Mark Nuckols teaches law and business in Moscow. He has a JD from Georgetown and an MBA from Dartmouth. He has lived in Eastern Europe for most of the last 20 years, including Russia, Ukraine, Slovenia, and Georgia.