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Malaysian Airliner Attack: Russia’s War On Ukraine Spills Across Borders

By Tajuddin
Jul 18th, 2014

Kiev (DIPLOMAT) – On the evening of July 17th about thirty people, mostly Ukrainian Americans, gathered outside the United Nations building in New York City to commemorate the lives of the 298 passengers and crew of Malaysian Boeing BA -1.21% airliner MH17 – who tragically became innocent victims of the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Holding candles and flowers, they walked in silent procession to the Malaysian and Dutch consulates.

The gathering was not solely held to express condolences to victims’ families – people from 9 countries were traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that day, including 154 Dutch, 43 Malaysians, 27 Australians, and 23 U.S. citizens among others. The procession also aimed to bring attention to an ongoing problem of Russian aggression and the Kremlin’s support for separatist rebels in Eastern Ukraine.

The horrific incident at the Ukrainian-Russian border proves what many experts have been saying all along: the war at the heart of Europe is not simply Russian-Ukrainian business but a serious security issue for all.

It’s been confirmed by U.S. and Ukrainian authorities that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile from a sophisticated BUK missile launcher that fired somewhere near the Ukrainian-Russian border. The Boeing 777 was flying through an international corridor, Ukrainian State air traffic services said. As of July 17th, the European Organization for Safety of Air Navigation closed the airspace over Ukraine, barring all civil aviation.

While the investigation has only begun and proper evidence gathering is in the early stages, Ukrainian authorities stated the aircraft was downed by a Russian missile system as Ukraine doesn’t have high-altitude air defenses in that area.

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko called the attack “a terrorist act”. But it is not clear whether the missile came from rebels in the separatist-controlled zone in Eastern Ukraine or directly from Russian territory, possibly as an attempt to protect separatist mercenaries operating in the region.

Some evidence, reported by Ukrainian media and government officials, points at pro-Russian rebels. Ukrainian State Security Service intercepted telephone conversations between foreign pro-separatist insurgents who claimed responsibility for downing a passenger plane. Ukrainian media has repeatedly reported of columns of military machinery being transported onto Ukrainian territory from Russia, and the possible possession of BUK missile systems by separatist fighters.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has denied responsibility for the attack and blamed the tragedy on Kyiv in a statement released Thursday.

The horrific incident comes on the heels of the United States’ expanded sanctions against Russia for its support of pro-Russian insurgents in Eastern Ukraine. The new, tougher sanctions target banking and energy sectors. Meanwhile, European countries have not agreed on the level of sanctions to be imposed on Russia as their economies are much more closely connected to the eastern European petro-power and they fear possible economic backlash. Russia, it seems, is not yet threatening enough in the eyes of western European leaders.

Could the Malaysian airliner tragedy become the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the 21st century? At the very least, European leaders may become more selective about who they shake hands with.

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