Who's Responsible for Downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17?

By:  James Heiser
Who's Responsible for Downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17?

The tragedy of the civil war that has raged in Ukraine’s eastern regions for the past several months spilled out far beyond the borders of that nation on July 17 when 298 passengers and crew of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH 17) were murdered by an anti-aircraft missile fired from within the contested region.

As previously reported for The New American, the Putin regime has been threatening Ukraine in recent days that there would be “irreversible consequences” for a single Ukrainian artillery shell that crossed over the Russian border, allegedly killing one individual and wounding several others. In the aftermath of the declaration of “irreversible consequences,” there appears to have been a significant escalation in direct Russian involvement in the crisis.

Michael Weiss, writing for Foreign Policy on July 16, reported that recent video evidence showed that Russian missile systems were being moved into Ukraine and operated by Russian crews; in the words of Weiss, the video constituted the “most definitive proof yet of Moscow's direct participation in the ongoing war in eastern and southern Ukraine: Russian rockets being fired toward Ukraine.” Weiss alleged that what had been observed were BM-21 Grad rocket launchers, “Soviet-designed, multiple-launch rocket system mounted to a truck, capable of firing unguided rockets with a range of 12-27 miles, depending on the particular rocket used.”

The BM-21 Grad is fundamentally different from the Buk M-1 system that was allegedly used to shoot down MH 17 — the BM-21 Grad is used against targets on the ground, while the Buk is used for air defense — but the allegation of the movement of major weapon systems across the border would indicate the possibility of a recent, substantial escalation of the conflict by the Russians. Furthermore, the BBC reported on the morning of July 17 that rebels were claiming to have shot down two Ukrainian fighter jets — a development that, in the words of the BBC’s Daniel Sandford, could signal a significant escalation: “If Russia has indeed shot down a Ukrainian fighter jet over Ukrainian territory, it would be a significant escalation of this conflict, showing the Russian military openly engaging Kiev's forces.”

At 5:15 p.m. local time (14:15 GMT) on July 17, Ukrainian authorities notified Malaysia Airlines officials that Flight 17 had vanished from radar; less than half an hour later, at 5:37 p.m., Igor Strelkov, the commander of the armed forces of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic, took credit for the attack, declaring “In the area of Snizhne just shot down the AN-26” and minutes later recorded that the “‘Bird’ fell in waste heap, the residential sector is not caught. Civilians are not injured. And also have information about the second downed aircraft.”

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The photo shows a pro-Russian fighter guarding the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17: AP Images

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