On 17 July, 4.20 PM Lithuanian time, a Boeing777, flying at 10,500m, disappeared from the radars near Donetsk. Seventeen minutes later, Igor Girkin-Strelkov, leader of separatist fighters in east Ukraine, posted a message on the social network VKontakte, boasting about downing the "little bird" An26, Ukranian military's aircraft. The Kremlin's "Life News" picked up and shared the message immediately. It turned out soon that the "little bird" was a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane. The boastful message was removed from the social network - futile though it is to try to have anything removed from the internet.
The Russian propaganda started immediately spreading a fable about some Spanish dispatcher named Carlos who allegedly saw in his monitor two Ukrainian Su25s approaching the MH17 airliner right before the crash. The mysterious dispatcher does not exist anywhere outside that message. Another version was that the target was actually the Russian president's plane that crossed the MH17 route over Warsaw. Does it matter that Moscow is in a completely different direction from Warsaw than Donetsk?
The MASINT intelligence system allows to deduce the route of a missile by the heat footprint it leaves behind. The US European headquarters in Stuttgart must have received the information from intelligence satellites.
Ukraine's counter-intelligence chief Vitaly Naida has presented evidence that three Buks were transported from Russia to Ukraine and taken back on the night of 18 July. There is a video showing Buk M1 being transported on top of a white civilian truck (it would take too long for a 35-ton tracked launcher to travel the 60 kilometres to the Russian border on its own). The missiles are seen uncovered, one of the four in the set is missing. On Sunday, 20 July, US Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed to CNN that the Malaysia Airlines plane was hit with a weapon that the separatists got from Russia.
Buk is an anti-aircraft rocket system that includes not just a tracked launcher, but also a tracked radar. The latter can be integrated into a bigger network and receive information about a target.
The four-rocket launcher itself contains a simpler radar that cannot read aircraft transponders, but it can aim. The launcher is operated by a crew of four that must be specifically trained for the purpose - it's much more complicated than shooting from a Kalashnikov. According to the Ukrainian intelligence, Russia sent its own crew along with the launcher.
In summary, Russia gave the separatists a ready-to-use lethal bat, but, to keep it simple, failed to provide the glasses to take a better look at the victim. So the separatists must have reasoned thus: if it comes from the west, it must be the enemy from Kiev. Both Ukrainian dispatcher services and those of Russia that were to take over monitoring the flight five minutes later knew very well it was a passenger plane and not a military aircraft.
But these people with a lethal weapon in their hands looked at things with the eyes corrupted by the Kremlin's propaganda. According to reports, some separatist fighters, when taken prisoner, refuse to eat because they believe that they are being fed just to have their organs removed for transplantation later.
The MH17 crash turned the clashes in east Ukraine into a global crisis. The international media made an unequivocal link between the incident and Putin's regime. Leaders of the democratic world, from the Netherlands to Austria, cannot ignore the shifting moods of their citizenries.
The world tolerates dictators to an extent as long as they rave within their own borders, like Mugabe in Zimbabwe or the Kim dynasty in North Korea. All intelligence services meanwhile do their utmost to prevent lunatic regimes from laying their hands on powerful weapons. Passenger planes fly high above Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine, because fighters beneath do not have weapons powerful enough to reach them.
The downing of a passenger plane with a Russian-supplied and later covered up weapon puts Putin's regime on a par with that of Muammar Gaddafi, who provided safe haven for the terrorists that took down a passenger plane over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. As long as Gaddafi tortured domestic Tuareg rebels, the world merely frowned. But after Lockerbie, even the French felt embarrassed to buy gas from Libya. Following a wave of international sanctions, the country's GDP took a 25-percent dip, contributing to a civil war that swept away Gaddafi and his clan.
Before we turn to the question of whether or not the MH17 tragedy will prove a turning point in how the West sees Putin, let's ask our own Lithuanian government if it will change its attitude towards public manifestations of chauvinist Big-Russia moods at home. Twenty-something-year-old Alexander Dovzhenko, born in Vilnius, is publishing open calls on social networks to go to Donbass and join the separatists. Social democratic MP Juozas Olekas, conservative Arvydas Anušauskas have condemned such calls, but the Prosecutor General's Office can see no basis to open an investigation into incitement of terrorism.
"War and Peace", a legally-registered organization in Lithuania, has collected LTL 13,500 in donations that it sent right to Donbass, bypassing the Ukrainian government. Lrytas.lt reporter Artūras Jančys found out on 16 July that the organization's director Vladimir Kazakov was already on his way to deliver the aid to Donbass.
If Lithuanian organizations supply food to the terrorists that, after a good meal, go and fight the Ukrainian army, does it not amount to legalized support for terrorism? And if the Lithuanian donations were used to buy fuel for the truck that transported the Buk M1 rocket launcher back to Russia, would it not mean direct involvement in the crime? Moreover, such donations also give moral motivation for the separatists.
Any support for the separatists that is not condemned in Lithuania brings shame to our country and openly mocks those Lithuanian officials that make much effort to help defend Ukraine's territorial integrity in international organizations. So before we expect to see a mood change in Berlin, Paris or Rome, let's see if the tragedy in Donbass will be a breaking point here, if it will force Vilnius to adopt a consistent position not just in the international arena, but also at home.