Malaysian Plane Crash Highlights Ukrainian Crisis

Dmitry Lovetsky / Associated Press
Dmitry Lovetsky / Associated Press
US officials have confirmed a surface-to-air missile was used in the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, carrying 295 passengers and crew, on its journey to Kuala Lumpur. Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, called the incident another “tragic day in what has already been a tragic year” for the nation. Malaysian Airlines flight 370 went missing over the Indian Ocean in March. He added:

No stone will be left unturned. If it transpires that the plane was indeed shot down we insist that the perpetrators must swiftly be brought to justice.

However, US officials were already announcing the flight was shot down, with Vice President Joe Biden declaring the plane was blown “out of the sky”. The New York Times reports intelligence agencies in the United States, based on surveillance satellite data, announced a Russian SA-series missile intercepted the plane as it flew over pro-Russian territory in eastern Ukraine. These claims however establish the trajectory and impact of the missile and not the point of origin. And whilst experts try to calculate this exact origin, the act has only highlighted the continuing troubles facing Eastern Europe. Both the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian insurrectionaries have denied responsibility for the attack, while blaming the opposing side with the on-going conflict seeming to be the cause. However, Pro-Russian insurgents have claimed responsibility for striking two Ukrainians air force jets on Wednesday using portable surface-to-air missiles, while a Security Council spokesman accused a Russian plane of shooting down a Sukhoi-25, another Ukraine fighter jet. It is believed the rebels confused MH17 with a further military target when considering both the limited intelligence capabilities of the groups, and that the flight trajectory was west-to-east, flying from Ukraine towards pro-Russian and Russian territories.

Russian President Vladimir Putin blames Kiev for the encouraging insurgency [Reuters]

According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Ukraine is culpable due to a resurrection of military campaigns, creating conditions for insurgency in eastern Ukraine, and that ultimately “the state on whose territory this happened is responsible for this awful tragedy.” However officials in Kiev have declared Ukrainian state security intercepted communications between militants who were discussing a strike. According to a translation of the conversation by the Kyiv Post, a Ukraine English-language newspaper, a separatist commander was informing Russian intelligence officials of the incident; “We have just shot down a plane,” he said. American intelligence analysts believe a Russian SA-11 surface-to-air missile system had been used to strike the plane, which Ukrainians states was given to the rebels by Russia. Russian troops, deployed along Ukraine’s eastern border, have weapons similar to the one believed to be used, according to Pentagon officials.

BUK-M1 (aka SA-11) surface-to-air missile system [@NATOSource / Twitter]
BUK-M1 (aka SA-11) surface-to-air missile system [@NATOSource / Twitter]

Furthermore, an Associated Press journalist, covering the on-going crisis on the ground, claims to have seen ‘several rebel-owned tanks parked at a gas station outside’ an eastern Ukrainian town. He also reported seeing a BUK missile system [aka SA-11], which can fire missiles to an altitude of 70,000 feet. News reports from Eastern Europe, which have since vanished, revealed separatists were taking credit for another attack on what was thought to be a Ukrainian fighter jet at around the same time MH17 lost all communication. Although screenshots of the articles have surfaced on Twitter, the disappearance of these stories is only adding credence to the belief pro-Russian Ukrainian rebels made a grave error. Back in the US, while President Obama called the crash a “terrible tragedy” and that a focus was on identifying any US citizens aboard the craft, Senator John McCain went on MSNBC to warn there would be “hell to pay” if Russia or the pro-Russian groups had any involvement:

We don’t want to make the mistake of reaching conclusions we don’t know within the next few hours, but if it is the result of either separatist or Russian actions mistakenly believing that this was a Ukrainian warplane, I think there’s going to be hell to pay and there should be.

According to the Pentagon, “Everything we have, and it is not much, says separatists” are responsible for the attack, but “there’s still a lot of conjecture.” The Eastern European crisis will now have to dispute the level of Russia’s involvement, either directly or through arming the rebels. MH17 has once more brought international attention squarely on the Ukraine, increasing the tense relationship between the West and Russia, which is already at a significant low-point.


With nearly 300 lives lost, pressure will mount on President Putin and the Russia government to end their support for the insurgency, whilst other nations rally around Kiev to deal with this new, international disaster.      

MH17, it has been determined, was carrying passengers from multiple nationalities, 189 of whom were Dutch, 44, including crew, were Malaysian, 28 Australians, 12 Indonesians, nine Britons, four Germans, four Belgians, three from the Philippines, one from New Zealand, one from Hong Kong, and one Canadian. The nationalities of the remaining passengers have not yet been identified. 80 of those on board were children.


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