Yesterday, Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot down while flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. On board were 295 people, and all were killed in the crash. U.S. senior intelligence officials were able to confirm that the plane was hit by a missile, taking it down just outside of Donetsk, Ukraine. Since then, there has been much speculation as to who is responsible and what will happen next.
Who is to blame?
While separatists took responsibility for the crash via social media, those posts were later removed, and their leaders later stated they were not responsible. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has also said Ukrainian military members are not responsible. Russian President Vladimir Putin took it one step further, saying that not only is Russia not responsible, but this is actually Ukraine's fault. He offered this statement:
This tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine. And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy."
Now the process of determining where the missile came from has begun. An unconfirmed video has emerged showing a pro-Russian group driving a 9K37 Buk-M1 SAM, a missile operating system which was developed by the Soviet Union and is designed to fight enemy aircraft, missiles, smart bombs, and unmanned aerial devices. The video allegedly shows the Buk-M1 driving back towards Russia yesterday, with two missiles missing from the system chamber. Here is the video in full:
Additional video obtained by the Daily Mail shows a similar vehicle moving the missiles into place. However, official confirmation has still not been received from intelligence officials.
Yuriy Sergeyev, Ukraine's representative to the U.N., said he will present evidence linking the the Russian military to the crash.
Status of the crash site
As for the actual crash site, pro-Russian separatists have said they will allow investigators to access the crash site without any issue. In The Wire's interview with aviation expert Bruce Rodger yesterday, Rodger told us that this crash site may be as large as three-to-four miles across. In the event the plane was hit straight on, mid-flight, the debris will be spread much further apart. In the event the plane was hit, but crashed as a whole piece, the debris field is about the size of three-to-four football fields. Right now, debris has been found as far away as 10 miles from the crash site. Both body parts of the victims and pieces of the plane are strewn in that area.
Our expert expressed concern about evidence being tampered with at the scene, as locals climbed on pieces of the plane and poured through passports attempting to contact loved ones. The White House has expressed these same concerns.
Investigators will have additional difficulties because the site is already part of a war zone, as the region has been the site of previous aggressions between Ukraine and Russia.
The U.S. has just confirmed after 9:00 a.m. this morning that the FBI and NTSB will be sent to investigate.
Where is the black box?
The whereabouts of the black box are still not completely clear. Initial reports from Interfax said the separatist group known as the Donetsk People's Republic would give the plane's black box, if recovered, to the Interstate Aviation Committee, the Moscow-based supervising body overseeing civil aviation in Russia. Black box batteries on MH17 will likely last 30 days.
Later, Interfax reported that the separatists had the black box. Igor Girkin, a separatist leader who earlier posted on Facebook taking responsibility for the crash, said his group had found eight out of plane's twelve recording devices.
There are also reports that rescue workers were able to find a recording device, and that a separatist wandering the site found another.
What happens to Putin?
Vladimir Putin is in a giant, plane-shaped pickle. Considering the recent increased sanctions against Russian officials, Russian companies, and those close to Putin, tensions between the U.S. and Russia were already high and growing more tense by the day.
Considering how vehemently Russia has denied involvement in this tragedy — Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin went as far as to say "we didn't do it" — if it comes out that they were directly involved, it would prove disastrous for the Kremlin. It could, essentially, be the final straw when it comes to the global relationship with Russia and its leader.
However, in the meantime, Russia has the chance to prove cooperative. Putin has already offered to send his own investigators to the site. While there is an obvious conflict of interest there, if his investigators are able to provide valuable assistance, rather than working to push their own agenda, this could help Russia's overall stance in the global community.
Of course, if U.S. intelligence is able to determine Russia was directly involved after multiple Russian officials denied such claims, the repercussions will be extremely harsh.
We will update this post as more information becomes available.