How the Shooting Down of a Malaysian Jet Reveals Corbyn’s Putin Problem
Paul Canning reveals the Labour leadership’s alarming tendency to mitigate the crimes of the Kremlin.
Now that four suspects have been charged over the downing of Malaysian airliner MH17 in Ukraine in 2014, which killed nearly 300 passengers and crew, it is worth looking again at how those now leading the Labour party – and possibly heading for No. 10 – reacted.
During that hot July five years ago, the Labour Party – led by Ed Miliband – echoed then Prime Minister David Cameron’s call to impose strong sanctions on Russia. Miliband said that MH17 was “not simply a tragedy but a crime” and that “the international community has not done enough to show that Russian aggression cannot be allowed to stand”. “European unity must not be an excuse for European inaction,” he said.
As Ed Miliband flew to the US to drum up support from the Obama administration, Harriet Harman took his place in a House of Commons debate, arguing that “Europe must show its sorrow but also its strength”.
But, what of the future Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – then languishing on the backbenches?
The MH17 reaction is just one more example of Labour’s now leadership taking Russia’s side. And where does that end up?
Three months after MH17 was shot down, Corbyn appeared on Russia Today (now RT) stating his opposition to sanctions on Russia. He didn’t mention the downing of MH17 which killed 10 British citizens. His most common take then on Ukraine was about Russia being “provoked” by NATO “expanding to Russia’s borders”. But, he had also claimed that the war in Ukraine was about arms manufacturers who run NATO wanting a hi-tech war with Russia.
A year later, during Labour’s leadership election, Corbyn’s theory was that Putin invaded Crimea because the Russian “military-industrial complex” forced him to do it. And, since? I don’t believe Corbyn has ever mentioned MH17.
How Corbyn’s Stop the War Coalition Took the Kremlin’s Side
Three months after the disaster, Seumas Milne – now Labour’s executive director of strategy and communications and one of Corbyn’s closest aides – introduced Putin on stage in Sochi. Unsurprisingly, this caused consternation at his then employer, the Guardian newspaper. Milne’s bias towards Russia has been well-documented by the journalist Oliver Bullough.
The context for all this activity is worth recalling.
Following a brief 24-hour lull after MH17 was shot down – which “was almost as though the Russians wanted to get their story straight” – there was the largest burst of propaganda activity from the Russian-language Internet Research Agency (IRA) to date. (The IRA was subsequently indicted for interference in the 2016 US presidential election). In the following months, Russian military involvement in Ukraine intensified.
Many believe that the Russian army mistook Flight MH17 for a Ukrainian military transport plane, but admitting to that would mean exposing Russia’s entire secret war in Ukraine.
There were many on the left in the UK during the Ukrainian crisis of 2014-15 who warned about the Kremlin and concluded it was “important to challenge the Russian version of events in Ukraine.
Led at the time by Jeremy Corbyn, with his advisor Andrew Murray as his deputy, the Stop The War Coalition (STWC) repeated one of those Kremlin propaganda lines. As did Frank Furedi for Spiked Online. The STWC also put out a press release titled: “In game of Great Power politics, if we have to pick a side over Crimea, let it be Russia. Close ally Ken Livingstone then wrote a piece for RT blaming Ukraine for MH17.
When the STWC was called out for this support of Putin a year later, after Corbyn became Labour party leader, then Shadow Economic Secretary to the Treasury Richard Burgon told the BBC: “Attacks on Stop the War are proxy attacks on Jeremy Corbyn.”
Andrew Murray and Russia’s Proxies
Last year, Corbyn’s deputy at the STWC, Andrew Murray, was denied a visa to Ukraine because of his alleged sympathies with the Kremlin and because he continued to doubt Russia’s responsibility for the shooting down of MH17.
Murray, who left the Communist Party of Britain to join the Labour Party in 2016, is chief of staff to Len McCluskey, the general secretary of the union Unite and became a paid consultant to Corbyn in February last year.
Murray also labelled the popular Maidan uprising in Kiev against Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych a “fascist coup” which had taken place on orders from Washington and defended Russia’s annexation of Crimea. His book Empire & Ukraine has a major Russian disinformation theme on its cover.
In the wake of the invasion of Eastern Ukraine by Russia, the Kremlin set up a number of ‘anti-fascist ‘republics’ – Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR). Murray and the STWC promoted a support group for these puppet statelets called SARU (Solidarity with the anti-fascist resistance in Ukraine). They also promoted a fake pro-Russian leftist Ukrainian group called Borotba, set up by Kremlin dark lord Vladislav Surkov.
On the 15 August, Murray asked the pro-Kremlin and separatist publicist Roman Nosikov to contact him at his Unite union email address with the latest statement from the breakaway government. Both have since deleted these tweets. Here they are:
Murray was asked about his support for SARU in 2014 by the Daily Mail. He said: “I entirely condemn the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner. It’s simply not true to say I contradict the Labour Party position on this crime, since my one speech to the SARU was made long before the airliner was shot down.
“Since June 2, I have spoken at no further meetings organised by SARU, nor otherwise participated in its activities.”
The Problem Continues
It is important to note here that there were many on the left in the UK during the Ukrainian crisis of 2014-15 who warned about the Kremlin and concluded that it was “important to challenge the Russian version of events in Ukraine” – such as the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign, supported by Shadow Chancellor and close Corbyn supporter John McDonnell, which opposes Russian imperialism.
But, why is this four-year-old history relevant today? Because the same ‘infowars’ were at in regards to the Novichok nerve agent attack in Salisbury in March 2018, which led to the death of Dawn Sturgess last June.
One of the earliest bits of disinformation over the Salisbury attack, pushed by Kremlin propaganda, was that Russia only had “indirect responsibility”, meaning that Russia could have just lost the deadly nerve agent. That was also Corbyn’s line, right up until Labour’s conference last October.
Thanks to investigative news organisations like Bellingcat, whose evidence-gathering was essential to the MH17 charges, the culprits behind the Salisbury attack became evident within days. By early April, 28 countries who had heard all the evidence (including neutral Ireland and supposedly pro-Kremlin Hungary) threw out historic numbers of Russian spies – 342 diplomats were expelled.
Two weeks later, Corbyn’s response to the spy eviction was “if we are going to make a very, very clear assertion like that we have got to have the absolute evidence to do it”. That was despite the Shadow Home Secretary and Corbyn supporter Diane Abbott saying the very same month that “we believe” that Russia was responsible for Salisbury “beyond reasonable doubt“.
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‘They just waited for the evidence’ is the loudly asserted, tidy myth about Labour’s reaction to who was to blame for the Salisbury attack. In reality, its leadership waited five months to give up its line and blame Russia once the ‘Salisbury tourists’ became a joke everywhere, including in Russia.
From my investigations, the reaction to MH17 is just one more example of Labour’s now leadership taking Russia’s side. Where does that end up?
It ends in discrediting institutions such as those investigating MH17, a line of attack which the Russian Government and media has now switched to. That is the truly scary inevitable outcome of Labour’s obvious Kremlin-friendly bias.
Byline Times has contacted Andrew Murray for a response but has yet to receive a reply.