News Brief

Has the Trump Administration Softened Its Position on MH17?

The Trump Administration has come under fire for what many believe is a softening in its stance towards the Kremlin over the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, which was shot down by a Russian missile four years ago this week.

Relatives of some of the 298 passengers and crew who died have condemned President Donald Trump after he reportedly failed to confront President Vladimir Putin over Russia’s involvement when the two leaders met in Helsinki earlier this week.

In an angry social media post, the Australian parents of three children who perished on the flight, along with their grandfather, accused Trump of bowing down to Putin, according to the NPR website.

Questions about the administration’s position have also been prompted by the U.S. State Department withholding a statement calling on Russia to acknowledge its role in the downing of the aircraft over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014.

It comes amid the furor over Trump’s remarks in Helsinki, when he absolved Russia of interfering in the 2016 American elections while standing beside Putin, openly contradicting the assessment of U.S. intelligence services.

Trump’s subsequent attempts to clarify his remarks, as well as uncertainty over the substance of his private discussions with the Russian leader, has only encouraged speculation that he is trying to dilute American pressure on Moscow.

The day after his Helsinki meeting, a U.S. statement on MH17 was removed from the homepage of the U.S. embassy to Moscow, according to Foreign Policy. Until this year, the State Department had always spoken out about the downing of the passenger jet, demanding that Russia account for its role and cooperate with the Dutch-led international investigation.

At a briefing later in the week, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert insisted that America’s position on MH17 has not changed, saying that it had contributed to the statement released by foreign ministers of the G7 group of rich nations. But she dodged reporters’ questions as to why, for the first time, there had been no separate American statement.

According to Foreign Policy, it was the U.S. Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, who ordered officials to hold it back, because he did not approve of the language.

The majority of the passengers on the plane were Dutch citizens, and MH17 has been called the Netherlands’ 9/11. But the Dutch government says it believes the United States still supports its demand for Russia to cooperate with the investigation, despite the mixed signals the Trump Administration has given this week.

Meanwhile, the State Department has continued to release statements marking the anniversaries of other major crisis events, including the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and the 1994 Rwanda Genocide.

It had issued statements every day so far this month on countries ranging from the Comoros Islands to the Maldives, one reporter at the briefing pointed out, asking why MH17 should have been left out: “I just don’t understand,” the journalist said, before Nauert said she wanted to move on.