Though short of time, I feel some obligation to comment on this. Let’s take it as read that it was a horrible thing, and move to the questions of who did it and what it may lead to.
Here are the probable candidates for blame:
1. Moslem suicide bomber;
2. The Americans;
3. The Russians;
4. The Ukrainians;
5. The rebels.
1. We can probably discount the Moslems. I should imagine it’s rather hard to get a suicide bomb through a West European airport, and blowing up this particular aeroplane had little obvious cause for celebration among the usual suspects.
2. Without better evidence than I’ve seen, we can also discount the Americans. The earliest reports said there were American citizens among the dead. If this had been true, it might have been taken as reason by the more crazed neo-cons to start demanding American air strikes against the pro-Russian rebels in the East of Ukraine. But even if something benefits a particular group, that doesn’t mean the group is behind it. I don’t believe the Americans are up to a false flag operation. The truth would leak out within days. Besides, everyone important in America seems thoroughly disinclined to get into more than a shouting war with the Russians.
3. It’s the same with the Russians. They are better at keeping secrets than the Americans. But I fail to see how shooting down a foreign aeroplane, and blaming the Ukrainians, would bring them any benefit they don’t already have. Mr Putin holds all the cards, and he’s the type of man who only acts when he needs to. To get everything he wants in the Ukraine, all he needs to do is sit and wait for the country to fall apart and for the Americans to walk away.
4. It would benefit the Ukrainian State for the rebels to be denounced across the world as international terrorists. But they are even less capable of a false flag operation than the Americans. They can’t trust each other to keep their mouths shut. They are riddled with Russian spies and with opportunists who will turn pro-Russian the moment it suits their interest. A room full of conspirators can easily come up with a wicked idea. It only needs a couple of men to press the relevant button on a rocket launcher. But there are too many others who need to stand in the chain of command between conception and execution.
5. That leaves the rebels. They keep insisting that they haven’t anything capable of shooting down an aeroplane at 32,000 feet. The problem with this claim is that there is no unified rebel army, and no one knows what the various groups have captured from the Ukrainian armed forces or been given by the Russians. I can easily imagine that a gang of drunks with moustaches let a rocket off, and then spent five minutes dancing about with bottles in their hands. Arguing that the rebel movement as a whole had no interest in doing this is beside the point. No one is in control. Even if not drunk, much of the rebel movement is mad.
Oh, I suppose the Ukrainian military might have done it by accident. The main difference between them and the rebels is that they still wear uniforms from time to time. On the whole, though, I suspect it was the rebels.
So what does all this mean? At first, I imagined a rerun of the first July Crisis – the Americans screaming blue murder, the Russians threatening to shoot any NATO war planes above Eastern Ukraine, etc, etc. But this is unlikely to happen. So I’ll turn to what it should mean.
I believe that the Germans should call a conference in Berlin. The Americans should stop handing round bribes and fraudulent promises in Kiev. The Russians should get their annexation of the Crimea ratified, and some kind of autonomy and assured minority status for their people in the Ukraine. The Ukrainians should get their unpaid gas bills written off. The Americans should get all Russian assistance in saving their face in Iraq and in getting a negotiated end to the civil war in Syria.
I say the Germans, because they have influence in Moscow and are not gross puppets of the Americans. As for the Americans, they should be persuaded as firmly as everyone else can manage to give up their ludicrous ambitions of world domination. They are collectively not up to the job of forming a coherent strategy of domination, in terms both of strategy and of implementation. Their effective power in the world is visibly waning. Unless checked, however, they do have the ability to continue turning the world upside down for years to come. They make trouble where none was before. When there is trouble they haven’t made, they make it worse. The sooner they are knocked off their perch – or are assisted in a reasonably graceful departure from it - the better for us all.