“Blowback”. It’s a word we’ve accepted in the US through the many misadventures of proxy wars that came back to bite us. Mujahideen “Freedom Fighters” eventually became Taliban and al Qaeda. Saddam Hussein went from being a trusted bulwark against Iran to a dangerous dictator. Iran itself went from being our puppet to a dangerous force supporting an awful lot of mayhem.
Today Malaysia Air Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, almost certainly by Russian separatists. Russia, under Putin, thought they had a clever strategy for arming a bunch of poorly organized, untrained rednecks with sophisticated weapons while they claimed to not be involved at all. It went about as badly as anyone with any forethought could have imagined as they apparently shot at just about anything flying by. What will put an end to this “cleverness” operating in place of a reasonable diplomatic and military policy? If this event, and the way it’s propagating through today’s internet media, doesn’t do it nothing will.
It all starts with the treaties that Russia signed just after the USSR collapsed. They pledged to never violate Ukrainian sovereignty, and that was that. When Putin wanted to move into Crimea the soldiers with Russian trucks and Russian guns stripped off their insignia, and that was that. What Russians? No one broke any treaties, right?
The game became more dangerous in the Donetsk region when a militia was formed to breakaway from Ukraine. No Russians were involved, yes, but fairly heavy equipment made its way over the border. Civilians largely untrained and not connected to the civil air traffic system apparently now have highly dangerous ground to air missiles.
What resulted can only be expected. A bunch of rednecks with really powerful weapons started firing at just about everything in the air.
In the last week, a Ukrainian transport and a fighter were shot down. The Boeing 777 that flow overhead at 10km apparently looked like an Antonov AN-26 at a lower altitude, as they are both relatively long, skinny, and grey on the bottom.
Strelkov, the nom de guerre of the apparent commander of the Russian separatists, tweeted that they had shot down a transport. Today, only Flight 17 was shot down. The tweet was deleted, but we already know what happened.
That’s the only thing that makes today different from the “blowback” episodes of the past. Analyzing what went wrong years after the fact doesn’t stick in people’s minds nearly as well as a tweet gone awry instantly. The propaganda campaign that Russia has been effectively running through this whole conflict, conning a large number of westerners along with its own people, has collapsed. Dangerous wackos with very powerful guns are now a clear threat to everyone.
As horrible as today’s event was, we can take some small comfort in the realization that Putin’s very clever strategy of not being involved (wink, wink) has fallen apart completely in the internet age. The combination of a well supplied proxy and a PR campaign cannot hold together for too long as the rednecks with ground to air missiles are also rednecks with a twitter account. We know the whole story right away now, and the initial narrative is at least close to the correct one.
Russia has screwed up very badly. The sanctions that took hold today will only become more severe. Europe will not stand idly by as international commerce becomes dangerous – they do have their limits, after all.
Meanwhile, 295 people died needlessly in a war that most of them didn’t understand at all. The horror of it will play over and over. Putin’s strategy wasn’t just too clever, it was far, far too clever. It’s also antique. You can’t control the media all the time, and you certainly can’t control the wackos on your side once you give them the best weapons available.
It’s more than just “blowback” this time. The entire premise of a proxy war is shattered. We don’t have secrets the way we used to, and the world is finding out in real time what really happened. Putin’s pleas of innocence are obviously lies.
How many more will have to die because of his meddling? A swift response from the West is now very much needed. And it will happen. Putin was too clever by a lot, and now he will pay. Not as much as the innocents on Flight 17, but he will pay.