Monday, July 21, 2014

Who are the Russian rebel separatists?

Who are the Russian rebel separatists?
10 questions answered about the history of Ukraine and the tragedy of MH17

Video link:

WE’VE all read about the horror of the crash site in Ukraine, but who are the people who shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17?

Here are 10 points to help you get your head around the origins of the tragedy.
A member of a local militia guards access to the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. Picture: Rob Stothard/Getty Images Source: Getty Images

1. Who are the separatists and what exactly do they want?

They seem cold, disinterested, even disdainful, as they sift through the rubble or belligerently deny access to investigators. But who are the separatists? They are a loose group of ordinary Ukrainians and trained military personnel, who have formed a militia under the command of pro-Russian rebel commander, Igor Girkin. The separatists are concentrated in the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Luhansk (also sometimes spelled Lugansk).
 The Novorussiya flag (top) is pretty much the confederate flag (bottom) without the stars. Source: NewsComAu

The separatists no longer want to be part of Ukraine and are hostile to the government in Kiev with its strongly pro-western leanings. They have declared two self-proclaimed republics bearing the names of the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, though these republics are not recognised internationally. The separatists want to unify these two republics into a state called Novorussiya (New Russia). In a clear nod to the confederacy of southern states in America’s Civil War, they have adopted a flag which strongly resembles the confederate flag.

Should it come to be recognised as legitimate, it is not known whether the state of Novorussiya would be part of Russia or Ukraine. That’s a question for another day.
 An armed pro-Russian separatist stands guard near a piece of the wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. Picture: AFP Photo/ Bulent Kilic Source: AFP

2. Who’s who? Who are the “rebels” and the “separatists”?

Readers unfamiliar with the conflict may be confused about who’s who in Ukraine.

Essentially, the media terms “pro-Russian separatists”, “Russian-backed rebels”, “eastern Ukraine militants” are interchangeable and refer to the Russian sympathisers in eastern Ukraine who have control over the region where the plane was shot down.
YouTube screenshots of a video purporting to be the Buk missile that took down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.
 Source: YouTube 

3. What were they trying to shoot down, and why?

Pro-Russian separatists have shot down as many as 10 Ukrainian aircraft recently, in what appear to be strikes aimed against the Ukrainian military itself rather than any particular cargo the planes happen to be carrying. On June 13, separatists shot down a Ukrainian transport plane carrying nine crew members and 40 paratroopers. They have also shot down helicopters and a range of other aircraft.

Debris and objects found scattered on the ground where Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 fel

Debris and objects found scattered on the ground where Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 fell from the sky in Rozsypne, Eastern Ukraine. Picture: Ella Pellegrini Source: News Corp Australia

Debris and objects found scattered on the ground where Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 fell from the sky in Rozsypne, Eastern Ukraine. Picture: Ella Pellegrini Source: News Corp Australia 

4. So was the missile attack on MH17 an accident?

It’s too early to say definitively, but one of the most compelling theories is that militants in rebel-held eastern Ukraine shot down MH17 thinking it was a military plane, not a civilian passenger jet. It was less of a terrorist act and more of a military offensive gone wrong.

Phone calls released by the Ukrainian Government purporting to be a conversation between rebel leaders suggest that the separatists only discovered that they had shot down a commercial airliner after the fact, as reported in The Washington Post.

The Post has also reported that it was likely the separatists had enough training to operate their surface-to-air missile systems, but not enough to distinguish between military and commercial aircraft. “The Buk missile system is such a complicated radar-guided system. I would think a bunch of Ukrainian hillbillies would not have an ability to operate it efficiently,” US Senator Mark Kirk said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Picture: AP Photo/Felipe Dana Source: AP

5. Is Putin the bad guy here … again?

Let’s put it this way. Russian President Vladimir Putin isn’t issuing direct orders but he has paved the way for the separatists to work their chaos, partly through direct action and partly by turning a blind eye. While it’s extremely doubtful Putin ordered this attack, many defence experts believe he provided the separatists with sophisticated surface-to-air missiles. Russia has moved military equipment across the Ukrainian border in recent weeks, and it’s believed that all of the Ukrainian aircraft shot down during that time were done so with Russian manufactured air defence systems.

It is thought that the Russian surface-to-air missile known as “Buk” was used to shoot down MH17. These missiles are launched from trucks, and there are reports Russian trucks were recently seen crossing the Russia-Ukraine border. One of them was even said to be missing a missile.

It is unclear whether Russian military figures orchestrated the attack that downed MH17, but as a general point, it is known that Putin strongly sympathises with the separatists. The Russian President continues to be infuriated by Kiev’s leanings towards western Europe and its institutions.

6. Let’s take a step back here. What is the source of the conflict in Ukraine?

Ukraine is a country split in two. There has been a dramatic schism between the country’s nationalist west, which speaks Ukrainian and welcomes involvement with the European Union, and the separatist east, which largely speaks Russian and considers the Kremlin an ally.

This drew the ire of Ukrainians in the west, who are keen to see the country align with the more prosperous economies of Europe.

Protesters stormed the streets of the capital, Kiev, to call for economic reform and demand the resignation of the President. The Ukrainian Government attempted to shut down the demonstrations with riot police, armed guards and military personnel. Allegations of police brutality ensued and the death toll reached into hundreds. Yanukovych fled to Russia, fearing for his life.

The unrest caused Russia to reassert its influence over what it considers a satellite state by proxy. Late in February, Russian troops moved into Crimea, a Russian-speaking province of Ukraine. The annexation of the region and the escalation of violence were met with widespread condemnation by world leaders, but the Kremlin argued it was protecting its own interests from the political instability of Ukraine.

Clashes have continued ever since between the Russian separatists and Ukrainian patriots along the highly volatile border region between Russia and Ukraine.

7. And going way back …

The origins of the dispute can be drawn back to the Stalinist era when the Soviet Union leader led a campaign of ethnic cleansing. In 1932, Joseph Stalin engineered a famine that killed an estimated 10 million, mostly in eastern Ukraine. Then, from 1933, the Soviets replaced them with millions of deported Russians.

Debris and objects found scattered on the ground where Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 fell from the sky in Rozsypne, Eastern Ukraine. Picture: Ella Pellegrini Source: News Corp Australia

8. This is all a bit of a worry. Could Europe, the US or even Australia be drawn into conflict with Russia?

The most likely repercussion for Russia would be further economic sanctions from the US and Europe. The Obama Administration had already levelled sanctions on Russia in relation to the Ukraine conflict in days preceding the MH17 crash, and there are international calls for further economic restrictions.

Australia has led the world in seeking a resolution from the UN for a wide-ranging, independent inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the crash. It has been noted that Australia has less to lose than European nations in talking tough to Russia, as we are not major trading partners.
A member of a local militia guards remnants of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
Picture: Rob Stothard/Getty Images Source: Getty Images

9. Why are eastern Ukrainians pro-Russian?

Ukraine is geographically the largest country that lies wholly within Europe (not counting Russia, which lies half within Asia). Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union from 1922, but became independent once more in 1991. Like Russia, Ukraine uses the Cyrillic alphabet. However it has its own language (Ukrainian). About one in six Ukrainians speak Russian as their first tongue. These people are mostly in the east, which borders Russia. Many people in this region are ethnically Russian and still consider themselves part of Russia. It is in the eastern region that the separatists are based, and where MH17 was shot down.

The chaotic scene where MH17 crash to earth. Picture: AFP Photo/Bulent Kilic Source: AFP

10. Will the bad guys be brought to justice?

Everybody’s talking tough, from the Malaysians to the Americans to the Europeans and of course Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. But it’s one thing to point the finger at Putin and/or the separatists, another to bring the perpetrators to justice.

In recent weeks, separatist forces have downed numerous Ukrainian planes, and it is likely they thought MH17 was another. This means the incident falls under the rules of war. Under those rules, all combatants have a duty to distinguish between military and civilian objects. Even if they thought the plane was a military object, as communications transcripts suggest, the separatists could still be found guilty in the International Court of Justice under a rule that says combatants must take all reasonable precautions to verify that a target is a military one before they attack. It appears the perpetrators failed to do this, though just who brings them to justice, or when, is for now an unanswerable question.
Recovery ... The bodies of victims of the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 await collection by the side of the road near the crash site on July 20, 2014 in Grabovo, Ukraine. Source: Getty Images

No comments:

Post a Comment