By Aidan Dion
The war in Ukraine has the potential to turn into a proxy war between the West and Russia, so NATO forces have trod lightly. Though their materials and training aide remain public, covert Russian military action is covered up by Putin and the Kremlin. As the official report by the JIT indicates that a Russian anti-aircraft (AA) missile shot down MH17, the world creeps closer to an explosion of greater conflict.
In the weeks before the downing of MH17, rebel media outlets bragged about their ability to shoot down Ukrainian military planes. The day of the tragedy, the rebel Twitter account posted pictures of planes they had shot down in the past, then deleted them shortly after the missile fired. Just three hours prior to the downing, civilians in the area claim they saw a BUK system in the area. Civilians also claim they had not seen any Ukrainian fighter planes in the sky all day, contrary to claims by the Russian government, according to BBC. The JIT also said simulations point to a specific region of the de facto rebel state, Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), where the missile fired. When asked if he knew who fired the missile, the commanding officer in the village declined to comment. Once the plane was shot down, DPR soldiers were seen scouring the crash site. Weeks after the downing, the JIT and the DPR agreed on a corridor where no fighting would take place in order to allow an investigation team access. Before the rebels backed out, they bombed the roads leading to the crash site, according to Vice News.
To no one’s surprise, Putin has denied all accusations. He still blames Ukraine, while Russian media outlets take shots at the United States, as reported by Russia Today. Putin claims that Russia has never provided weapons or soldiers to the DPR, and that the investigation is a conspiracy against his country. However, he has lied in the past, particularly about sending weapons after convoys from Russia were found to contain arms. He lied about Russian soldiers in Ukraine after graves of soldiers turned up in secret cemeteries in Russia. Soldiers in Russian uniform have also been spotted alongside DPR soldiers. Facebook updates from Russian soldiers show them laughing and bragging about easy fighting in Ukraine, according to Vice News. It is almost laughable to hear Mr. Putin say he has no involvement in Ukraine, as the Wall Street Journal reports.
Shooting down an aircraft would be a nightmare for the Ukrainian military. Because the DPR has no aircraft, Ukraine has no need for AA weapon systems. If Ukraine accidentally shot down a passenger plane, Putin would drop the whole of his military might on the country, and NATO could do nothing. If Russia were truly innocent of this crime, then Putin could have capitalized on the tragedy. He could have used it as an excuse to invade as retribution for the lives of the innocent, and he would have the support of the grieving Dutch. Because Russia has decided to lay low militarily, it can be seen as evidence they were involved.
Nobody wants this war to go any further than it has already. Unfortunately, escalation seems all too likely, even without factoring in MH17. It is beyond doubt that the DPR shot down the plane with a weapon from Russia. It is also unlikely Russia will ever admit it, pay for it, or apologize. In order to prevent further war, I do not foresee the Dutch taking drastic steps to seek justice where it belongs.