So far as admissions of guilt are concerned, this one ranks with the best of them: Russia, one of the five permanent members of the United Nations’ Security Council, vetoed the idea of creating an investigative tribunal to probe the Malaysian airline flight MH17 catastrophe.
The aircraft was shot down while flying at about 11,000 kilometres above the Donbass region of Ukraine. Most of the evidence available thus far points to Russia’s involvement.
The incident cost the lives of 298 people. Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s Security Council representative, was the only person present to reject the tribunal plan out of hand. He didn’t have to explain anything. Neither do China, France, the United Kingdom and the United States have to explain why they veto any so-called “substantive” Security Council resolution, and the decision which resolution is substantive and which isn’t is theirs, too.
Here are the rules: the permanent members can abstain (not vote, that is), or make themselves scarce while a vote is underway (thus, not vote, again), but these moves haven’t got the effect of a veto. Only a majority vote against it or a veto can stop a Security Council resolution in its tracks.
And only the five permanent members, as established at the creation of the United Nations in 1945, have the right of veto.
Well, nobody has ever said that the United Nations is a democratic body, after all.
Here are the basic facts: 11 of the 15 Security Council members voted for the resolution submitted jointly by Malaysia, Australia, the Netherlands and Ukraine. China, Angola and Venezuela abstained. Russia had been saying all along that the resolution would not pass. Now, it made sure of it.
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte went so far as to telephone Russia’s president Vladimir Putin, to ask him to reconsider. To no avail.
Why, oh why?
Russia’s official reaction is simple: the tribunal would develop into an instrument of anti-Russian propaganda, and besides, you’d have to find the guilty party (parties) first, and judge them only after you’ve found them.
This has been known for decades as the Andrei Yanuarevich Vyshinsky theory of jurisprudence: once you’re brought before a court, it means you’re guilty.
Presumption of innocence? HUH? The accuser has to prove the accused’s guilt? HUH? The accused is innocent until proven guilty? What the heck are you talking about?
Vyshinsky’s approach worked splendidly during Josef Vissarionovich Stalin’s trials. True, some would later claim the trials were only based on occasional errors but, otherwise, Stalin was right, and so was, by extension, Vyshinsky.
Of course, what Russia’s behaviour caused is known as the boomerang effect. Thus Malaysia’s transportation minister, Liow Tiong Lai: “(This) sends a dangerous message about the impunity perpetrators of this heinous crime can enjoy.”
U.S. Security Council Ambassador, Samantha Power, said Russian veto will only bring more pain to victims’ families. Left unspoken: they would logically link their pain to Russia’s unwillingness to help find the perpetrators.
Russia’s Churkin said establishing a tribunal would have been premature. He said his country has always been prepared to cooperate in a full, independent and objective investigation.
Investigators who had been probing the crash since it happened have looked at the latter statement askance. What they have encountered so far has been anything but Russia’s cooperation.
The Malaysian airliner, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, came crashing down in the area of Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists last July.
Experts say the plane was brought down by a ground-to-air missile launched in a Russian separatist-controlled area. They said it was a weapon nobody else but the Russian army had in its arsenal at the time.
Russia revealed recently a digital video recording that, it says, proves the plane was shot down using an air-to-air missile, launched from a Ukrainian fighter jet.
One minor mistake of major proportions: experts analyzed the digital video file and found conclusive evidence that it was fake.
Another Russian theory: Ukrainian army launched the ground-to-air missile.
Another minor oversight: the Ukrainians had no access to this kind of weaponry.
And, of course, a recently revealed video that shows the pro-Russian separatists inspecting the debris, exclaiming, oh, but we didn’t know this was a civilian plane, and similar words to that effect, isn’t helping the official Russian cause, either.
Ukrainian authorities, aware that the Russians would not accept any evidence they would present, gave up their right of investigation and transferred it to the Dutch. So, the office for airline safety of the Netherlands has received all of the debris, and has been trying to find the reasons for the crash. Its job is not to find the perpetrators. The Dutch attorney general’s office has been trying to find those guilty. It put together a commission that includes experts from Ukraine and the countries whose citizens had been among the victims.
There are no Russians on this body, and this makes Moscow even more paranoid.
Considering Russia has for centuries acted on the premise “it’s us against them,” and “everybody’s against us, and we know it,” no wonder its government is openly suspicious.
It remains to be seen what the Kremlin is going to think, say and do if Ukraine’s government decides to propose the formation of a similar tribunal at its earliest convenience at the United Nations’ General Assembly. To win, they would require just two-thirds of the vote, and Russia would be able to vote in any shape or form, but without the right of a veto.
The only problem: none of this is going to bring the 298 victims back.