WASHINGTON — President Obama said Friday that the United States believed the Malaysia Airlines jetliner felled over eastern Ukraine had been shot down by a surface-to-air missile from an area inside Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists.
Mr. Obama’s remarks at the White House were the strongest public suggestions yet from the United States of who was responsible for the downing of the plane, which exploded, crashed and burned on Thursday on farmland in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people aboard.
"Shot down by a surface-to-air missile from an area inside Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists" is still a conservative, cordial way of describing the situation—as opposed to, say, "shot down by Russia in its covert war against Ukraine."
The question, of course, is how much Russia had to do with the people and gear involved the shooting: Were they regular Russian military? Were they trained by the Russian military? Where did the missile launcher come from?
Here's what we've got so far in the way of hints (much of this courtesy of Chris Collsion, who's been sending us dispatches from Ukraine about the revolution, its aftermath, and the Russian takeover in Crimea):
The Ukrainian government has released footage of what it claims is a man named Igor Bezler talking to a Russian military intelligence official about shooting down a plane, as well as agents named "Major" and "Greek" talking about shooting down a civilian aircraft by mistake:
Amateur footage from earlier in the week allegedly shows a Russian-made Gadfly (BUK) launcher moving through the area in eastern Ukraine.
More photos appear to show the same launcher leaving Ukraine carrying three missiles instead of four. Bloggers are circulating unconfirmed reports that the BUK has been taken back to Russia for destruction.
The plane was shot down in the same area where two Ukrainian military aircraft were destroyed earlier this week.
A Russian-born militant leader named Igor Strelkov initially claimed his fighters had shot down an Antonov AN-26 and was quoted in the Russian media.
Then the Russian media (mainly RT) quickly modified its reports and scrambled to blame the Ukrainian military for downing the plane, even though it happened in a militant-held area.
So what will happen next? Will the EU continue to ignore the conflict now that hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed? The Kremlin must be held responsible for this act of mass murder. Even if the militants are not official members of the Russian military, they were supplied with Russian weapons and have received support and guidance from Moscow since day one. It is no longer a regional conflict. There are now victims from at least four continents.
There hasn't been much reporting, at least in the English-language press, about life following the revolution. I've tried to pitch a few stories about cultural issues, especially refugees in Kyiv from Crimea, but there hasn't been much interest in the the international press. The agencies are mostly looking for blood and guns, and there isn't any of that going on west of Donbas at the moment (thank God).
As to the question of whether the BUK could be operated by a new gang of insurgents...
And about using BUK by "rebels". Here's a control panel. Go on, sort it out.
— Скептикобандеровец (@nahtrezer) July 18, 2014
It's frustrating that all this is unverifiable, behind-the-lines reporting on social media—but it'll be interesting to see if any official investigations eventually support or debunk what, at this point, seems to be a heavily implicated Russian military operation shooting down a civilian aircraft.