Dutch investigators have confirmed what much of the world already believed: that a Russian-made missile was used from rebel territory controlled by pro-Moscow forces in Ukraine to shoot down Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, killing all 298 people on board.
Equally predictable was the Kremlin’s reaction to the tragedy and ensuing investigations which found a Russian-made Buk rocket system was deployed on July 17, 2014, even though it is impossible to say who did it.
Dutch Safety Board chairman Tjibbe Joustra said Russian officials involved with the investigation of the downed airliner– that belonged to the government-owned Malaysian Airline System (MAS)–had claimed it was not possible to confirm the warhead or type of system.
He also said that neither side in the Crimean conflict had recognized the risks posed to civil aviation by the armed conflict on the ground.
That was not noted by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who issued a statement shortly after talks with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Dutch Safety Board ahead of their long awaited report on the shooting down of flight MH17.
“This was an unforeseeable act and, of the 160 flights that were on MH17’s general route that day, not one was advised by the relevant authorities against any specific threat,” Najib insisted, again.
“But we now know that the plane was hit by a Russian-made Buk missile fired from rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine.”
The problem for Najib with this report is that if both sides of the conflict in the Ukraine should have been aware of the problems confronting the aviation industry, then surely so should the international aviation authorities and the airlines which flew over the region every day.
Why did they not divert their planes accordingly? The conflict had been ongoing for months. On March 1, 2014, Russia’s parliament approved President Vladimir Putin’s request to use force in Ukraine to protect Russian interests.
Importantly, the Dutch report essentially contradicts Najib’s statement that MH17 was downed by “an unforeseeable act.”
Joustra said: “As a precaution, there was sufficient reason for Ukraine authorities to close the airspace above the eastern part of the country.”
Put simply, MH17 should not have been there in the first place, and nor should have the other 160 flights as noted by Najib. Other airlines flying the same route during that time should consider themselves lucky. Some airlines did consider the conflict and flew around it.
The only reason for not diverting – that one can safely assume – is that airline companies did not want to foot the bill for the extra aviation fuel required to fly around the Crimea. It was the pilot’s prerogative to be there in the first place.
This was just four months after the disappearance of MH370 somewhere over the Indian Ocean amid claims that the Malaysian government has not been forthcoming with information about exactly what was on board.
Senior management has emerged unscathed at Malaysia’s national carrier despite both disasters. Yet management and the culture they impose are issues.
Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, Managing Director and Group CEO of MAS, remained in the top position until May 2015, after taking over the airline four years earlier with a mandate to cut costs and improve the bottom line. Nor Yusof has been Chairman for four years.
In September, Nor – once seen as the “perfect pick” for the airline – announced a name change for the deeply troubled airline to Malaysia Airlines Berhad (MAB) from Malaysian Airline Systems (MAS).
“The on-going criminal investigation, which is being led by the Dutch with our full support, must provide definitive answers and allow us to pursue the strongest action possible against those responsible,” Najib added.
A dose of honesty by the Malaysians regarding the cost-cutting and the impact that had on MAS and why it was flying over the Crimea in the first place would be refreshing. However, given the traditionally cozy alliance between government, bureaucracy and the airline, chances that senior management will be held accountable for the abysmal running of the airline are slim.
Obfuscation by the Russians should be expected.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter @lukeanthonyhunt