President Putin has been recklessly escalating the crisis in eastern Ukraine since he was embarrassed and outmaneuvered by the Ukrainian president three weeks ago. Allowing a passenger jet to be shot down is the act of an increasingly desperate man.
The Kremlin ordered tanks, heavy weapons and Russian fighters to pour over the border stoking up the crisis until tragedy struck. We should have seen it coming; on Wednesday morning the front page of Foreign Policy magazine had a headline that should have sent shockwaves through the geopolitical landscape: Russia Is Firing Missiles At Ukraine.
The story followed several Russian citizens posting videos to social media which they said show GRAD rockets being fired from Russian territory toward Ukraine. By triangulating the different camera angles, my team at The Interpreter proved that the unguided rockets were indeed being fired into Ukraine from Russia. Thursday morning, there were reports that a group of Ukrainian soldiers had been hit by the rocket fire and were actually receiving medical treatment on the other side of the border, ironically enough in the same town from which the rockets had been launched in the first place.
This should have been huge news. How could things in Ukraine have deteriorated to the point where Putin was now engaged in such a reckless act of aggression? Of course, it was huge news... but for only a few hours. Quickly this headline was buried under the news that another Malaysian airlines flight was missing, and evidence is steadily growing that either Russian-backed separatists or Russia itself may have fired the missile that brought it down.
While much of the media is trying to figure out who shot this aircraft down, with what weapon and where it was obtained, it might be more instructive to focus instead on the 'whys' of this incident.
Why would Putin want to shoot down a commercial airliner? And if it was an accident, why would Putin allow the separatists to have a weapon this powerful without having full control over how it was used?
The answer to that question reveals that the situation in Ukraine, and in Moscow, is much, much worse than many had feared.
The first thing we have to understand is that the Kremlin spent a lot of time and money to bring down, either deliberately or accidentally, Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. The prime suspect is a Buk surface-to-air missile system. This is not a shoulder-fired weapon easily smuggled across the border, a point-and-shoot heat-seeking weapon that could be used with little training by anyone who got their hands on it. This is an advanced and battle-proven series of highly sophisticated vehicles which coordinate to track targets with radar and fire missiles so advanced that they were designed to knock smart bombs and cruise missiles out of the sky. Whoever launched this weapon was highly trained and extremely well-equipped.
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