Malaysia Flight 17: A Franz Ferdinand moment?

Editor’s Note: Alexander Nekrassov is a Russian commentator and former Russian presidential and government adviser. The views expressed in this commentary are solely his.

Story highlights

Russia is in the dock over MH17, despite few confirmed facts, says Alexander Nekrassov

Nekrassov says Ukraine has blamed Moscow for the crash, accusing it of arming rebels

But he says it would be tough for Kiev to argue how a "rag tag army" could bring down a plane

The tragedy will hopefully focus international attention on ending the Ukraine bloodshed, he says

CNN  — 

Did you have a Franz Ferdinand moment when you first heard about Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crashing in eastern Ukraine?

I am talking about the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination 100 years ago sparked World War I.

Alexander Nekrassov

The reaction from some politicians and hacks suggested they were having such a moment, after the MH17 crash – hinting that the world would never be the same.

The Malaysian Boeing 777, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, crashed in the Donetsk region of war torn eastern Ukraine, in an area controlled by anti-government forces, known as “pro-Russian separatists” in the West.

Even before any details of the crash were confirmed, Russia found itself in the dock, accused of being responsible for the deaths of 298 people on board that plane, including citizens of the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia and the Philippines.

The most amazing part of this whole dramatic saga came when Russian President Vladimir Putin held a “scheduled,” as we were assured, phone conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama, which, as fate would have it, actually took place when the wreckage of flight MH17 was still burning on the ground in a field not far from the town of Shahtersk. Talk about coincidences, eh?

According to Kremlin and White House statements on the call, Obama and Putin discussed the crisis on the ground in Ukraine, sanctions and ways to find a diplomatic solution before Putin noted reports that a Malaysian plane had crashed.

Details of the two leaders’ exchange regarding the crash have not been revealed but it would seem safe to assume that Putin would have tried to assure his American counterpart that Russia had nothing to do with the downing of the airliner.

Obama probably pretended to believe him but kept an open mind about it, especially as his stern-faced national security advisers – of whom there are plenty these days – were likely telling him that everything pointed to Russia playing some part in this tragedy.

Naturally, the moment the plane hit the ground, the Ukrainian government pointed the finger of blame at Moscow, accusing it of arming the rebels in the east and providing all sorts of backup.

Handily, a recording of a supposed phone conversation between two “Russian officers,” one in eastern Ukraine and the other in Russia, was produced, intended to prove that they were discussing the downing of the plane.

But, in all honesty, it would be tough for the Ukrainian government and its allies to explain how this rag tag army – and yes, it is a rag tag army, whatever some people claim – could have managed to bring down a plane flying at an altitude of 33,000 feet.

Some talking heads on the box have been saying that as the separatists have already brought down a number of Ukrainian aircraft they could have shot down flight MH17.

There’s only one problem though: all the previous aircraft were flying at much lower altitudes, some actually as low as a few hundred yards from the ground, while flight MH17 was way out of reach of all the shoulder-held antiaircraft missiles that the anti-government forces have in their possession.

So to bring down a passenger plane at such altitude a much more sophisticated system would have been needed, not to mention personnel on the ground with the specific training required to operate it.

Nevertheless, Putin will have a very tough time convincing the world that Russia had nothing to do with the downing of flight MH17. Because on the face of it the circumstantial evidence is against him.

You know, Crimea becoming part of Russia and “pro-Russian separatists” waging a war with government troops in the east with Moscow’s backing.

So in the Kremlin they are obviously getting ready for some serious turbulence, if you pardon the expression, hoping to tough it out – especially as the situation at the moment remains unclear, with both the Russian military and the Pentagon providing conflicting reports of what “might” have happened.

Mind you, the Kremlin has already come up with one brilliant move, saying last night it would refuse to accept the two black boxes from flight MH17 that have been recovered by the anti-government fighters at the place of the crash. In theory that denies Kiev the opportunity to claim that Russia is “tampering” with the evidence … although Ukraine claimed Friday that Russia held the recording devices nonetheless.

The one thing that will most definitely change after the downing of flight MH17 is that the civil war raging in Ukraine that had somehow been forgotten by the outside world will now – with the death of nearly 300 foreign citizens – get an international dimension.

And maybe, just maybe, all the key players will now make a serious effort to try to stop the bloodshed there. And the Franz Ferdinand moment will just be a moment and nothing else.

Read: The man who started WWI – 7 things you didn’t know