For Putin, MH17 shootdown hearings more serious than ruble’s fall and coronavirus’ spread, Eggert says

Vladimir Putin in 2013 standing in front of a Buk missile launcher similar to one used to shoot down the Flight MH17 a year later (source: BBC MH17 Documentary)

Vladimir Putin in 2013 standing in front of a Buk missile launcher similar to one used to shoot down the Flight MH17 a year later (source: BBC MH17 Documentary) 

International, Op-ed

For many, the coronavirus pandemic and the economic turmoil that has led to the collapse of the ruble are the most important events of this week. They are certainly attracting more attention. But for Vladimir Putin, the hearings at the Hague about the shootdown of the Malaysian jetliner MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 are far more serious, Konstantin Eggert says.

That is because, the Russian commentator says, the first is a natural disaster that has not yet had a major impact on Russia and the second in time can be overcome. But the third threatens Putin’s version on the conflict in Ukraine and his ability to return to the respectability in the international community.

Despite Moscow’s propaganda efforts to undercut these hearings – for a useful survey of them, see “MH17 в Гааге: как Россия отвлекает всех от судa” or Tracing five years of pro-Kremlin disinformation about MH17: Infographic – they begin with a court that is incorruptible and with the near universal conviction that it was a Russian missile that brought down the plane and killed 298 people.

A video simulation of the MH17 shootdown by a Russian Buk missile, produced by the Dutch Safety Board

A video simulation of the MH17 shootdown by a Russian Buk missile, produced by the Dutch Safety Board

From the Kremlin’s perspective, the situation promises only to get worse. The hearings will review 36,000 pages of documents, hear from various witnesses and 50 relatives of those who died, and will last for a year or more. And they will get attention: some 400 journalists are currently accredited with the court.

“Today,” Eggert writes, “there are four accused: three Russian citizens including Igor Girkin, and a citizen of Ukraine. But others may be added” as the hearings proceed. And still more worrisome for Moscow is that the court plans to investigate “not only the issue of the guilt of those charged but also on whose order the missile system was on the territory of Ukraine.”

And there is little doubt that this will lead to Moscow and to Putin personally. Whatever he does, including potentially trying to reach an agreement with the families of the victims by paying compensation without admitting responsibility will do little to lessen the threat these hearings represent.

Russian mercenaries taking photographs with personal items found among the debris at the crash site of MH17 downed by a Russian BUK surface-to-air missile in Russia-occupied east Ukraine

Russian mercenaries taking photographs with personal items found among the debris at the crash site of MH17 downed by a Russian Buk surface-to-air missile in Russia-occupied east Ukraine

The Kremlin considers that any concession at all “will become a recognition that Russia is conducting a war against Ukraine, albeit a ‘hybrid’ one” and that “such a step would be equivalent to the conscious destruction of the foundations of Russian policy, Russian ideology and Russian propaganda.”

While no Russian citizen is likely to end in jail as a result of this case and the term “war crimes” may not be mentioned in it, Moscow is going to suffer “very great” losses to its reputation, losses that will delay, if not make impossible, Putin’s return to the ranks of the respectable leaders of the international community.

And despite what he and his regime say about the international system, he and it care very much about achieving that. But today, standing in their way, are “six individuals, five judges (three basic and two reserve) plus the prosecutor. And this barrier it appears is impassable.”

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Edited by: A. N.

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