20 years under Putin: a timeline

On September 8, 2014, the preliminary results of the investigation into the recent crash of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 over Donetsk, Ukraine, were published by the Netherlands commission assembled for the task. Moscow-based journalist Olga Melnikova comments on Russia’s reactions to the findings.


The Netherlands bore the worst of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash in eastern Ukraine, losing 193 nationals. Malaysia lost 43, and Australia 37. Photo: Getty Images.


On September 8, the special commission created by the Netherlands government to investigate the reasons for the July 17 crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine released its report. According to the findings, the jetliner fell to pieces in mid-air “because multiple high-speed objects hit the cockpit.” The report doesn’t give a definitive answer to the question of who was responsible for the crash of the plane near Donetsk, but Malaysian prime minister Najib Tun Razak has already called its conclusions “convincing.”

As expected, the official Russian press reacted to the news in its usual manner: meeting any objections with expatiations on regulations and descriptions of technical details of the accident. Representatives of the government also preferred to focus on form over content. Thus, president of the Partner of Civil Aviation foundation and chairman of the Civil Aviation Commission of the Public Council of Rostransnadzor Oleg Smirnov claimed that the preliminary report on the crash of the Malaysian Boeing doesn’t adhere to international standards.

The reaction of Russian society was predictable and quite infantile. Most of the comments that appeared in mass and social media can be boiled down to the following statements: “It wasn’t us,” “It wasn’t Russia,” and “The West is just biding time in order to make the Ukrainians look good.” Some commenters demonstrated a surprising degree of conviction on the subject. For instance, one Russian wrote, “Of course, I understand that fragments of the airplane are rather damaged, but it’s hard to mistake holes made by the heavy machine gun of a strike fighter for something else. All those elliptical phrases [in the Netherlands report] strongly resemble a typical stalling for time. The West really doesn’t want to speak openly; otherwise it would be difficult to conceal Ukraine’s guilt.” It makes one want to ask what this individual’s field of expertise is that he can speak about such a complex subject with such certainty.

Some commenters wrote so confidently about the Ukrainian strike fighters that allegedly flew near the Boeing for some time before bringing it down, that it was as if they’d witnessed it themselves. One expertly observed that “it’s been a long time since airplanes have been equipped with machine guns, and strike fighters don’t fly as high as 10 kilometers.” But not a word was written in the preliminary report of the Netherlands commission about any fighter planes escorting the Boeing, nor about the participation of Ukrainian special forces.

Most of the comments that appeared in mass and social media can be boiled down to the following statements: “It wasn’t us,” “It wasn’t Russia,” and “The West is just biding time in order to make the Ukrainians look good.”

Today, Konstantin Stanislavski’s famous phrase “I don’t believe it!” is timelier than ever. There is no proof of Russia’s fault in the crash of the Boeing, say pro-Kremlin patriots. In their opinion, anyone who holds another point of view—be they oppositional bloggers or “Dozhd” TV channel—is lying because they are Russophobes, and nationalist traitors, and many other uncomplimentary words.

Another argument popular among patriotic “experts”: the Russian Army had no motive to shoot down the Boeing. So it comes down to this: since there is no conclusive evidence that Russia was involved, the Boeing must have been shot down by someone else? It seems that Russians have developed a specific kind of patriotism that doesn’t let them listen to any reasonable argument that might contradict their worldview. But what about those Russians who are ready to read and comprehend the conclusions of the investigation? As psychiatrists say in such situations, “We don’t support delusions, we don’t join delusions.”

It’s not uncommon that when a cup slips out of a child’s hand and breaks, he looks around, scared, catches his parent’s accusatory glance, and shouts, “It wasn’t me!” It’s normal when children under five don’t take responsibility for their actions. They might even invent imaginary friends and blame the effects of their destructive behavior on them. But if this rejection of responsibility lingers beyond a certain age, serious measures should be taken.