Russia-backed rebels in Ukraine might never have intended to down a civilian aircraft and so the downing of a Malaysian airliner must have come as a shock to them in some measure. It was a deadly mistake for which they will be made to pay heavily, something they aren’t prepared for in their war with the Ukrainian government. The mistake has been so deadly that it has turned the international community against them and their main backer, Russia, thus strengthening European and American efforts to punish Moscow for its actions in Ukraine.
But what is more surprising is the reaction of rebels and their handling of the tragedy – which are nothing but atrocious and morally contemptible. First they denied their involvement, turned away an international team from accessing the crash site, tried to destroy evidence and then began to cooperate as international pressure intensified, including from the United Nations. The rebels must realize that their tactics will only backfire and make their case worse. Denials and destruction of evidence will not help to absolve themselves of the responsibility. Owning up the crime and a willingness to make amends will be far more helpful.
Day after day, evidence has been emerging that the destruction of MH17 was the work of Ukrainian rebels, though the international community is veering round to the theory that it was a mistake. Claims by pro-Russia separatists that they have never been in possession of the missile launcher apparently used to down flight MH17 were proved wrong yesterday with reports saying several witnesses saying they had seen what appeared to be a Buk missile launcher in the vicinity of the crash site. At the same time, rebels are continuing to deny their involvement. The self-styled prime minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Alexander Borodai, again denied that the rebels were responsible for the crash in a statement to the press yesterday, before he handed the flight’s black box recorders to a visiting Malaysian delegation. Ukraine had the “technical ability and the motive” to carry out the attack while the rebels had neither, he said.
Whatever the claim of separatists and rebels, the European Union is planning to expand its sanctions against Russia. It is planning to target Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and draw up further broad measures including an arms embargo and financial restrictions on Russian businesses, Putin has been protesting vociferously, but that is unlikely to help.
The MH17 crash should not be used to settle scores and should not result in an exacerbation of hostilities. The relatives of crash victims and the airline must get justice, and Moscow should not do anything that will thwart efforts in that direction.