The downing of MH17: A missile too far?

Photo: The downing of MH17: A missile too far? / Society

By Claude Salhani- Trend: Just a few days after the world celebrated the 100th anniversary of the First World War, the downing of a civilian plane with 298 people onboard over Ukraine, could launch the world into a new global crisis. While no concrete evidence is yet available, Ukrainian authorities in Kiev blame Ukrainian separatists supported by Russia.

While the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, a Boeing 777 may not be the making of a new "Sarajevo," it will nevertheless have a negative effect on already badly deteriorating relations between the West and Vladimir Putin's Russia.

Russian President Putin was already under pressure from the international community for his recent actions in Crimea, then for his support of the rebels in Ukraine and also for his support of the brutal regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The powerful images of the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 after it was apparently shot down over Ukraine are this Friday all over the front pages of European newspapers with many papers dedicating several pages to the story as the chain of events of what happened to the Boeing 777 - and the consequences for the world - are being pieced together.
Initial reports suggest that a missile fired by pro-Russian separatists downed the plane. This is being denied by the rebels. In a statement carried by Interfax news agency Vladimir Putin blames the country in whose airspace the plane was at that time.

"The tragedy would not have happened if there had been peace on that land and the hostilities in southeastern Ukraine had not resumed," he said.

However, the London Daily Mail carries the transcript of a YouTube video on which, it says, the men who fired the missile "cheered the destruction of what they thought was a military aircraft."

The Guardian gives the details of another audio recording during which two separatists suddenly realize the grave mistake they just committed.

"They found the first body. It's a civilian. I mean, it's definitely a civilian aircraft," the voice is heard saying.

"All roads lead to Moscow," says the Daily Mirror, adding that only a sophisticated missile system could shoot down something flying at the passenger jet's 32,000-33,000 ft. altitude.
And the Daily Telegraph jumps in with the belief that "There has been a marked build-up of sophisticated Russian weaponry since Ukraine last month signed an association agreement with the EU, which senior Kremlin officials at the time warned would have 'grave consequences'."
Military weapons specialists believe the missile used could be the 9K37-BUK surface-to-air missile. Using such weapons require very specially trained crews.

These are not the simplistic shoulder to air missiles that were used by the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan.

The more advanced missile system requires serious training. One suggestion for the downing of the Malaysia aircraft might be because the crew using the missile system was not fully trained and were unable to differentiate between the military and the civilian signatures on the system's radars.

The system in question is made up of multiple parts which include the missiles, (usually mobile) radar systems, and an intelligence unit to acquire and lock onto the target after making sure it is not a civilian plane.

Last night's incident suggests that one of those elements were missing.

This does not in any way make the crisis any less serious as today the world will be looking for what the American response is likely to be.

Ukraine's civil war has turned into an international crisis with very grave consequences. Barak Obama will face renewed pressure from the war hawks who have already been shouting from the rooftops that there would be "hell to pay" if it were proved that Russia was behind the shooting.

New sanction, which is very likely the path that the Obama administration will elect to follow will prevent Russian firms raising long-term finance in the US. This, according to the Financial Times, could raise the cost of borrowing, limit state spending and dampen economic growth expectations in Moscow.

This is a point of view that the hawks in Washington are likely to agree with and support.
It is important that those calling for war not be the only voices heard. This is a time for balanced thinking and balanced decisions. It is important to note that reaction to the last nights event will have long lasting consequences, and therefore require careful thinking. This is a time that demands statesmanship not militancy.

Claude Salhani is a political analyst and senior editor with Trend Agency.
You can follow him on Twitter @claudesalhani

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