The Debate Over MH17 Has Been An Embarrassment to The West (and Russia)

Today, one year on from the tragic downing of flight MH17 over Eastern Ukraine, the debate over what really happened has become an embarrassment to both the West and Russia — and their respective media — and has produced the most idiotic crop of couch investigators that the internet has ever known.

There, I said it.

No, you do not know what happened to MH17. Neither do you. Or you. Or you over there.

The sheer stupidity that’s been witnessed over this tragedy has crossed all boundaries. Peak internet stupidity may finally have been reached. I have very rarely written anything about MH17, and for one reason: I have no real opinion on who was responsible and nor do I personally care. That might sound insensitive, but let me explain.

The same 298 people are still dead. There is still a war raging in Ukraine. And the investigation and debate around MH17 have become so politicized that it’s unlikely we will ever really know the full truth of what happened on that day.

Quite frankly, even if I had been personally affected by the tragedy, at this point I would not be placing much weight on various pieces of “evidence” produced by either the West or Russia.

If you know you’ll likely never really be able to feel justice or take comfort in knowing the full truth, what is the point?

Couch Investigators

Along with the official investigation into the tragedy, led by a coalition of countries that could currently not be any more hostile to Russia if they tried — The Netherlands, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine — we have also been subjected to an onslaught of “open source” information and “evidence” produced by couch investigators like Eliot Higgins of the Bellingcat “investigative” team.

Higgins, who sits at home on his laptop in England, has somehow managed to convince the Western world that he knows what happened that day in the skies over Donetsk.

And, always quick to believe anything which paints Russia in the worst light possible, Western media has lapped up his various reports and distributed their contents without question.

It has been depressing and frankly shocking to see how willing our media is to gobble up anything a self-proclaimed non-expert — in either aircraft disasters or military equipment — has had to say about both MH17 and the war in Ukraine in general.

Even when Germany’s Der Spiegel was forced to apologize for taking Higgins at his word — after consulting with real investigators — Western media continued to spew out reports and profiles on this man like he was the Messiah.

But it’s not just Higgins. There’s a whole host of idiots like him on Twitter who spend all day long tweeting about the “evidence” from one quarter or another. And I don’t discriminate when I say that.

I have seen equally stupid nonsense from those who believe Ukraine was at fault and that Russia’s hands are clean.

The worst thing about most of these people is actually that they don’t care about justice for the victims. They care about personal vindication for their own political arguments and they’ll seize on any piece of dreck or conspiracy theory in an attempt to ‘prove’ their various points.

There are people who would deny Russia’s involvement if I video emerged of Vladimir Putin himself firing a rocket at the cockpit. And there are people who would deny Ukrainian involvement if the same video emerged of Petro Poroshenko. That is how pathetic — and how much of a charade — this entire debate has become. 

Regardless of what kind of evidence is produced, the other side will shout “conspiracy theory!” until their last breath.

As for journalists, domestic Russian media has been happy to throw out any claim implicating Ukraine, and Western media has been happy to parrot anything that implicated the rebels. A useless back and forth that, a year later, has gotten us no closer to the truth – and no closer to justice for the families of those killed.

In desperate attempts claim victory, both sides have even published entirely fake, semi-fabricated or otherwise dodgy claims.

When it comes to the ‘real’ evidence — and I would classify ‘real’ evidence as that which has not been produced by Higgins or random people on Twitter — there are various competing theories, all of which deserve attention from the media and none of which I will delve into here. 

Sadly however, there are scripts to be adhered to — and the script is always more important than giving each side a fair shake.

Equally stupid

If it’s not already clear that both sides here are acting in an almost equally pathetic manner, let me try again to explain.

One of the most constant criticisms of Russia’s stance on MH17 is that, well, it has had more than one. Indeed, the reason for Russia’s changing theories may very well be that if you want to deny and distract from something, it helps to confuse matters by throwing curve balls into a story to throw people off the scent.

If the rebels shot down this plane and Russian authorities know that (or strongly suspect it), it is a very distinct possibility that this is why the Russian version of events changed over time.

However – and this is a big however – it also has struck me as odd that this has been the overriding criticism from the West.

It seems strange to me that Western journalists would use the fact that Russia put forth more than one possible explanation as some ultimate proof of their culpability – particularly given the fact that Russia did produce quite a bit of worthwhile information in the aftermath, at a time when the US State Department seemed to still be relying on ‘social media’ evidence.

Is it not fair to say, the the West’s own split-second decision to blame the rebels and Russia before the dust had even settled, is also quite a black mark on their professionalism in dealing with the aftermath of this tragedy?

Is it not fair to say that the very reason the West made that split-second decision to blame Russia — and hasn’t deviated from that decision since — is not in fact because there is irrefutable evidence to that effect, but because they too have a stake in the outcome of this and they had backed their horse from day one?

Russia may have (or may not have) aimed to muddy the waters by throwing up various possibilities, but the West was never open to hearing any evidence that did not tally with their preconceived notions of what had happened.

Two approaches. Same aim.


There have been calls for Russia to ‘own up to its role’, direct or indirect, in the downing of the flight. The argument goes, that great world powers don’t diminish, but rather strengthen their power, by admitting their own failings and shortcomings.

Not doing so can demote a country to the “second division” of the global system, according to one recent article. In that case, the “first division” of countries must be a fairly lonely place.

But it is indeed true that speaking honestly about one’s own failings is a sign of strength, not weakness — and it would be a pleasant break from the norm if all parties to this conflict, direct or indirect, took some responsibility for the disaster – including the United States and Ukraine.

In that spirit, the US might also find it in their hearts to apologize for the 1988 intentional shootdown of Iran Air 665 passenger jet by the USS Vincennes as it unlawfully traversed Iranian territorial waters, killing all 290 innocent people on board.

Washington might also reconsider the wisdom of awarding the men who shot that plane down with military medals for “exceptionally meritorious conduct”. 

Until that happens, it would be wise for both Washington and journalists of all stripes to drop the act, let the real investigators do their work, and then promptly move away from using such a horrific tragedy to promote their own political agendas.

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