What really happened to flight MH17? A deep dive into the pool of idle speculation

The first time a Malaysian Airlines flight disappeared under mysterious circumstances, news media had themselves a field day: at least a month of wall-to-wall MH370 coverage, much of it idle speculation — or worse — due to the near-complete lack of hard information about the missing plane.

A second plane was tragically shot down today over Eastern Ukraine, but unlike the original missing flight, the circumstances under which it disappeared are far less mysterious. We have the body, we have the bodies, and now, we have the black boxes. I imagine that, pretty soon, we’ll have the full story.

Which means that if there are going to be batshit crazy theories about what happened and why, we’d better get moving in a hurry. What follows is my contribution to the concoction of crackpot. You’ve been warned.


MH17 was shot down in far Eastern Ukraine, right next to the Russian border. But how did it get there in the first place?

Initial reports indicated that the plane was following a common route between Europe and Asia called L980:

But as additional information emerged, it has become clear that MH17 took a slightly more northerly route that brought it dangerously close to the border with Russia:

The easy explanation is that the plane flew too close to a warzone, where Russian rebels mistook it for a Ukrainian troop transport, and shot it down:

That explanation might be the most straightforward, and sure, there might be audio evidence of rebels discussing the fact that they took down a plane — but I don’t speak Russian, and it’s important to leave no stone unturned, so let’s ignore that for now.

So are there any other possible explanations for the tragedy?

As it turns out, I’ve got one. So far, only limited information has been released about the victims. First, we know — roughly — where they’re from:

Second, we know — roughly — where many of them were going:

And finally, authorities have released the name of one prominent victim:

That last piece of information is critical to my theory, which asks one simple question: would Vladimir Putin have any incentive to ensure anyone aboard the plane stayed the hell out of Russian airspace?

As it happens, Lange was an outspoken critic of Russia, and particularly of Putin’s distinct disinterest in addressing the AIDS epidemic ravaging his country.

In a 2004 interview conducted at the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok — this year’s Melbourne Conference, to which Lange was traveling, is XX — Lange suggested that because “Putin isn’t paying any attention to HIV, let’s have the conference in Moscow.”

My theory is straightforward (so much so, it’s unclear why I’m bothering to spell it out): when Putin learned* that Lange was on his way to an International AIDS Conference, and that his plane had unexpectedly changed course towards Russia, he grew concerned that Lange would follow through on his threat of ten years past, and therefore felt compelled to immediately take decisive action, presumably while not wearing a shirt.

*Why else do you think he and Snowden are such friends?

And if it seems crazy to suggest Putin was willing to take out an entire plane and all 300 people on board just to spare himself minor embarrassment over a minor, poorly-formulated policy, well, you should get to know Vladimir Putin better.

Your move, CNN.


What makes this theory not totally unbelievable is how remarkably shitty Russia’s policies have been towards people with HIV/AIDS and treatment of the infection — even before it shot down a plane full of people trying to help cure it.

So, for the record, here are some fun facts about HIV/AIDS in Russia, courtesy of a year-and-a-half old article from Bloomberg, “HIV Epidemic Plagues Russia as Government Rejects Prevention Methods“:

  • Russia has one of the highest percentages of HIV-infected people in the world outside sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Among the top 20 global economies, only India, with a population almost nine times bigger than Russia’s 143 million, has more people living with HIV.
  • New infections in Russia jumped 13 percent to 70,453 in 2012 and were on track to climb a further 10 percent in 2013. Worldwide, annual HIV infections dropped by almost a third to 2.3 million in 2012 from 2002.
  •  21 percent of the world’s HIV-positive injecting-drug users live in Russia. Still, the country bans methadone, a treatment the World Health Organization recommends to curb heroin use and thus prevent infection from contaminated needles, under a 1998 law that prohibits addictive drugs.
  • In 2009, the Russian government was set to take over and expand programs, including needle distribution, sponsored by the Geneva-based Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The Health Ministry backed out, leaving the programs unfunded.
  • In 2012, Russia shuttered the Moscow offices of the U.S. Agency for International Development, which supported more than 200 organizations working on HIV. Russia accused the group, which also financed human-rights and vote-monitoring efforts, of interfering in the country’s affairs.

And all this before the discovery of a virulent new strain of HIV rapidly spreading through Russia.

Come and get me, Vladimir.

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