Published: August 20, 2014 - 15:29

On July 17, a scheduled Malaysian Airlines aircraft, MH 17, that took off from Amsterdam’s Schipol airport, was shot down over war-torn Ukraine. This was the second time in six months that an airline’s aircraft had met with such a tragedy. In March, another Malaysian aircraft, MH 370, disappeared into thin air. In spite of naval fleets from six countries scouring the Indian Ocean in what has become the largest and most expensive search mission in history, its wreckage remains to be found. But the disappearance ended up triggering a million conspiracy theories.

The wreckage of MH 17 may have been revealed, but its downing has not deterred conspiracy theories. As soon as the aircraft disappeared on the radar, only to later appear as a smouldering heap of wreckage strewn across hundreds of acres of corn fields in Eastern Ukraine, social media went into a frenzy. Tweets were not speculating so much as definitely proclaiming who it was that shot down the aircraft. The narrative seemed indubitable. Rebel Ukrainians who had earlier brought down a few military aircraft had used the Buk missiles supplied by the Russians to bring down the ill-fated plane with 280 passengers. There was no explanation why misfortune had befallen Malaysian Airlines again. Interestingly, no conspiracy theory provides any perspective on this bizarre coincidence.

The Russian defence was weak and uncertain. At the time of the aircraft’s downing, President Vladimir Putin was returning from a successful trip to Brazil. In fact, he was flying not too far from MH 17 when the air traffic control allowed the Malaysian aircraft to divert from its earlier approved course and stray into an area that was technically a war zone. The seemingly innocuous diversion was for seven kilometres, at an altitude of 33,000 feet, but which proved intriguingly fatal. It was at this height that the MH 17 blew up. How did it happen? Attempts have been made to re-create the tragic moment. There are versions and more versions. First, there have been no instances of a commercial aircraft being brought down by a surface-to-air missile at that altitude. Although the Russian Buk missile system, which is also with the Ukrainians, has a range of 35,000 feet, it has not been used to blast a commercial aircraft. Russia’s many adversaries were quick to show satellite images of Buk missiles returning to Russian territory around the time the incident took place. The juxtaposition of the violence with the alleged weapon system created an image of certitude, but aviation experts doubt that such a thing could have been executed. In their defence, the Russians, who seemed to be losing their information war, demanded that they be shown satellite data by the Americans or anyone, on the trail of smoke that Buk missiles leave as they home in on their target. There have been no answers.


The Russian defence, which has been trashed and mocked by CNN and other Western media outlets for resorting to conspiracy theories to cover their crime, has claimed that the Spanish air traffic controller was tweeting about the circumstances in which the plane was ambushed in the sky. The tweets suggested that the crash of MH 17 was not accident, but that it was brought down by Ukrainians who wanted to make it look like an attack by pro-Russians. Then there is the inexplicable presence of a Ukrainian Su-25 fighter jet around the same time that the MH 17 was flying over the corridor. Even if it cannot fly at MH 17’s altitude, the Su-25 can strike it with missiles or other weapon systems.

Russian radars and satellites deny attempts to make them guilty by insinuation. Till now no American or NATO satellites have provided a counterproof to debunk the Russian evidence except high-powered media campaigns — the kind that we saw during the run-up to the Iraq war when fraudulent WMD evidence was presented to marshal global support for the UN-led invasion. There are some versions based on the images of the wreckage that show the area around the cockpit peppered with machine gun fire on both sides. This version suggests that perhaps a Su-25 made an attempt to bring down Putin’s aircraft, which resembled the MH 17. Far-fetched, but we live in bizarre times.

Something to ponder, the MH 17 was brought down on July 17 — the day the Israelis began their military operations against Palestinians in Gaza. Any links?

Editor of Delhi's Hardnews magazine and author of Bad Money Bad Politics- the untold story of Hawala scandal.

Read more stories by Sanjay Kapoor

This story is from print issue of HardNews