Ukraine Crisis Russian Role in Ukraine Downing of Malaysian Airliner Comes Into Sharper Focus

The United States, Germany and other western countries sharply criticized Russia for arming the insurgents who apparently brought down a Malaysian airliner last week, killing 298 people. Russia denied involvement, blaming Ukraine.
Pro Russian soldiers patrol the area in front of a piece of wreckage from the Malaysian Airlines crash in the eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine President Petro Poroschenko last week was quick to blame Russia for the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 that killed 298 passengers and crew. He said video footage made it clear the Boeing 777 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile and that the incident would take the ongoing conflict between his country and Russia to “a whole other level.”

Government officials are studying the possibility of a partial mobilization of armed forces to deploy in areas of Ukraine where pro-Russian separatists have been causing turmoil. Separatists in the area where the aircraft fell overran a Ukrainian military facility in late June and claimed to have captured at least one anti-aircraft missile battery. There also have been reports of intercepted calls between separatist leaders talking about the crash, suggesting the commercial flight may have been mistaken for a Ukrainian military aircraft.

 

The crash is particularly grievous for Malaysian Airlines, following the mysterious disappearance in March of a Boeing 777 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The plane is believed to have crashed into the Indian Ocean, but no trace has been found despite intensive searches.

Pro-Russian separatists deny any involvement and say they do not possess any anti-aircraft weaponry, saying the weapons are too heavy and too large to move around.

“Obviously, we do not have such facilities,” said Andrei Purgin, one of the founders of the Donetsk People’s Republic, a separatist group labeled by the Ukrainian government as a terrorist organization.

This statement, however, ignores Russian media reports of the capture of the missile battery in June by a pro-Russian group. Insurgent groups quickly scrubbed any mention of the surface-to-air batteries from their Internet pages after the plane crash.

The anti-aircraft battery captured by the insurgents is usually mounted on the rear of a truck for easy mobility. The missiles are capable of downing aircraft at high attitudes. The Malaysian flight was operating at about 10,000 meters when it was hit.

All 290 passengers and crew on the flight to Dubai were killed.

 

Despite the continued tensions between Ukraine and Russia and the back-and-forth battles fought between government troops and separatists, up until now only the airspace above the Crimean peninsula has been closed to commercial air traffic.

The attack on the commercial aircraft is shocking, but similar events have occurred in areas of political and military turmoil, when non-military planes have accidentally been targeted for destruction.

In 2001, a Siberia Airlines flight enroute to Novosibirsk in Russia from Tel Aviv was shot down over the Black Sea, killing 78 passengers and crew. Russian investigators said a Ukrainian missile downed the jet, but the government in Kiev denied any involvement.

In 1998, the American destroyer U.S.S. Vincennes mistook an Iran Air passenger jet for a hostile aircraft and fired two missiles. All 290 passengers and crew on the flight to Dubai were killed.

In 1983, a Korean Air Lines flight from New York to Seoul was shot down over the Russian island of Sakhalin in Siberia after it strayed into restricted airspace killing 269 passengers and crew. The Russians initially denied the incident, then claimed the aircraft was on a spying mission.

The crash is particularly grievous for Malaysian Airlines, following the mysterious disappearance in March of a Boeing 777 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The plane is believed to have crashed into the Indian Ocean, but no trace has been found despite intensive searches.

Now there is another major catastrophe for the airline, once known for its high quality service, to overcome.