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Russia-Ukraine Conflict and Malaysia Flight 17

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A2 Conflict between Russia and the Ukraine Led to the Shooting



Down of Malaysia Flight 17

A3 John Doe

A4 Any University



A5 Introduction

            A6 The conflict between Russia and the Ukraine has historic roots not only in the Russian dominated Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), which put much of Eastern Europe under Russian control for much of the 20th century, but also in Czarist attempts to dominate those lands surrounding Russia.  In the wake of the Cold War, many people in the Western world believed that Russian attempts to control Europe were a thing of the past, ignoring the fact that the USSR was the only world superpower that ever came close to rivaling the modern United States in terms of military power.  Russian President Vladimir Putin has increasingly embraced Cold War tactics to help restore Russia to its former position of power in Europe, and, because of the country’s economic ties to much of Europe has been able to do so without facing any significant challenges.

            One of the areas that Russia has historically coveted is a region known as Crimea, which sits on the border between the Ukraine and Russia.  Crimea’s political and cultural background is varied, and, while it was technically part of the Ukraine in the post-Cold-War breakup of the USSR, it has always contained a large pro-Russian separatist faction.  In early 2014, Putin annexed Crimea, which resulted in a redrawing of the borders in Europe. While egregious, this behavior was largely ignored because of Russia’s aggression against the rest of Ukraine.  Putin agreed to remove his troops from the Ukraine, but the agreement was largely symbolic.  A7 “Russian arms and trainer kept the separatists supplied for the fight” A8 (Shuster, 2014, p.29).   

            In many ways, this remained a regional problem, with fighting between the Ukraine and Russia escalating, resulting in an increasing number of Ukrainian losses.  However, the airspace over the Ukraine represents a major conduit for air travel between Europe and the Middle East and Asia.  The increased use of missiles to target aircraft resulted in official warnings not to continue to fly over the Ukraine.  In April 2014, the International Civil Aviation Organization warned that commercial flights in Ukrainian airspace were in danger. Several countries and private airlines altered their flight plans to avoid Ukrainian airspace, but Malaysia Airlines was one of several major international airlines that did not alter its flight plans.


A9 Discussion

            On July 17, 2014 Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 left Amsterdam for its scheduled destination of Kuala Lumpur.  The flight plan took it over Ukrainian airspace. It was shot down from that airspace.  All 283 passengers and the 15 member crew died as a result.  The passengers included a number of AIDS researchers and activists, as well as many other innocent people.  There is no suggestion that the plane contained anyone with a military involvement with either the Russian or Ukrainian forces.  Furthermore, reports suggest that a Russian-made missile was responsible. 

            Although the investigation into the crash has not been concluded, all current evidence suggests that Russian separatists in the Ukraine were responsible for shooting down the plane.  However, Putin has refused to accept any responsibility for the tragedy. He has made statements that the Ukraine is responsible for the tragedy, despite the fact that pro-Russia militiamen actively impeded European observers from assessing and investigating the accident scene (Shuster, 2014, p.28). However, the Western world seemed unable or unwilling to challenge Putin’s defiant stance.

            Although the Netherlands lost 193 citizens on the flight, which originated in Amsterdam, the Dutch Prime Minister’s response was to ask for Putin’s help in recovering the bodies.  American President Barack Obama indicated that the world expected Putin to aid in the investigation of the flight.  However, no country has been willing to threaten force if Putin fails to cooperate and Putin’s seems unwilling to respond to warnings or requests that do not contain a threat of violence. Nor has he seemed to call for a halt to the violence in the airspace over the Ukraine.  “Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine apparently resumed their antiaircraft attacks less than a week after the destruction of Flight 17” B1 (Shuster, 2014, p.28). 

            In fact, the shooting down of Flight 17 demonstrates what many have suspected about Putin; his goal is to restore Russia to its former role as super-power, and, to do that he needs to regain control of many of the areas of Eastern Europe that gained independence in the wake of the Cold War.  Putin has been able to manage international crises in a way that has increased his power at home because of his use of anti-Western propaganda on Russian-controlled news.  This propaganda suggests that the fight in the Ukraine is about more than Crimea; it is a values struggle between the morally corrupt West and the Orthodox Christian Russia.

            Since Putin effectively controls 90% of the news that his people receive, this propaganda is incredibly effective (Shuster-Grabavo, 2014, p.33).  These news stations have controlled the media narrative about the conflict in the Ukraine, including the shooting down of MH 17; they have suggested that the flight was shot down by pro-Ukrainian forces in an effort to implicate Russia in the death of civilians.  In addition, the conspiracy theories are not content to blame the Ukraine; they suggest that the West, particularly the U.S. is responsible for helping fuel the fighting in the Ukraine and is, somehow, responsible for the downed flight.

            Furthermore, by creating problems that only he has the power to solve and allying himself with countries that do not have favor within NATO, he has made it difficult for other countries to criticize his actions.  They fear criticizing him because they may need to seek his intervention.  For example, Putin helped supply weapons and training to Syrian President Bashar Assad, but was also the negotiator who managed to broker peace in Syria, while keeping his ally in a position of power. 

            What makes the scenario even more complicated is the fact that while Putin has a history of allying himself with leaders that do not have significant support in the Western World; he also has strong allies within Europe. Russia is allies with Italy, which currently controls the presidency of the European Union.  As a result, it seems unlikely that the EU would consider imposing any type of meaningful economic sanctions on Russia.  This places the EU at odd with the United States, despite the fact that the countries are traditionally allied on economic sanctions.  Moreover, even if the EU decided to enforce economic sanctions against Russia, the fact that Russia has strong trade relationships with many countries outside of Europe means that sanctions may be unsuccessful in checking Russian aggression. 

“In fact, the first three rounds of U.S. sanctions- targeting Russian officials, oligarchs, and state-run companies- have done little to stop the bleeding of Ukraine” (Shuster, 2014, p.32). 



            In the wake of the Flight 17 tragedy and Russia’s response to it, it seems unlikely that any official investigation will result in action punishing those who shot the plane down.  Instead, the civilian deaths seem likely to be used as a pawn in the dispute, not only between Russia and the Ukraine, but between the ideological values of the West and Russia.  This dispute is no longer between Communism and Capitalist Democracy, as the fight was framed in the Cold War, but it is still very much a dispute between the Western world and Russia.

            Putin has openly suggested that the West, particularly the United States, does not have the authority to punish Russia for its transgressions.  He has openly challenged the idea of the U.S. as the world’s only super-power and seems intent on creating problems that either force the West to accept expanding Russian power or force them into war.  Until that decision is made, it seems like Russian-caused civilian deaths will become the norm, rather than the exception. 


B2 References

B3 Shuster, S.  B4 (2014, August 4).  B5 Crime without punishment.  B6 Time, B7 184(5), B8 26-35.







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