Black Sun Over Kiev (Part 3): How, Why, and When Russia and Ukraine Went to War

By February 2014, the Euromaidan protests had morphed into a full scale insurrection led by neofascist paramilitaries and their supporters among the population of west Ukraine. As Pijl writes, “only 14 percent of the more than 3,000 separate ‘protest events’ recorded by Volodymyr Ishchenko took place in the capital, two-thirds occurred in the west and the centre. Of the confrontational and violent incidents, almost as many were recorded in the western regions as in the centre and in Kiev together.” These “were not just local points to mobilize people for participation in Kiev tent camp[s] and rallies” Ishchenko observes. “No less important was local mobilization against regional governors appointed by the president, and members of regional councils from the Party of Regions.”

According to Ischenko, “It was in the western regions that Maidan protesters first seized massive amounts of weaponry from local law enforcement which were later used in clashes with the police in Kiev. It was in the western regions that Yanukovych first lost control, not in Kiev. In late January 2014 People’s Councils (narodni rady) were created by local activists, opposition parties’ leaders, local council members (including Svoboda party) accompanied by the occupation of the state administration buildings.” By late January, as Pijl writes, “the demonstrations had descended into outright street fighting, as armed fascists, Ukrainian ultra-nationalists and football hooligans had taken over what had begun (and is still celebrated in Western media) as a ‘Revolution of Dignity’”

Pijl goes on:

The turning point that definitively transformed the Maidan demonstrations into an armed coup came on 18 February…right-wing radicals marching along Institutskaya Street began to throw Molotov cocktails at the police units guarding parliament, burned the Party of Regions headquarters, and killed one of its employees. The main demonstration made no effort to hold back the radicals and it was clear that the presence of armed fascists was now integral to the demonstrations. Firearms had long been in evidence and on 18 February, an additional arsenal of 1,200 pieces, including Kalashnikovs, was seized by insurgents in Lviv; some of this was recovered, the rest was dispatched to Kiev. As evening fell, 28 people had been shot dead, including ten riot police…The official Western position throughout has been that the police shot dead demonstrators. However, the angle from which the shots were fired indicated they came from the Philharmonic Hall, where [the Right Sector’s leader] was in command. No Right Sector activists were among the victims.”

From February 20-21, the foreign ministers of Germany, Poland, and France flew to Kiev to negotiate a deal with Yanukovych which included an immediate ceasefire, an investigation into the violence, and renunciation of force by all sides, to be followed by a return to the 2004 constitution and the formation of a government of national unity and new elections. The agreement was signed by the EU ministers and Yanukovych, at Putin’s suggestion, signed the truce without any added conditions.

No US representative participated in these negotiations. In fact, Victoria Nuland was busy working to overthrow, not reason with, Yanukovych. In a phone call to US ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, Nuland laid out the US plan for regime change in Ukraine. Apparently, Western Europe’s attempt to resolve the conflict without further bloodshed and without the total destruction of Yanukovych’s government on behalf of full throated pro-NATO fascism angered the Americans. In a notorious moment during the phone call, Nuland exclaimed, “Fuck the EU!” By February 22, 2014, under the triple pressures of increasingly radicalized and aggressive protestors, paramilitary insurrection, and US-backed regime change operations, Yanukovych’s government completely collapsed. To celebrate, the Euromaidan freedom fighters destroyed Lenin statues across western and central Ukraine. 

As Manlio Dinucci notes, an armed takeover would have had no chance had NATO failed to co-opt “a large part of the top echelons of the Ukrainian military hierarchy, training them for years at NATO’s Defense College and drilling them in ‘peace operations.’” (Emphasis mine). The military obeyed NATO warnings to remain neutral only to find itself under the command of Right Sector and Svoboda leaders. According to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, Obama had first called Putin to urge him to support the deal between Yanukovych and the opposition; now Russia called in vain on the EU to enforce that very deal. Instead, Washington and, after their attempt to forage a seperate peace fell through, Brussels, recognized the new putschist government in Kiev.

“The sudden departure of Yanukovych and his supporters led the [Party of Regions] to disintegrate into several factions associated with large business groups,”  writes Serhiy Kudelia. “Each of these groups had its own interests in the Donbas; some were more insistent than others, and made tacit alliances with separatist leaders.” Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a former leader of Fatherland, became Prime Minister on February 27, 2014. Of the 21 members of his cabinet, 19 were from west Ukraine, effectively locking out Russian-speaking Ukrainians from the new regime.

Yulia Tymoshenko was released two days after the coup and Svoboda politician Oleksandr Sych, was made Vice Prime Minister. Svoboda members Andriy Mokhnyk and Ihor Shvaika took full control of the ecological and agricultural ministry. In fact, despite only holding 8% of the seats in parliament, Svoboda got 5 out of 21 cabinet seats and 5 governorships, covering one-fifth of the country. Critical posts in the national security sectors, as well as the position of prosecutor-general, were also handed out to Svoboda and Right Sector. 

Andriy Parubiy, the Right Sector leader who had overseen the February 18 mass shooting of 28 people, was made secretary of the National Security and Defense Committee, the position that oversees the Ministry of Defense, the Armed Forces, Law Enforcement, and National Security and Intelligence. Thus, the co-founder of the fascist SNPU (precursor of Svoboda), commander of its militia, Patriot of Ukraine, and head of the armed uprising, who had negotiated the seizure of power with the US and NATO ambassadors on February 20, was the highest official in charge of Ukraine’s national security apparatus. 

Ihor Kolomoiskiy, the gas-oligarch who cut deals with Biden’s son Hunter, who proposed building a physical wall between Russia and Ukraine a full year before Donald Trump (and Hillary Clinton) repeatedly proposed the same for the US-Mexico border, was appointed governor of Dnepropetrovsk. As Pijl writes, “The IMF dictated the new regime’s economic programme, including a 5 percent cut in social security and education and a 7 percent cut in health magnified by the 49 percent inflation of 2014. In the spring of 2014, 10 percent of civil servants were made redundant, pensions were lowered, and child support was abolished. The environmental protection budget was almost halved, and the minimum wage was frozen, pushing it below the survival income in real terms.” 

On March 1, 2014, former presidents of Ukraine Leonid Kravchuk, Leonid Kuchma, and Viktor Yushchenko joined together to call on the coup government to call off the Kharkiv Pact, under which the lease of Russia’s Sebastopol military base, located in Crimea, had been extended from 2017 to 2042. Four days later, the secretariat of the parliament in Kiev prepared draft legislation to reinstate Ukraine’s entrance into NATO, with coup president Turchynov issuing a statement that Ukraine was considering changing its neutral status. If the West, rather than Russia, was able to use Sebastopol as a power center, progress on the South Stream pipeline, on which Moscow and Gazprom had worked with European countries and partner companies for more than seven years, would be immediately thrown into disarray. Thus, war fever against Russia stoked by the West started in Ukraine nearly eight years before one Russian troop stepped foot in the country on February 24, 2022. As the coup regime and their neofascist paramilitaries torched central and eastern Ukraine, this would lead to a full scale civil war.

Crimea and Donbas
Crimea had been transferred to Ukraine by Nikita Kruschev during the Soviet era in 1954, a decision that has been disputed by multiple parties ever since. In a January 1991 referendum, a whopping 93% of Crimeans expressed their desire for a separate Crimean Republic, with Crimean support for Ukrainian independence remaining stilted throughout the early 1990s. In 2008, at the time of the Russian-Georgia War polls revealed that 73% of Crimeans were in favor of rejoining Russia (at that time Crimea was technically an Autonomous Republic in Ukraine anyway).

On February 28, 2014, as neofascists rampaged through Ukraine at breakneck speed, Russian special forces occupied two airfields to prevent troops loyal to Kiev or guerilla volunteers from being flown in. The USA responded to these moves by activating European Command (Eucom), which doubles as NATO Supreme Command. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel suspended all military-to-military contacts with Russia, stepped up joint training of US air force units in Poland and raised the US share in NATO’s air patrols over the Baltics. 

To deter NATO and the Ukrainian military from escalating further, Russia deployed coastal defense missiles on the peninsula in such a way that they could be clearly seen from space by US spy satellites. Putin argued that, “Considering the ethnic composition of the Crimean population, the violence there would have been worse [than in Kiev].” Eventually, Crimea joined the Russian Federation in a series of events the West depicted as an “illegitimate annexation.” As Robert Parry writes, “A central piece of the West’s false narrative on the Ukraine crisis has been that Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘invaded’ Crimea and then staged a ‘sham’ referendum purporting to show 96 percent support for leaving Ukraine and rejoining Russia.”

Indeed, one 2014 poll by Gallup and another 2015 poll by Germany’s GfK, two organizations which are objectively bias toward the interests of Western capitalists and military ambitions, both found a majority of Crimeans rejecting Ukraine for Russia. Victoria Nuland claimed that these responses only emerged after Russia waged a “reign of terror” against Crimeans. But as we have seen, Russia’s actions undoubtedly saved hundreds of thousands of Russian-speaking Crimeans from an actual “reign of terror” emanating from the Ukrainian neofascists in Kiev, their criminal oligarch benefactors, and friends in the Western bourgeoisie. In any case neither America nor the EU had any moral precedent to declare, without hard evidence, the “illegitimacy”of this development. In spite of these facts, the West and its lackeys in the Euromaidan putsch government waged economic war against both Russia and Crimea.

Ten days before the referendum was even held, Obama authorized the US Treasury Secretary and State Department to impose travel bans and asset freezes on those who “asserted governmental authority in the Crimean region without the authorization of the Government of Ukraine.” The G8 meeting for that year, meant to be held in Russia, was canceled, with Russia being expelled from that G8 not long after. The day after the referendum, the US, the EU, and Canada imposed harsh sanctions on individuals in the oil and gas industry, forcing Putin to sign an agreement within hours that recognized Crimea as an independent entity. After Hillary Clinton compared Crimea’s imminent return to Russia to “what Hitler did back in the 30s” (an incredible statement considering who the USA’s friends in Ukraine are) Obama announced on March 19 that his administration would pursue further measures to make Russia a “pariah state.” As The New York Times noted, the President had gone from making fun of Mitt Romney’s “outdated” Cold War rhetoric to echoing it. When Crimea was officially made part of Russia on March 21, 2014, the coup government in Kiev responded by cutting off its fresh water supply to the region, destroying Crimea’s rice harvest for that year (nobody in the mainstream media or national security establishment apparently bothered to ponder whether this constituted a “reign of terror” against either Crimeans or Russians)

In early March, the United States effectively confiscated Ukraine’s gold reserves. Kiev then began seizing Russian owned oil and gas assets in Ukraine, enriching oligarchs such as Pinchuk and Kolomoisky, as well as Western investors. By the end of April, the interior ministry confiscated the country’s third largest refinery at Odessa, which had been idle since February. Not long after, the US imposed a ban on business transactions within its territory on seven Russian officials and in early June 2014, yielding to pressure from Western officials, Bulgaria halted work on the Russian-controlled South Stream pipeline. After a visit from John McCain and Senator Ron Johnson, the project was scrapped completely. 

As more economic and military power was being consolidated by the coup government, anxiety grew among the Russian-Ukrainian population in the East over the new regime in Kiev and its stormtroopers. Donbas, accounting for 16% of Ukraine’s GDP and 27% of industrial production, saw momentum build for succession among both the Donetsk oligarchs and the lower classes of the Donbas region in general. Donetsk and neighboring Luhansk declared themselves independent republics in May, taking the monikers of “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic” respectively. For the sake of fairness, it should be noted that in spite of these names, the Donbas republics did not embrace a fullscale return to Soviet socialism as some Western leftists have insisted. Nonetheless, the underlying fear of ethnic cleansing and enslavement by the majority of Donbas’s populace was justified and not just a propaganda talking point of the Donetsk oligarchs.

The civil war was launched with the full support of the US, who intended from the beginning to turn it into a proxy war with Russia. According to e-mails originally posted on DCLeaks, NATO commander General Philip Breedlove imagined two fronts which were conveniently located within the Intermarium; the Baltics and Ukraine. When Natalie Crawford at the RAND Corporation suggested that the United States should do “something major and it needs to be public to all including the Baltic states,” Breedlove replied, “I am assembling a ‘joint’ package of air, land, and sea to put long term assurance in the Balts.”

As Pijl notes, “From the correspondence of 5 and 6 April between Phillip Karber and General Wesley Clark, a former NATO Saceur, it emerges that they were already advising Kiev forces in eastern Ukraine before the Donbas had actually risen in revolt. Karber is the ex-CEO of the aerospace consultancy, BDM (originally a Ford subsidiary and sold to Northrop Grumman by the equity fund, Carlyle) and president of the Washington think tank founded by it, the Potomac Foundation.” Claiming that “Putin has read US inaction in Georgia and Syria as US ‘weakness’”, Clark speculated that:

“China is watching closely. China will have four aircraft carriers and airspace dominance in the Western Pacific within 5 years, if current trends continue. And if we let Ukraine slide away, it definitely raises the risks of conflict in the Pacific. For, China will ask, would the US then assert itself for Japan, Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, the South China Sea? … If Russia takes Ukraine, Belarus will join the Eurasian Union, and, presto, the Soviet Union (in another name) will be back … Neither the Baltics nor the Balkans will easily resist the political disruptions empowered by a resurgent Russia. And what good is a NATO ‘security guarantee’ against internal subversion? … And then the US will face a much stronger Russia, a crumbling NATO, and [a] major challenge in the Western Pacific. Far easier to [hold] the line now, in Ukraine than elsewhere, later.” 

Over a weekend in April 2014, CIA director John Brennan went to Kiev and a month later he was followed by dozens of mercenaries from the notorious Blackwater. Despite compulsory conscription, which had been abolished in Ukraine in 2013, being reinstated by the coup government, the majority of fighting was left up to the neofascist paramilitaries. They were joined by foreign mercenaries, including Georgians, Romanians and white supremacists from Sweden and Germany; as well as veteran commandos from the Israeli Blue Helmets, who had been active at the Maidan and Islamist battalions from Chechnya. As generally pro-Western Vox reported in 2015, among the many militias funded directly by oligarchs, Kolomoisky shelled out roughly $10 million to create his own 2,000-strong Dnipro 1 battalion, named after the Dnepropetrovsk football club, and a 20,000-member reserve force. 

Kolomoisky was also a funder of the Azov battalion, which “uses the Nazi Wolfsangel symbol as its logo” and “openly espouse neo-Nazi, anti-Semitic views” with battalion members saying that Ukraine needs “a strong dictator to come to power who could shed plenty of blood but unite the nation in the process.” The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has issued at least three reports accusing the Azov battalion of war crimes. One report states: “Mass looting of civilian homes was documented, as well as targeting of civilian areas between September 2014 & February 2015.” The UN also found that Azov took a supporter of the Donetsk People’s Republic prisoner and tortured him for days with electric shocks, a gas mask,and waterboarding, along with beating him “in his genitals.”

In spite of this, Azov was incorporated into the official Ukrainian armed forces. As recently as 2020, the Atlantic Council published an essay which argued that it “should not be designated a foreign terrorist organization.” Six years earlier, the Council published what amounted to “a press release for Azov, written by a reporter who embedded inside the neo-Nazi militia.” On Flickr, the Council even created a special album specifically for photos of Azov that made them look heroic.

Azov Batallion logo featuring a “Sonnerad” or “Black Sun” a longtime occult symbol used by reactionaries both before and after the Nazis, along with the Nazis themselves

Kolomoiskiy also supported the Aidar Battalion, itself alleged to have committed war crimes and an associate of Ukrainian neofascism, and the Donbas battalion, which, you guessed it, has been credibly accused of war crimes. As Pijl writes, “Along with Right Sector…the militias would consistently block any conciliatory moves towards the Russian-Ukrainian population, leading the country into a quagmire with no end in sight.” On April 21, 2014, Right Sector militants attacked unarmed civilians in Slavyansk, killing ten people and wounding forty. According to Pijl, in the midst of this blatant escalation of violence by neofascists:

The Obama administration granted $2 billion in credit guarantees to the Kiev regime and almost $760 million worth of security aid, beginning right after February’s takeover. Canada, with its powerful Ukrainian diaspora, dispatched $5 million worth in defence equipment, whilst the neoconservative Harper government assigned $49 million for anti-Russian propaganda. US Vice-President Biden travelled to Kiev twice and would later complain that he spoke more often to the new rulers than to his wife. The United States and NATO were also directly involved with the paramilitary militias. Relations with Kolomoiskiy’s Dnipro battalion were so close that its commander, Col. Yuri Bereza, visited Phillip Karber in Washington several times in late 2014; Karber spent Christmas with Dnipro 1 HQ near the front line. The Azov battalion, a stronghold of the Social-National Assembly, characterised by Gordon Hahn as ‘ultra-fascist’, also was supported by US advisers and volunteers. Congress in December 2015 even scrapped a provision limiting assistance to it.”

With Crimea having more or less returned to Russia and the Donbas region resisting the Kiev regime’s brutal attempts to reclaim it, plans were made to prevent Odessa, the third most populous municipality in Ukraine and a major seaport and transport hub located in the south-west of the country, from slipping away as well. On April 24, 2014, coup president Oleksandr Turchynov, Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avokv, SBU head Valentin Nalivaychenko and national security director Andriy Parubiy met with law enforcement officers in Kiev to discuss using football hooligans as shock troops against pro-Russia dissenters in Odessa. As the linked article reports, “Kolomoisky temporarily delivered his private ‘Dnieper-1’ Battalion under the command of law-enforcement officials in Odessa and also authorized a cash payment of $5,000 for ‘each pro-Russian separatist’ killed during the special operation.” A couple of days before the operation in Odessa, Parubiy brought dozens of bullet-proof vests to local ultra-nationalists. 

Right Sector members, disguised as civilians and pro-Russia ‘separatists’, fired at football fans returning from the match. Hooligans of the two clubs and armed neofascist guerillas then assembled for a pro-Kiev march. An anti-Euromaidan tent camp in front of the Trade Union Building was set on fire, its occupants driven inside and the building torched, killing at least 48. Right Sector’s website declared this mass murder a “bright page in our national history.” Turchynov appointed the oligarch Ihor Palytsia, a close associate of Kolomoiskiy, governor of Odessa to maintain the peace in the days after the massacre.

One day later, during an anti-Euromaidan demonstration in Mariupol, the second-largest city in Donetsk oblast and its temporary capital, the newly appointed head of police in the city, accompanied by a commander of Kolomoiskiy’s Dnipro 1 battalion, got into a fire-fight with police officers who were sympathetic to the protestors and refused to disperse them. By the time the Kiev-aligned National Guard and Right Sector militamen arrived, the chief of police and his cronies had set the police station housing the rebellious officers on fire, killing dozens. Ironically, the protest took place not only as an anti-Euromaidan action, but to honor the anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. Following these mass acts of bloodletting by the neofascist murderers, 400 more Blackwater mercenaries were sent not to stifle the violence, but to compound it. 

In late May, the aforementioned chocolate oligarch Petro Poroshenko became president of Ukraine. During his acceptance speech, Poroshenko framed the neofascist putsch as “The return of Ukraine to its natural, European state” and the resistance of Russian-speaking Ukrainians to the total domination of Kiev and the West as “an obstacle for enormous opportunities that opened for the European modernization of Ukraine” which “entire generations of Ukrainian patriots” had struggled for. Poroshenko proceeded to call off a ceasefire, leading to numerous residential towns and villages in the Donbass region to be shelled. In an analysis of Western media coverage of the civil war, Yasha Levine writes that, “The Ukrainian Air Force bombed the village of Stanytsia Luhanska. The attack obliterated an entire residential area, shredding houses, people and pets, and littering the area with pieces of intestines, toes and cats — yes, dead kitties. There are several very graphic videos of the aftermath — faces of death delivered to YouTube for global viewing within a few dozen minutes of it happening.”

As US mass media almost unilaterally depicted the neofascist battalions carrying out these crimes as heroes, the State Department spoke of Ukraine’s “restraint” and accused Russia of exaggerating — if not being behind — the attacks on civilians. An organization named Euromaidan Press, funded by the International Renaissance Foundation, maintained, as Levine notes, “Twitter and Facebook accounts, as well as a fancy web mag that pushes a 100% pro-West and anti-Russian stream of information, including highly offensive gloating over ‘Russian terrorists’ being burned alive Ukraine.” After Slovyansk was captured by pro-Kiev forces, a Right Sector banner was hoisted over its Interior Ministry. 

On July 11, 2014, during a “grand tour” of Latin America, Putin visited Cuba to ceremonialize his government’s forgiveness of $32 billion of Soviet-era Cuban debt to Russia. From there Putin flew to Fortaleza, Brazil to meet then-President Dilma Rousseff (herself deposed in a “soft coup” in 2016 on behalf of the USA) and the other leaders of BRICS nations. The five heads of state had gathered to sign the charter for a new, BRICS controlled rival to the World Bank called the New Development Bank, which had been in the works for quite a while but was streamlined after the 2008 financial crash.

When Western countries responded to that crisis by bailing out the big banks and injecting markets with massive amounts of liquidity, BRICS had no choice but to try and shield the investment funds of their respective nations from the ensuing “quantitative easing.” In other words, when the West gave its banks the spare change they needed to double down on the lending and speculative practices that had led to the crisis, BRICS made sure their development monies couldn’t be pillaged during the phony “recovery.” Predictably, Western nations responded with hysteria.

One Forbes article highlighted the supposed “Russian agenda” behind the BRICS bank and how it “threatened the hegemony of the US dollar.” While this may have been an overstatement, the New Development Bank did pose a significant challenge to Western controlled institutions of global finance. Furthermore, while still in Brazil, Putin met with German leader Angela Merkel and secured, in principle at least, a “Land for Gas” deal intended to stabilize Ukraine’s borders in exchange for Russian assistance in the country’s financial rehabilitation. Poroshenko agreed not to pursue NATO membership, while Putin would drop his objections to the Ukrainian free trade agreement with the EU. However, while Putin was still in Brazil on July 16, 2014, the United States slapped new sanctions on Russia. In the days leading up to the sanctions, as Pijl notes, “two unequivocal attempts were made by Kiev to turn the civil war into an international crisis by seizing on airplane crashes; one based on claims later withdrawn, the other, on a doubtful assertion not followed up.”

One day after the sanctions were imposed, as Putin was on his return trip to Moscow, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), a scheduled passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down while flying over eastern Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew members onboard. The “Land for Gas” negotiations were suspended and Europe joined the US as a full partner in sanctioning Russia. As Mark Leonard, founder and director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, noted in a newspaper interview a year later, “without MH17 it would have been pretty difficult to find sufficient support for the increased sanctions on the Russian economy.” On July 9, 2014, over a week before MH17 was shot down, Mike Whitney of Eurasia Review wrote that the United States had, “a very small window to draw Putin into the fray, which is why we should expect another false flag incident … Washington is going to have to do something really big and make it look like it was Moscow’s doing.” 

While it cannot be proven that the downing of MH17 was a false flag, it is rather bizarre that Russia would choose to commit such a blatant war crime (if not an act of war against the West itself) in the middle of negotiations with one of the most influential Eurocrats to bring an end to the crisis in Ukraine. While this still leaves the possibility of a “Russian seperatist” organization (and not the Russian military itself) shooting the plane down, that is not the conclusion that the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team came to, opting instead to place the blame squarely on the Kremlin.

Poroshenko had labeled the crash of MH17 a “tragic accident” before the Kiev regime flipped to insisting, without evidence, that a missile had hit the plane from Russian “territory.” On the day of the crash, Kiev interior minister Anton Gerashchenko posted a picture, supposedly of the smoke trail against a clear blue sky, to his Facebook page with the caption: “Putin! You and your cronies will not escape from the International Tribunal. This is a photo of the inversion of the footprint left behind after the launch of the Buk missile. Made after a few minutes in the third district of Torez from the West to the East. Thousands of people saw the launch and the flight of the rocket, which you lovingly gave your sponsored terrorists!”

The picture Garashchenko posted is curious, as the sky on the day of the crash was overcast and cloudy. Furthermore, none of the “thousands of people” who saw “the launch and the flight of the rocket” ever came forward as witnesses. “When a comet came down in an uninhabited part of Siberia a few years earlier, several people took pictures,” Pijl writes, “but in relatively densely populated eastern Ukraine, no one apparently had their smartphone ready, although the blast of a Buk launch is hard to miss and the reverse trail remains in the air for ten minutes or so.”

Hillary Clinton joined in the rush to portray the Russian government-and even moreso Putin himself-as the sole reason MH17 came down. During a TV interview the next day Clinton insisted that Russia must “pay the price” for the disaster. Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that “We saw the take-off. We saw the trajectory, we saw the hit” but failed to provide details, then or since. State Department spokespeople referred to social media and “common sense” as the best way of countering Russia’s “‘propaganda and misinformation.” On July 22, 2014,  a “US Government Assessment” of the disaster, which contained one item of evidence – a commercial satellite picture taken in 2010, into which the presumed trajectory of a missile had been drawn, was released. Regardless, the United States and EU sanctions on Russia expanded exponentially. In an essay for the Atlantic Council, Anders Aslund writes that: “For policymakers, economic sanctions have many attractions. No Americans have to be sent abroad and no troops are being killed. Nor do they involve any budget allocations. For a big country with limited foreign trade such as the United States, the cost of sanctions appears small. Thus, sanctions have become the US foreign policy tool of choice.”

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