Will Malaysia Airlines crash be traced to a Russian-made missile?
July 17th, 2014
09:29 PM ET

Will Malaysia Airlines crash be traced to a Russian-made missile?

By Leon Aron, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Leon Aron is resident scholar and director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are his own.

In the thick fog of war hanging over eastern Ukraine it is only possible at this point to establish the perimeter of the known and then to evaluate the potential culpability on a more-likely to less-likely scale.

We know that Russia and its proxies have tried to establish a de-facto no-fly zone over the rebel-controlled territory in east-south Ukraine. And while initially only low-flying helicopters and planes reachable by shoulder-fired missiles were downed, the targetable range seems to have increased to an altitude that can only be reached by sophisticated surface-to-air missiles, as evidenced by the Ukrainian military AN-26 cargo aircraft that was brought down on Monday.

The self-proclaimed military commander of the pro-Russian separatists Col. Igor Strelkov allegedly alluded to the no-fly zone when, following the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, he appears to have written on the Russian equivalent of Facebook, Vkontakte, that “we have just shot down an AN-26 airplane…Haven’t we warned them – don't fly in our sky.”

If this post is authentic, the reference to the downing of the AN-26 could be a clue: a sophisticated surface-to-air missile system in the hands of non-professionals unable to distinguish between civilian aircraft and a military transport plane. Of course, both the Russian and Ukrainian professional military could have made the same mistake (in fact, in 2001, a Ukrainian missile mistakenly shot down a Russian passenger jet headed for Novosibirsk from Israel), but the professional military are less likely to make such a mistake than irregular troops.

A transfer of such a system from Russia would be consistent with a broader pattern. Desperate, for domestic political reasons, not to allow the defeat of its proxies in Ukraine, Moscow has moved other heavy equipment across the border, including tanks, armored personal carriers and BM-21 Grad multiple launch rocket system. The latter was reportedly deployed last week against a Ukrainian border check point in the Luhansk Oblast, killing up to 30 and wounding nearly 100 Ukrainian soldiers.

In announcing sanctions against Russia on Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama stressed the “flow of [Russian] fighters and weapons across the border.” If the disaster is traced to a Russian-made missile, whether fired from the Russian or Ukrainian side of the border, international outrage is likely to lead – and quickly – to more and more serious sanctions against Russia.​

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine

soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. chri§§y

    Just as i thought they are trying to get their "no fly zone" one way or the other! And this is how ISIS was born!

    July 17, 2014 at 9:36 pm | Reply
    • n

      ..hyo do realize that the Ukrainina military uses ALL Russian-made equipment...except what NATO/US supplied stuff they unofficially haven't received recently...it just turns up on the battlefield cuz it dropped from the sky! I would expect no less tho from CNN...they knew who did it before the plane crashed! (Hint: It's the "Blame Russia/Putin Bad" button on their keyboards!)

      Since Russia has the top of the line air defense sytem within 100 miles of the territory, I'd wait to see what they come up with1 They sure had nothing to gain from this, nor did the Novarussia Army. Of course the crap coming out of Kyiv which is dutifully repearted here is that Kazaks near the border were responsible,,,sort of loose cannons who were ioverheard by the SBU/CIA . Unfortunately, homework was not performed and the system (BURK+ would have been incapable of shooting the plane down from the alleged location, Do a little due diligence and look around...try thevineyardofthesaker for a start...read up on what is really been happening there, and you will see a desparate regime in Kyiv with a poorly trained and ill-equipped conscript army and an ersatz nat;l guard that is full of neo-nazis and criminals relese from prison. My bet is on the Natl Guard popping off a missle prematurely in an attempt to blame it on the Novarussian Army and thereby discredit it at the critical point in which it is kicking their collective asses! The NRA commander Strelkov has grown an army that is imopressiv e (with indirect assistance from gratefull Russian citizens *wink*wink*...like we (don't) supply the jihadis in Syria) and it now has the capability of rolling the junta military back to the Maidan.

      July 17, 2014 at 10:03 pm | Reply
  2. n

    "the professional military are less likely to make such a mistake than irregular troops." Ahem! The "professional military" is getting its ass kicked by "irregular troops" and cannot in any way be considered "professional" unless you consider the foregn mercanaries fighting such as Polish pilots and US merc outfits. Yes, there are lots of foreign fighters drawn to both sides of the conflict ...money is flowing though the country is bankrupt!

    July 17, 2014 at 10:14 pm | Reply
  3. DP

    yet another "expert"... it was widely reported in Russian media on June 29th that Freedom Fighters captured BUK SAMs from so called ukrainian army in Donetsk... it certainly was known to illegitimate ukrainian hunta and to western intelligence services... yet, neither ukrainian hunta, nor EU authorities in charge of air traffic did not stop civilian flights over the area... just google "А-1402" or go to ITAR-TASS = http://itar-tass.com/mezhdunarodnaya-panorama/1287030 ... start finally read the other side instead of your pro-ukranian experts.

    July 17, 2014 at 10:27 pm | Reply
    • Dave

      When will Germany stop kissing Russias backside and condemn them for the aggressive pushy nuts that they are? Is the value of trade worth more than all your principles -or have you lost them?

      July 21, 2014 at 2:26 am | Reply

      July 21, 2014 at 2:32 am | Reply
      • FD

        Wait for freezing incoming winter in Europe, then you will know !

        July 21, 2014 at 9:32 am |
  4. Polber

    "Of course, both the Russian and Ukrainian professional military could have made the same mistake (in fact, in 2001, a Ukrainian missile mistakenly shot down a Russian passenger jet bound for Israel)". The author forgot to mention an 1988 event when USS Vincenness shot down an Iran Air's Airbus A300 with 290 passangers? Then it was announced that the crew "incorrectly identified the Iranian Airbus A300 as an attacking F-14 Tomcat fighter"

    July 18, 2014 at 5:19 am | Reply
  5. Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

    Regardless of how much we may ever learn about what actually happened to destroy this airplane, the supermarket salespersons at checkout counters, and workers at posr-office windows are substantially the same kinds of people as those in the military services who have the training and authority to fire missiles.

    July 18, 2014 at 8:32 am | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini©

      There are different kinds of mistakes. One kind is the "oops" mistake. Another kind is the carefully planned and directed "mistake."
      There are other kinds, but that's enough for today.

      July 18, 2014 at 8:47 am | Reply
  6. arnaldo santos

    its about time to unite dont let this happen again, because there so many life and soul supper, its happen now it make happen again its a question of when.

    July 18, 2014 at 10:04 am | Reply
  7. Semper Fido

    It already has been...

    July 19, 2014 at 8:39 pm | Reply
  8. j. von hettlingen

    Indeed, these separatist rebels seem to have more hubris than brains. Apart from a few commanders and former Soviet veterans, they are just a bunch of thugs, doing the dirty work to disrupt law and order as well as create chaos.

    July 21, 2014 at 4:54 pm | Reply

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