Airliner Shot Down Over Ukraine: Rapid Reaction by Atlantic Council Expert John Herbst

Around the time the plane disappeared, Russian Col. Girkin (Strelkov) on his ‘VKontakte’ page (‘VKontakte’ is the Russian Facebook equivalent) noted that a plane (which he called an Antonov – a Ukrainian transport plane) had been shot down in the region of Torez. The post also mentioned that the local authorities had warned all not to fly “in our skies.” It also talks about a second plane being shot down.

Later, after it became public that a commercial airliner had been shot down, the Colonel’s ‘VKontakte’ page deleted most of the reference to the incident and changed the location of the shootdown of the Antonov from “Torez” to “Snezhniy.”

This looks like prima facie evidence that the Russian-led insurgents were responsible for the shootdown. It is worth noting that Strelkov’s site now blames Kyiv for the shooting down of the airliner.

In any case, the real problem here is that the Kremlin has greatly increased the supply of sophisticated weapons to the separatists this month. Putin took that decision in part because the G-7 did not make good on its threat to impose sectoral sanction on Russia at the end of June. This encouraged the Kremlin dictator to think that he could escalate his interference without penalty.

Yesterday’s American sanctions may now give him pause; he will certainly notice that European sanctions were much weaker.

John E. Herbst is director of the Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council. He served as the US ambassador to Ukraine from 2003 to 2006.

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Image: Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 flight MH-17 with the registration number 9M-MRD flies over Poland from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in this April 12, 2012 photo. The Malaysian airliner was brought down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, killing all 295 people aboard and sharply raising the stakes in a conflict between Kiev and pro-Moscow rebels in which Russia and the West back opposing sides. Photo taken April 12, 2012. REUTERS/Tomasz Bartkowiak