An outrage wrapped in a mystery
The New York Times said the following in an editorial:
There are still innumerable questions about how Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot
down over rebel-held areas of Ukraine on Thursday. But nobody contests that the 298 people so senselessly killed deserve far greater respect than they have been shown by the Russian-backed rebels who have controlled the incompetent searches of the fields on which the Boeing 777 came down. The callousness of the rebels and, by extension of their Russian sponsors, is outrageous.
On Monday, Dutch forensics experts and representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe finally examined the four refrigerated rail cars holding the remains of the crash victims, which were taken to Kharkiv, Ukraine, for proper identification. As President Barack Obama said in a brief statement on Monday, returning the remains to their families as soon as possible is “the least we can do.”
But it is far from all that must be done. The facts about the shooting down of the plane must be established by trusted, international experts. The most likely finding, for which American and other Western officials say there is strong evidence, is that the jetliner was brought down by rockets fired from rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine. That would require not only ground-to-air missiles but also the expertise and equipment to guide them, raising the possibility of assistance from Russia itself. Russia has denied any such role, and its military officials have pushed a competing scenario, inculpating Ukraine.
These are very serious charges. Innocent victims are sadly common in conflicts, but whoever unleashed a lethal missile not knowing how to distinguish between a military and a civilian plane is not only irresponsible and stupid, but a war criminal. The evidence lies in those same fields that the separatists have effectively sealed off for days. Though they surrendered the flight recorder boxes to Malaysian officials on Monday, their delay gave them plenty of time to hide or destroy incriminating evidence.
President Vladimir Putin of Russia issued a statement on Monday saying, “Everything possible must be done to ensure that international experts can work in safety at the crash site,” and Russia joined in a United Nations Security Council resolution demanding full access to the crash site and condemning the downing of the plane. But then Putin has said many reasonable and conciliatory things since the Ukrainian crisis began, and he has done nothing to rein in the thugs who have seized control of parts of eastern Ukraine, or to block the fighters and sophisticated weapons supplied them from Russia.
In that same statement, Putin also sought to transfer blame to Ukraine, saying the tragedy would not have happened if Kiev had maintained a cease-fire. And he sanctimoniously declared “no one has the right to use this tragedy to pursue their own political goals.” That is not terribly convincing coming from Putin, who has cynically encouraged a dangerous secessionist conflict to grow until it became a threat to the world.
The comments from European leaders have been clear and tough, but words will count for little unless European Union foreign ministers enforce more stringent sanctions against Russia if it fails to cooperate in an immediate and independent investigation of the plane crash, and take tangible measures to curb the rebels. After the downing of Flight 17 and the brutish handling of the victims, it is time for Europe to hold Putin to his words.