The horrific events over eastern Ukraine, that of a civilian airliner being shot out of the skies by a high altitude Sam 11 missile, seem almost the improbable grist of a thriller novel or a pilot episode of the TV series 24. Add the fact the Malaysian commercial flight and 298 innocent passengers and crew killed in this tragedy had no connection to the ongoing crisis churning seven miles below in the disputed eastern Ukraine and you see an ironic and horrible turn to the crisis.
The international community reacted with predictable shock and anguish.
Foreign Ministries issued stern condemnations and the UN Security Council went into urgent session. The Russians, assumed predictable cover-up mode, not for their direct actions, but the likely deeds of their locally-created separatist Ukrainian militias which have turned into a political Frankenstein.
On a day when Russian-backed Ukrainian rebels shot a civilian airliner from the skies over Europe and on a day when Israel troops crossed into Gaza to pursue Hamas terrorists, history will record that the president of the United States (POTUS) was not in the Situation Room in Washington monitoring the pulse of the dual crises but at two lavish New York city political fundraisers.
Yet, days later the UN Security Council to its credit, unanimously passed a resolution condemning “in the strongest terms” the airliner downing and called for “a full, thorough, and independent international investigation” into the tragic incident in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines. “The Council also called for “unfettered access to the crash site” to ensure its integrity is maintained.
Russia, despite its veto power, nervously supported the draft resolution. Had Moscow blocked the inquiry, more attention would have fallen not on the separatist thugs in eastern Ukraine, but their political puppeteers in the Kremlin. By backing the resolution, Putin can claim he is working towards a solution to the atrocity and still have time to spread the black arts of disinformation about the incident.
Given the largest loss of life affected almost 200 Dutch civilians on the ill-fated Malaysian MH-17 airliner, The Netherlands Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans addressed the Council, “The demise of almost 200 of my compatriots has left a hole in the heart of the Dutch nation. It has caused grief, anger and despair.”
Equally Australia who lost 28 of its citizens used the UN rostrum to call for humanitarian access to the crash site. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called the shoot down a “utterly deplorable act,” declaring, “Our resolution also demands a full, thorough and independent international investigation into this act. We must have answers. We must have justice.”
While world opinion has swung against Moscow, the economic reality remains that producing tough West European policy actions to follow political rhetoric remains problematic given Europe’s (though not Britain and the Netherlands) dependence on Russian energy supplies.
Separatists in these “rebel People’s Republics” form a combination of Moscow- backed nationalist paramilitaries, soldiers of fortune, and angry Soviet wannabe thugs. But beyond their automatic weapons and rudimentary use of armored vehicles, these clowns simply don’t have the competency to use high-tech surface to air missiles at higher altitudes with chilling precision.
Thus while the rebels had shot down a number of Ukrainian military aircraft the preceding week, these planes were at lower altitudes. It appears highly unlikely if near impossible that separatists, despite ill intent, could actually operate and effectively target a sophisticated Sam 11, “Buk” anti-aircraft missile launcher.
United Kingdom Ambassador Sir Mark Lyall Grant commented succinctly, “The context for this tragedy is Russia’s attempt to destabilize a sovereign state and violate its territorial integrity.”
American delegate Samantha Power in a moment of forceful clarity exclaimed: “This appalling attack occurred in the context of a crisis that has been fueled by Russian support for separatists — through arms, weapons and training. “ The Ambassador added, “This war can be ended. Russia can end this war. Russia must end this war.” The crash site presents a tangle of apocalyptic human and aircraft remains among the summer sunflowers, yet another tragic testament to Ukraine’s threatened sovereignty. The West must move carefully to defuse this crisis before it widens.
John J. Metzler is a U.N. correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He writes weekly for WorldTribune.com. He is the author of Transatlantic Divide ; USA/Euroland Rift (University Press, 2010)