Kremlin Panics after Dutch Report, and It Should

Headline overstated, but there are signs of discomfort:

Dismissing the report as based on “speculation, unqualified and unprofessional information,” Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov hinted vaguely that new data on the crash had emerged. A representative of Almaz-Antey, the company that produces the Buk missile (the model that destroyed the Malaysian Boeing), did not rule out an accidental launch caused by poor maintenance and a possible violation of procedures by the missile launch crew. A permanent fixture in the presidential press corps, Andrei Kolesnikov, indicated that Russian President Vladimir Putin could have been misled by his advisers, speculating that if Putin finds out that pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas deliberately shot down a civilian airliner, he will turn his back on them. And the chief editor of the influential Echo Moskvy radio station, Alexei Venediktov, said something similar, though he presumed that Putin would thoroughly investigate Russian military involvement in this tragedy.

This unusual variety of perspectives on such a crucial issue betrays fear in Moscow’s official circles. Before the report, Kremlin propaganda denied not only Russian or separatist involvement in the tragedy, but even refused to admit that the Boeing was shot down by a Russian-made missile. With a straight face, pro-Kremlin media quoted non-existent Spanish air traffic controller Carlos, Ukrainian Air Force Captain Voloshin, and other fakes, though none of the numerous explanations Moscow offered could hold water. Why would Peskov be so hesitant to deny Russian involvement now, while Almaz-Antey, Kolesnikov, Venediktov, and many others dared to spell out what had been anathema for Kremlin only days before? Putin and his cohorts have been caught red-handed in willful mendacity on many previous occasions and the Russian regime has invariably maintained its collective poker face. No one seriously expects the Russian government to extradite the accused perpetrators to the West. What caused such an uncoordinated response this time?

The international investigative team indicated that about a hundred individuals were “linked to the crash or to the transport of the Buk” missile, though the investigators have yet to determine who could be held criminally responsible. There is a chance that some of them belong to Russia’s top leadership, perhaps all the way up to Putin himself.