SNIZHNE, Ukraine — On July 17, Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, a commercial flight flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia, was shot down in Eastern Ukraine over the Donetsk region. The remains of the plane and the 298 individuals on board were scattered in a 13 square mile field of debris on the rebel-held side of a currently divided and volatile Ukraine. The international community, with the exception of Russia, believes that the Pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists are to blame. The group has been fighting the Ukrainian Government since April, and have shot down two Ukrainian cargo planes during the past month.
United States officials have determined that the missile was launched from eastern Ukraine near a town called Snizhne, located deep in rebel held territory. A Russian-made weapons system, the Sa-11, also known as a Buk or Gadfly, is believed to have been responsible. With missiles 18 feet long, the Sa-11 is capable of hitting a plane at an altitude of 72,000 feet, making it more than capable of hitting the Malaysian flight as it flew at 33,000.
With possession of the crash site currently under the separatists’ jurisdiction, there has been anxiety from the international community over the possibility of the site being tampered with. It is believed that evidence has been removed. There have also been accusations by the Ukrainian government that the separatists have obstructed the work of emergency responders to the scene.
Recently, the rebels granted the Malaysian government access to the bodies of the victims and the black boxes of the plane. The Malaysian government has stated its commitment to making the black boxes available for an international investigation.
Throughout the investigation, culpability for the downing of Flight 17 has been increasingly laid on the Ukrainian rebels. It is also believed that the Russian government is responsible for arming the rebels.
Preliminary evidence indicates that the rebel’s are indeed responsible for the plane’s descent. Subsequent research also supports this. Following the downing of the flight, the Ukrainian government released intercepted phone calls between the Ukrainian separatists and Russian officers. One tape contains a conversation where one rebel is heard saying, “we have just shot down a plane.” Currently, the American government sees no reason to doubt the veracity of these intercepted calls.
There is also evidence that an Sa-11 weapons systems crossed the Ukrainian border into Russia only hours after the attack. Visual evidence reveals that the weapons system was one missile short. With the Ukrainian rebels being armed and funded by the Russian government, it seems highly unlikely that they could have received this type of heavy arms from anyone else. On July 20, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry publicly asserted that the rebel fighters could have only gained such proficiency from the training of Russian officers.
Currently, despite the growing mound of evidence, both the Ukrainian separatists and Russian President Vladimir Putin deny any involvement in the matter. Putin has even accused the Ukrainian government for shooting down the plane.
While the international community’s reaction has been one of dismay and outrage, it seems likely that the findings will result in the materialization of sanctions against the Russian government by both European governments and the U.S. However, whatever the political and international results of this event may be, there is no doubt that the most tragic consequence has already occurred. The deaths of the 298 passengers of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. They were victims of the Ukrainian conflict. They neither provided the rebels with arms nor fought against them. One of the victims on board was a Dutch senator. Another was a world-renowned AIDS researcher. As the 296 passengers’ families mourn their losses, they serve as stark reminders that in the modern age, regional conflicts can have global implications.
– Albert Cavallaro