The unconscionable cruelty of Russian-backed traitors towards our murdered compatriots augments suspicions that the downing of MH17 was an act of terrorism. In his response to the mass murder of Australian innocents by Russian-backed militias, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has perfected the art of restrained rage. He knows well that we cannot recover our people and prosecute their killers without the support of our great military allies, the USA and Europe. But as each day closes, the physical evidence needed to justify criminal proceedings against the perpetrators of the MH17 terror degrades further.
Vladimir Putin has finally ceded to international pressure, permitting access to the crash site. But Russian government justifications that the delay was necessary to ensure an impartial international investigation are not credible. The investigation can hardly be impartial when Russian-backed militias have already tampered with the evidence.
There has been much commentary on the riskiness of Putin’s delay and disinformation strategy to Russian interests. In fact, the downing of MH17 confers multiple strategic and tactical advantages on Russia. In the lead up to the 2015 Russian legislative election, Putin’s strongman stance against the West instils confidence in the omnipotence of his leadership. Following the invasion of Crimea, Putin’s popularity rating in Russia rose to 67%.
The depiction of Russian-backed militias controlling and interfering with the MH17 crash site signals that loyalty to Russia rewards Ukrainians with unassailable security, no matter how criminal their behaviour. The success of a small band of Russian-backed militias in downing a plane at such a distance promotes the image of Russian military supremacy. But the most important victory won by the attack on MH17 is the psychological terrorism of Russia-resisting Ukraine.
Terrorism is a physical and psychological form of warfare. Totalitarian states such as Russia have perfected the psychology of terrorism primarily as a form of civilian control.
In her masterpiece The Origins of Totalitarianism, political theorist Hannah Arendt revealed the ten terrorising tactics of totalitarian states. Several are directly applicable to the attack on MH17: lying, attacking harmless civilians on the basis of membership to a designated enemy group (e.g. the West), manipulating public shock at the immensity and randomness of their violence to instil disbelief in the crime itself, and ‘planned shapelessness’ of power structures.
The deployment of Russian-backed militias to invade Ukraine is a classic form of totalitarian ‘planned shapelessness’ in which State-funded parallel organisations are deployed to commit crimes in the interest of the centralised party. The State can subsequently shift the blame to these proxy units, which disband and re-group regularly to create the illusion of non-centralised control.
After contending with the destruction of key physical evidence in the MH17 case, international investigators will have to face a second obstacle; totalitarians lie. They lie repeatedly, deliberately, systematically. As a former member of the KGB, Putin is trained in the dark art of doublespeak. In February, 2014, Putin denied that Russian troops were involved in the invasion of Crimea. Instead, the masked militants were purported to be Russian-backed locals. He has used the same line to deny Russian involvement in the downing of MH17. In the face of overwhelming evidence, Putin admitted in April that Russian troops were involved in the Crimean invasion.
Like Putin, Igor Girkin, the man suspected of organising the attack on MH17, is trained in the art of mass deception. Girkin is a former colonel who worked in the Russian security service, a successor organisation of the KGB. His talent for psychological terrorism became evident when he claimed that the victims of MH17 were dead before take-off because “a significant number of the bodies weren’t fresh”, were drained of blood and reeked of decomposition. Widely reported, the apparently absurd statement served the real purpose of terrorising Western allies with images of our compatriots humiliated in death as bloodless, despoiled bodies.
The vile dehumanisation of the innocents murdered by Russian-backed traitors has been managed expertly. Leaving traumatised bodies in open fields and on roadsides for journalists to photograph conveys the message that Western citizens are utterly vulnerable to Russian aggression. Allowing our countrymen and women to decompose and permitting the recording of this indignity reinforces the illusion that we are not only helpless, but worthless.
The Russian-backed rebels’ treatment of the MH17 victims is an act of severe dehumanisation a core component of totalitarian military and civil strategy.
Coupled with the use of indiscriminate and overwhelming violence, dehumanisation produces mass despondency among civilian populations. By killing hundreds of Western citizens and degrading their the dead bodies on film, Russian-backed militants are hoping to demoralise us. More strategically, they are aiming to render Europe-aligned Ukrainians passive in the face of future Russian aggression.
The late journalist Edward Hunter recorded the totalitarian use of mental torture to control rebellion sent among populations controlled by Communists: “The only means by which people can be discouraged from overthrowing their despots is by convincing them that they stand all alone; that the free world has accepted communism as inevitable.”
There is one statement we need to repeat to the families of the murdered innocents on flight MH17 and Communist-resisting Ukrainians: you are not alone.
Jennifer Oriel is a political scientist