Russia’s ambassador to Malaysia invoked the U.S. war on Iraq as she called on the United States to bring forth hard evidence that Russia was somehow complicit in a missile strike that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine.
Referring to the weapons of mass destruction that were used as justification for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq but were never found in the conflict’s aftermath, ambassador Vorobyeva Lyudmila Georgievna told a press conference in Kuala Lumpur: “We’re still waiting.”
U.S. officials have said they have intelligence suggesting Moscow smuggled sophisticated surface-to-air missile systems into rebel-held eastern Ukraine in the weeks before the Malaysian flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot out of the sky.
But in an address in Kuala Lumpur that was littered with insinuations that Ukraine had fighter jets in the region, and was known to have Buk anti-aircraft missile systems in the region, Ms. Georgievna denied that Russia was involved and said she was “convinced” that insurgents operating in the region could not have been responsible. She said the insurgents were discontented Ukrainian citizens with no military hardware capable of bringing down a commercial jetliner – and that they lacked the training to operate such technology, even if they had access to it.
“No way they could have done it,” she said. “Let them show us the evidence.”
The Russian ambassador’s remarks reflect Russian President Vladimir Putin’s refusal to bow to international pressure and condemn the rebels, who U.S. officials say were armed and trained by Moscow in their battle against Ukranian forces.
The crash of MH17 has been closely followed here in Malaysia, where the nation is struggling to come to grips with the second horrific airline tragedy to befall the country in just four months. In March, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 took off for Beijing and then disappeared with 239 people on board.
A closely followed international search had turned up no trace of the plane, and many here were still dealing with the fallout of that tragedy when another Malaysian plane was shot down – the victim of geopolitics in Europe that many here thought would never affect them.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters in a late-night address that his country had brokered a deal to get the black boxes back from the Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine and were working to bring home the bodies of Malaysians who died in the crash.
Unlike during the last airline crisis, where Mr. Najib’s government had come in for intense scrutiny of its handling of the event, the Malaysian government has handled the situation assertively but delicately, sending officials and investigators to Ukraine. Because of good relations with Russia, Mr. Najib has not been hostile in his public remarks like U.S. or Australian leaders, and managed to broker a surprising deal with the rebels in Ukraine to try and get back Malaysian bodies. A quick, traditional Islamic burial is incredibly important in mainly Muslim Malaysia, and particularly so given it is now the month of Ramadan and many of the Malaysian passengers were coming home to celebrate with their loved ones.
“In recent days, there were times I wanted to give greater voice to the anger and grief that the Malaysian people feel. And that I feel,” Mr. Najib said. “But sometimes, we must work quietly in the service of a better outcome.”