Four days after the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine, the international community is taking a closer look at evidence linking the Russian-backed rebels to the deaths of the 298 civilians on board. But Ukrainians who have watched closely the armed takeover of more than a dozen cities in their own backyard during the past four months say the blame goes one step deeper.
Mychailo Wynnyckyj, a professor at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Ukraine, said the missile system allegedly behind the crash of the Boeing 777 could not have been launched by untrained separatists. “It’s one thing to be given an automatic weapon, but it’s another thing to be firing a missile that has the capability of hitting a target that is both invisible to the human eye and at a distance of 10 kilometers off the ground,” he said. “So the Buk missile could not have been fired by the separatists themselves. It may have been fired from Ukrainian territory that has been occupied at the moment by these Russian-backed separatists, but it is absolutely clear from a technical standpoint that it had to be fired by Russian military personnel.”
Limited access to the scene of the crash has been a source of growing anger and increasing concern that Russia is attempting to spin its own version of the catastrophe. During a new conference this morning, U.S. President Barack Obama accused the separatists of tampering with evidence and demanded full access to the crash site for international investigators: “The separatists are removing evidence from the crash site. All of which begs the question, what exactly are they trying to hide?”
Recent days brought some signs of progress: A team of Dutch forensic experts arrived at the crash site and gained access to the scene and rapidly decaying bodies. After several delays and just hours after investigators arrived today, a refrigerated train filled with 282 bodies departed for the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the bodies will be flown to the Netherlands. The Dutch lost 193 citizens on the flight—more than any other country. The separatists also agreed to give the flight recorder boxes to the Malaysian government.
The Ukrainian government has been sending strings of potentially incriminating evidence to Western leaders—including satellite images and recorded conversations between separatists—but the rebels have not publicly accepted responsibility. Russian President Vladimir Putin denies any link to separatists who have wreaked havoc in Ukraine the past four months and shot down as many as 10 Ukrainian military aircraft.
Wynnyckyj said the Kremlin may not be directly involved in the downing of the passenger jet but is clearly fighting a proxy war. “Certainly we should be concerned that Russian military personnel would be firing at targets above the ground in Ukrainian airspace, but we should also be concerned about the command and control system that apparently exists, because I don’t think it’s believable that Putin ordered a passenger jet to be brought down,” he told me. “Clearly he has some rogue military personnel or people who are basically incompetent with very, very dangerous weapons firing things from the ground.”