MOSCOW (CBS News/CBSDC/AP) — An assassination attempt against Russian President Vladimir Putin. A desperate ploy to draw the West into the battle for Ukraine’s east. A botched mission to commit mass murder against Russian citizens.
Russian news consumers are getting plenty of explanations for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which killed 298 people. While they vary wildly in content, all point the finger at Ukraine. None admits the possibility that Russia may bear responsibility.
The story of the airline tragedy that is unfolding for Russians differs starkly from the one that people are following in the West. As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told American TV viewers that rebels shot down the plane with Russian weaponry, Russians were being fed a diet of scenarios about forces in Ukraine conspiring to commit an atrocity in the skies.
Yekaterina Andreyeva, one of Russia’s most famous TV anchors, delved into one theory hours after news of the crash broke: Putin, traveling home from Brazil, passed along the same flight path as the Malaysian passenger jet less than one hour before it was hit — suggesting an assassination attempt.
By Friday morning, the assassination theory was replaced by other scenarios.
One focused on the Buk missile launcher that Ukraine says brought down the plane. State-owned Rossiya TV pinned blame on Kiev by saying the rebels did not own one, while Ukraine recently deployed a Buk launcher to the area. An Associated Press journalist saw a Buk launcher — which rebels have bragged about owning in social media — in rebel-held territory near the crash site hours before the plane was brought down.
Rossiya further said that the red, white, and blue of the Malaysia Airlines logo “resembles the Russian tricolor” — hinting at a Ukrainian attempt to blow up a Russian passenger jet.
One prominent, notoriously pro-Kremlin Russian analyst, Sergei Markov, told CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward on Monday that the Ukrainian military was undoubtedly to blame for downing Flight 17, and he offered the same familiar litany of theories as evidence.
“There are a few clear facts,” Markov told Ward in Moscow, suggesting the Malaysian jet diverted from its usual flight path by almost 300 miles “in the period of the strong air fighting,” apparently on the orders of air traffic control in Kiev, to send the plane “right exactly above the region of the battles.”
Markov also suggested that the central Ukrainian government in Kiev — labeled fascist by the Russian media — “started accusing anti-fascist rebels for the crashing of this Malaysian jet before the crash happened.” It wasn’t clear what Markov was referring to, but he ended by concluding that “no evidence at all shows that anti-fascist rebels crashed this jet.”
The Russian pundit went on to tell Ward that Russia had no choice now but to increase its support for the rebels. When asked if there could be a return to the Cold War, he said it “would be an improvement over what we have now.”
Komsomolskaya Pravda, Russia’s most-read tabloid, took another tack. It claimed that Ukrainian air traffic controllers redirected the Malaysia Airlines plane to fly directly over the conflict zone, publishing pictures from flight-tracking websites that appeared to show fluctuations in the plane’s route.
Russia media have suggested that Ukrainian authorities orchestrated the downing to make it look like a rebel attack, in hopes it would be the catalyst for luring Western powers into military intervention.
Russian state-controlled television, which is where a majority of Russians get their news, tends to toe the official line and abrupt changes in language on the air can reflect changes in Kremlin strategy. In June, Putin began soft-pedaling his rhetoric on Ukraine after recognizing May 25 presidential elections, in an apparent attempt to stave off Western sanctions.
After the airline tragedy, Putin led the shift to a more aggressive tone.
“This tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine,” Putin said. “And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy.”
Outrage has grown in the West over what appears to be a bungled start to the investigation. Finally on Tuesday — five days after the attack on the civilian airliner — the first small team of aviation experts, three senior Malaysia Airlines staff, were allowed to survey the wreckage.
Rebels allowed a group of monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe only a superficial inspection of the crash site on Saturday before firing warning shots when two Ukrainian members of the group attempted to study wreckage.
In Russia, meanwhile, news reports repeat that the rebels have been cooperating with the observers — and blame Kiev for stalling the arrival of international investigators.
“Yesterday the OSCE group worked in the field all day at the scene of the plane crash,” First Channel’s Sunday broadcast began. “So far the Ukrainian authorities do not want to send a group of international specialists to Donetsk.”
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