Could the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine be a fundamental turning point in the crisis that has pitted Russia against the West? And if so which way – towards rapprochement or a further escalation?
Kiev accused militants fighting to unite eastern Ukraine with Russia of shooting down the Boeing 777 carrying nearly 300 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with a Soviet-era ground-to-air missile. Leaders of rebels in the Donetsk People’s Republic denied any involvement, although around the same time their military commander said his forces had downed a smaller Ukrainian transport plane.
A Ukrainian Interior Ministry official took to Facebook shortly after the plane came down, saying that rebels had used a Buk anti-aircraft system given to them by Russia, and appealed to the West to act. That doesn’t make the situation much clearer since Russia, Ukraine and the separatists all probably have the missile in their arsenals.
Later, Ukraine’s state security chief accused two Russian military intelligence officers of involvement in the downing of the plane. Moscow has denied its forces are involved in any way.
To shoot down a plane flying at 10,000 metres would require sophisticated missile technology. Military experts say a Buk launcher would fit the bill. The further sanctions imposed by the United States and EU this week reflected growing concern that Moscow had started supplying the rebels more actively.