News / Europe

VOA Analysis: Ukraine Plane Crash Gives Insurgency Uncertain Future

World leaders demanded an international investigation into the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which came down near Grabovo in eastern Ukraine, July 18, 2014
World leaders demanded an international investigation into the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which came down near Grabovo in eastern Ukraine, July 18, 2014
Mike Eckel

Just under three weeks ago, pro-Russian insurgents bragged on Twitter, and to Russian reporters, about seizing a Ukrainian military base where sophisticated anti-aircraft missile systems were housed.

On Thursday, a notorious rebel leader nicknamed Strelkov crowed on a Russian social media site about downing a plane over eastern Ukraine, with the admonition “we warned them; don’t fly over ‘our skies.’”

But Friday, the day after Malaysia Airline Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board, there was no original sign of any of those postings, only the screen grabs that alert readers saved.

With evidence mounting that a rebel-fired, Russian-built missile brought down Flight 17, and serious doubts that a full investigation will ever take place, the question is turning to not what happened in eastern Ukraine but why and to what end. 

“There is a balance of data points; sure, they might not be absolutely conclusive, but making our best bet, they to tend to imply that rebels acquired a missile and shot down a plane, even if they didn’t know what kind of plane it was,” said Mark Galeotti, a NYU professor who specializes in Russian military and security institutions currently working in Moscow.

For the moment, there is little evidence of direct Russian involvement. Moscow denied having anything to do with the incident, suggesting instead that Ukraine bore responsibility for not engaging in peace talks. Some rebel leaders even suggested Ukraine’s military fired on the plane, a fact denied by Kyiv.

In fact, one theory gaining traction among experts and analysts was that insurgents may have mistaken the high-flying Boeing 777-200 for a military aircraft. 

“This conflict was waiting for this kind of error to happen: the massive hemorrhaging of weapons… going into the hands of the people who are not very well trained, but not under very clear control,” Galeotti said.

Rebel Error?

While the insurgents are known to possess shoulder-fired missiles, it wasn't previously clear whether they had missiles capable of reaching 33,000 feet, the altitude at which the Malaysian jet was flying. That would require a larger, more advanced missile system such as the Buk M-1, a medium-range, truck-mounted weapon, also known as a SA-11.

On June 29, rebels sent out photographs on Twitter showing Buk missile systems seized from the A-1402 Ukrainian base. A rebel official also confirmed that fact to the RIA-Novosti news agency. 

The Soviet-designed Buk systems require special codes to operate and, like other complicated weaponry showing up in eastern Ukraine such as Soviet-made T-64 tanks, people operating the Buk systems must have specialized training to target and shoot objects.

“The irony is that the Kremlin has done so much, and they’ve gotten away with it and obscured their fingerprints,” Galeotti said. “If they didn’t provide the missile system, they provided the crews and technology to fire them.”

The Associated Press reported seeing a Buk missile system near Torez, close to where the plane’s debris came down, earlier Thursday. Photographs posted on several Russian Twitter feeds showed a similar system in the nearby village of Snizhne. 

Later Thursday, Ukraine’s main security agency, the SBU, released audio recordings in which a man it identified as a rebel commander is heard telling a Russian military officer that insurgents had downed the plane. The recordings, posted on YouTube and elsewhere, could not be independently verified.

More alleged recordings of rebel communications released by the SBU on Friday suggested that a Buk system may have been transported across the border from Russia.

“It’s just hard to see how yesterday’s event works out in any way as a plus for the Russians,” said Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and analyst at the Washington D.C.-based Brookings Institution.

Insurgency Tipping Point

Rebel error or not, the missile incident will likely be as a turning point for the insurgency and whether Russia allows it to continue.

Russian weaponry, money and personnel have flowed into Ukraine for months now, with Moscow’s full support, or at least acquiescence. In recent weeks, Russian President Vladimir Putin has sent contradictory signals about whether the Kremlin wants the fighting to end: On the one hand, he has called for new peace talks. Yet, Russia military forces substantially increased their deployments along the Ukrainian border after an earlier withdrawal of some troops.

Earlier this week, the United States went forward with more punitive sanctions that targeted Russian oil, natural gas and financial companies, as well as several arms firms. The European Union declined to take the stronger steps, though European leaders like Germany’s Angela Merkel, facing outrage from the Netherlands and other, may be forced to follow Washington’s lead.

“When this becomes a game changer is if [the crashed jet] motivates the Europeans to move forward on sanctions; if it gets the Europeans to stop and say ‘wait a minute, this is really beginning to get out of hand,’” Pifer said. “Putin is watching how this plays out, and he’s calculating how bad the blowback is going to be.” 

Even before Thursday’s crash, there were indications that Moscow was looking for ways to wind down the insurgency, according to Balasz Jarabik, a scholar with the Washington D.C.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Moscow’s official and unofficial rhetoric toward the Kyiv government had become less hyperbolic. Insurgents complained openly that Moscow wasn’t supporting them. Even the recent 10,000-15,000 troop buildup on the Russian side of the border may have been a way to control insurgents crossing back into Russia.

Thursday’s plane crash “made much more reputational loss and difficulty for Putin more than anything else before,” Jarabik said.

The problem is how Putin “saves face,” he said. “Putin really can’t come out openly and say ‘hey I’m not controlling [the insurgency] anymore.’ Face-saving is tremendously important in this issue.”

You May Like

Multimedia US Nurse ‘Cured of Ebola,’ NIH Says

Nina Pham, Texas nurse who treated first Ebola patient in US, received no experimental drugs; WHO expects vaccine surge in 2015 More

Video Islamic State Militants Encroach on Baghdad

Iraqi capital not under ‘imminent threat,’ US military says, amid worries about foothold More

Video Hong Kong Protesters Focus on Holding Volatile Mong Kok

Activists say holding Mong Kok is key to their movement's success, despite confrontations with angry residents and police More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Tatiana from: Russia
July 21, 2014 12:21 PM
It's a big tragedy what happened and I sincerely condole to all relatives and friends of all dead people on Flight 17. But how Voa can mislead and distort public opinion based on guesses and assumptions without evidence!!!!! Let's wait results of International investigation and after we will charge and blame somebody! Putin is our President and general population is loving and respecting him!!!


by: Simon from: Liverpool UK
July 20, 2014 8:26 AM
Ah so that's why the airplane was brought down, to tag insurgency, very good. Pointless as no one believes this to be anything but an accident, or if it were deliberate, it would be on the Kiev regime side of things.

In Response

by: Genuine person from UK from: Norwich, UK
July 21, 2014 3:08 PM
A top tip for pro-Kremlin trolls based in Russia - if you are going to pretend to be "Simon" from "Liverpool UK" when making pro-Kremlin comments on websites, it's probably a good idea to actually write in the kind of English that a genuine resident of the UK would use. Otherwise it kind of gives the game away. For more on how the Kremlin pays trolls to make pro-Russian comments on websites - and how to spot them - I suggest readers seek out the recent article by the Guardian on this very topic.


by: Alla from: Russia
July 20, 2014 8:04 AM
Ukrain did the same crime in 2001. Why you dont tell about this, VOA?

In Response

by: Burnerjack from: USA
July 21, 2014 7:24 AM
Alla, please offer specifics subject to verification.
Once again, "why fire on a transport LEAVING your airspace?"
Unless. of course, the action was preceded by the question "What does this button do?"
And yes, let's hear from Voice of Russia. Let's see if they have a plausible explanation. So far, this seems very damaging to the world image of Russia. Let's not forget flight KAL007 either.

In Response

by: Ivanov from: Russia
July 21, 2014 4:44 AM
That's right Alla!!!! Why don't VOA tell us?? Voice of America? Oh, that's why! We should have Voice of Russia!


by: Alex
July 20, 2014 3:49 AM
The most important deal for the international commission investigating this crime now is to compel Putin to return back black boxes from board of Malaysian Boeing, those ones as was earlier reported by the Rusian TV were transferred by pro-Russian separatists to the Russian security services in Moscow. Obviously, they are now in the FSB in Moscow, if not being destroyed. It is evidently that if Putin does not do pass on black boxes to the international investigators, so the entire responsibility for the crash of the airliner and deaths of 295 people will be entrusted to him, yes, the entire responsibility for this will fall on him. Because they are hidden, obviously, these black boxes contain the information the disclosure of which would not be very profitable to the Kremlin. It is even possible that the Malaysian Boeing was shot down by the Russian air defense system launched from the territory of Russia.

In Response

by: Simon from: Liverpool
July 20, 2014 8:30 AM
Get rid of the EU, and strange occurrences leading to tragedy WILL stop.


by: Emosi from: Fiji
July 19, 2014 1:31 PM
I think Russia is behind it


by: maithe from: Paris, France
July 19, 2014 7:12 AM
Very good VOA analysis. Excellent.
It's true : ' the question is turning to not what happened but Why and to What end '. Yes to What end...
Horrible tragedy...


by: Jenny
July 19, 2014 5:44 AM
There is no eindence claim that Putin is relevant to this incident until now. Don't judge too early!
I have heard that there were 2 strange planes flied beside the Malaysian airplane and oblige it to fly in another route.
And the Malaysian flag is similar to Russian's one so, it can't be judge that Russian military did.

In Response

by: Jenny
July 23, 2014 6:38 AM
Dear Stenvensac,
I want to say again that "There is no evidence for this incident." Before the truth is showed, we can't blame for anyone with our judgement. They might be REBEL or they might be another team. I am truly sorry about passengers in MH17 and their family, however, the world will be better without any war. And there is not only passengers in this incident are the victims of war, everyone often forget that truth.

In Response

by: Stevensac from: Sacramento
July 20, 2014 11:16 PM
Military aircraft of the type you are referring that the rebels might have, do not have the capability of flying at such high altitudes. If they perhaps could then they could have shot down the plane. But if they were indeed so close they would know the difference between a military transport and a commercial airliner.


by: Robert Pooner from: south park
July 18, 2014 5:52 PM
The whole conflict is a waste of time, money, and lives.


by: GaryQ222 from: Florida
July 18, 2014 5:52 PM
Sorry, Putin, no way to positively spin this one. Your name will live in infamy.


by: Burnerjack from: USA
July 18, 2014 5:48 PM
Why would Pro Russians fire on a plane LEAVING their airspace? Plane was moving towards Russia, if the ID was unknown, they also did not know if it was a Russian plane returning to base or a Russian civilian plane returning home.

In Response

by: Mark from: Virginia
July 18, 2014 9:17 PM
It was a target of opportunity, a chance for a separatist leader to flex his muscle and say "hey, I can do this...see what I can do." Or, it was a mistake on the part of the separatists in identifying the aircraft and working the controls of the missile system, an "oops" moment.
More likely the former more so than the latter.
All the pieces seem to be moving toward a certain conclusion; the boasting, the base seizure, the equipment in the hands of the separatists....something like this was bound to happen, sooner or later.
Unfortunately, it was Malaysian Airlines that took the hit on the nose with another lost aircraft and 200 plus more lives lost.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid