No matter the eventual outcome of the investigation into the Malaysian Airlines crash, the catastrophe has already done much to cast doubt on some of the world’s most deeply held beliefs about right and wrong.
People pray for the victims of the MH17 flight at a church in Kuala Lumpur, July 18, 2014. Photo: AP
Another phase of the investigation into the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 has come to an end. On Sept. 28, the Dutch-led Joint Investigative Team gave a press conference in which it presented evidence showing that the plane was shot down with a Russian Buk missile system that had been transported across the Russian border to separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine and later returned to Russia.
It would seem that the MH17 story is moving towards its logical end. The only thing left to do is to identify the people who were directly involved in this war crime and bring them to justice. The list of suspects has already been drawn up, and the investigative team promises to finish its work by 2018 and remit the case to the courts.
As the investigation continues, however, it has become clear that this investigation is unlikely to come to any reasonable conclusion. From what we already know, it appears that the investigation will result in charges against Russian citizens — and not just ordinary citizens, but people from the military and political elite. The probability of such people actually appearing before a court in the foreseeable future is close to zero. This reality, however, is unlikely to stop the investigators nor change the position of the relatives of those who died in the crash, who demand that the guilty be punished.
Regardless of how the investigation plays out, it can be said even now that the crash of MH17 and its aftermath have brought serious changes into our understanding of law and justice. Doubt has been cast on previously indisputable truths, and things previously thought unquestionable are now approached with skepticism. Here are few such statements:
1. “Guilt can be proven”
It is well known that Russia has consistently denied any and all evidence presented associating it with the crash of MH17. Unlike a typical suspect, Russia is able to resist succumbing to the burden of evidence, no matter how obvious it may seem to an outsider. No matter how sophisticated the investigators are in their methods, Russia always finds a simple response to neutralize the accusations brought against it.
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This time, for example, just days before the Joint Investigative Team’s press conference, Moscow presented the “raw data”, supposedly taken from Russian military radars, to the investigators. Analyzing this information will take some time. Yet it is highly likely that the new data will be rejected by the Dutch investigators as false.
Every time the investigation team tries to close the case for good, Russia pulls another “evidence” card from up its sleeve, questioning the allegations presented. There is no doubt that a whole deck of these cards has been stacked away for the years to come.
2. “The perpetrators can be punished”
Russia has already vetoed the establishment of an international tribunal on MH17. Clearly, there are many other ways to establish a UN Security Council tribunal, and this process can be launched formally.
But in order for any verdict to be implemented, there should be an enforcement mechanism, and there is no such mechanism against a nuclear power. As a result, if a court is established and a sentence is handed down, enforcing it would prove impossible, and that, among other things, would undermine the authority of the court and the countries that established it.
3. “By denying what is evident, Russia will find itself isolated internationally”
As indicated by recent political practice, leaders of countries facing a choice between morality and pragmatism are more likely to choose the latter. Russian President Vladimir Putin has not been universally banned from the international stage following the events in eastern Ukraine and Crimea.
And even having good reason to believe Russia’s involvement in the crash of the Malaysian airliner has not stopped the governments of leading Western powers — not to mention countries in other parts of the world — from doing business with Russia and even trying to establish military coalitions with it. It would be very unlikely for a verdict from an international tribunal, no matter how harsh, to change this reality.
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Additionally, Russia is continually working to cast doubt on the proceedings through its infromation campaigns, claiming that the international investigation, which is being conducted without Russian representatives, was conceived with the aim of exerting political pressure on Russia. In the climate of growing international skepticism towards the U.S. in particular and the West in general, such a position has found support and understanding with many people across the globe.
4. “By denying the obvious, the Russian government will lose its authority inside the country”
This statement is even more dubious than the previous one. The Kremlin has had no difficulty convincing large numbers of Russians that external attacks against the government, regardless of the reasons behind them, amount to attacks against the country as a whole. There is no doubt that a large amount of work is going on inside the country to convince the Russian people that their country had nothing to do with the crash of MH17 and that Ukraine is to blame.
The Russian government doesn’t even care if this point of view prevails — it only needs to put forward enough conspiracy theories and ordinary people start believing that it is impossible to get to the truth and that Russia is not involved in the tragedy.
5. “The truth is stronger than lies, and good will triumph over evil"
With all the challenges of investigating the MH17 crash and bringing the perpetrators to justice, many people have invoked morality as a last resort, assuring themselves and the people around them that the truth will prevail eventually and those who have done evil will be punished.
It might be the case, but the MH17 investigation has once again demonstrated that one should not expect the moral code to function in the world of politics and international relations the way it does in everyday life. The desire to hold the perpetrators accountable is in direct conflict with Russia itself — a great power and a great civilization — which stands in the way of justice.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.