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Who is responsible for Malaysian Airlines disaster ?

It's now almost a foregone conclusion that a Russian anti-aircraft missile has blown Malaysian Airlines flight 17 out of the sky. This is the second time that a civilian aircraft has been shot down by a Russian missile with great loss of life to innocent civilians. First was in 1983 when a Korean Airlines 747 was shot down on orders of a Soviet Air Force general after it strayed into Soviet airspace near the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Malaysian Airlines shot down
Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

If history is any indication, no state likes to take responsibility for shooting down civilian planes in conflict zones or by accident, and that includes the United States. U.S. has never apologised for shooting down an Iranian passenger plane in the Persian Gulf in 1988 allegedly "by accident" when almost 300 civilians lost their lives. President Obama, unlike his Australian counterpart, has therefore been overly diplomatic and careful at not blaming Russia "without evidence" although it's plain and obvious that Russia gave the weapon to the perpetrators. That evidence will therefore never be established in a legal sense, since it's overshadowed by political interests of all parties involved. Lack of proof will probably be blamed on loss of the black boxes, which wouldn't show who fired the missile in any event.

This leaves the question of who will bear the blame in courtrooms for negligence and breach of duty that led to the failure to secure the safety of 300 passengers and crew. Malaysian Airlines and Euro Control, Europe's air control authority had a duty to ensure that the aircraft traveled on a safe path to its destination. These organisations will have to share most of the liability for gross negligence that resulted in loss of life. It has been public knowledge that rebels have been shooting down aircraft in Eastern Ukraine for the past couple of months. Several airlines had changed their flight routes or even cancelled flights to Ukraine. It's inexcusable that Malaysian and European decision-makers have been putting passengers at risk by flying them through a well-known violent conflict zone where at least 4 fixed-wing aircraft were shot down only recently.

Government of Ukraine should also take some responsibility for not declaring at least part of its airspace an unsafe flying zone. It's almost as if it wished for this to happen to involve other countries more deeply in its dispute. Its immediate publication of telephone conversations between Russians and pictures of the missile launcher suggests that Kiev may have expected this to happen.

This may be the last opportunity for Mr. Putin to show that he's still a world-class leader by taking some responsibility for the disaster and by helping the international community to properly dispose of the wreckage and the crash site. There's a big difference between his coup de grace of bloodless annexation of Crimea and supplying heavy weapons to a band of terrorists. If he behaves the way most Western governments expect him to do, Russia will no doubt drift into the status of a rogue nation like North Korea.

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