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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

'It was a rocket attack and may be a war crime'

'It was a rocket attack and may be a war crime' 

 

 

 

 

 

 

'It was a rocket attack and may be a war crime'

KIEV: Analysis of the black box flight recorders from the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 shows that it was destroyed by shrapnel from a rocket attack which caused “massive explosive decompression”.
The attack was now being investigated as a war crime, the United Nations said.
Kiev and the West accuse pro-Russian rebels of shooting down the plane, and the European Union is drafting tougher sanctions against Russia.
Sanctions targeting entire economic sectors are being considered, including an arms embargo, and the 28-member bloc is expected to unveil more names of individuals and entities sanctioned.
Moscow, however, has blasted EU’s move as “irresponsible”. It says the Ukrainian government is responsible for the attack on the plane, which killed all 298 people on board.
The spokesman for Ukraine’s Security Council, Andriy Lysenko, told a news conference here that experts analysing the recorders from the plane had concluded that a roc­ket attack brought the plane down in rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine on July 17.
Britain has been tasked with downloading the data from the two black boxes recovered from the site.
A Dutch-led investigation into the crash, however, has made little headway due to the intensifying fighting in the insurgent-held zone.
The fighting blocked a new attempt by Dutch and Australian police to reach the crash site.
The unarmed international mission has been forced to turn around as heavy bombardment rocked towns close to the site.
The Red Cross has said Ukraine is now in civil war – a classification that would make parties in the conflict liable to prosecution for war crimes.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the “horrendous shooting down” of the jet and demanded a “thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation”.
“This violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime,” she said.
Pillay warned that both sides were “employing heavy weaponry in built-up areas, including artillery, tanks, rockets and missiles”.
“Both sides must take great care to prevent more civilians from being killed or injured,” the high commissioner said.
The fighting continued overnight, as the Ukrainian army appeared to be intensifying its offensive to wrest control of the industrial east and cut off the rebels from the Russian border.










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U.S., EU hit Russia with more sanctions as Ukraine fighting continues

By Laura Smith-Spark, Steve Almasy and Nick Paton Walsh, CNN
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2347 GMT (0747 HKT)
Source: CNN

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Obama says sanctions will hit Russian arms, energy and finance sectors
  • This is not part of a new Cold War, Obama says
  • EU official: Some of the individuals affected are Putin 'cronies'
  • Investigators are prevented from reaching the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site again
Donetsk, Ukraine (CNN) -- Russia became more isolated Tuesday than it has been at any time since the end of the Cold War after new, hard-hitting sanctions were announced by the European Union and the United States, U.S. officials said.
U.S. President Barack Obama said the measures would take an "even bigger bite" out of the stagnant Russian economy than sanctions Washington and the EU had already implemented against Russia over its disputed annexation of Crimea and its support of pro-Russian rebels fighting the Ukrainian government.
"The major sanctions we're announcing today will continue to ratchet up the pressure on Russia including the cronies and companies supporting Russia's illegal activities in the Ukraine," he said from the White House South Lawn. "In other words, today Russia is once again isolating itself from the international community, setting back decades of genuine progress."
He said the EU sanctions showed to him a waning patience with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the impact of the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which had many Europeans among the 298 people on board when it exploded over volatile eastern Ukraine.

Obama: New sanctions, not a new Cold War

Expert: No Cold War, but temps dropping

Fighting stalls MH17 investigation
Some of the new EU sanctions target eight "cronies" of Putin and three "entities" by limiting their access to EU capital markets, an EU official said on condition of anonymity. The people and entities will be named Wednesday, the official said.

Kerry slams rebels for crash site behavior

MH17 investigators forced to turn back
Three state-owned banks named Tuesday by Washington means five of the top six financial institutions in Russia were on the sanctions list, according to a senior Obama administration official. Four-fifths of their debt is in U.S. dollars, the official said.
New sanctions will also impact the future of Russia's important oil businesses with technology licensing restrictions, another senior administration official said. Restrictions will affect Russia's ability to produce oil from deep-water wells and shale fields, sectors it is only beginning to explore.
The sanctions, however, are not part of a new Cold War, Obama said.
"What it is, is a very specific issue related to Russia's unwillingness to recognize that Ukraine can chart its own path," Obama said.
The EU sanctions also will block new arms contracts between Europe and Russia, prohibit the export of European goods that can be used for both civilian and military purposes and limit the export of energy-related equipment, the EU said in a written statement Tuesday evening.
The European Union had previously been reluctant to issue harsher sanctions against Russia because both regions rely on one another for about $500 billion in trade and investment each year, according to CNNMoney.
"It is meant as a strong warning: Illegal annexation of territory and deliberate destabilization of a neighboring sovereign country cannot be accepted in 21st century Europe," the European Council's statement reads.
One of the senior administration officials said Russia hasn't been this isolated "since the end of the Cold War."
Obama said Russia could choose a different path.
"It didn't have to come to this. It does not have to be this way," Obama said. "This is a choice that Russia and President Putin in particular has made. ... The path for a peaceful resolution to this crisis involves recognizing the sovereignty, the territorial integrity and the independence of the Ukrainian people."
Investigators thwarted again
Meanwhile, international investigators and observers were prevented for the third straight day from reaching the MH17 crash site.
The Dutch Justice Ministry said its team was unable to leave the city of Donetsk because of violence.
The 50-strong team of Dutch and Australian experts, accompanied by monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, was also forced to abandon its attempts to reach the site Sunday and Monday.
Dutch investigators have yet to lay eyes on the wreckage or the human remains believed still to be strewn across the huge debris field near the town of Torez.
U.S. and Ukrainian officials have said that a Russian-made missile system was used to shoot down MH17 from rebel territory. Russia and the rebels have disputed the allegations and blamed Ukraine for the crash.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte asked Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in a phone call Tuesday morning to halt the fighting around the crash site so that investigators can access it, Rutte spokesman Jean Fransman said.
Reports of ballistic missiles
The United States and others say Russia has provided arms to rebels in eastern Ukraine, including heavy weapons such as a missile system like the one believed used to down the Malaysian airliner 12 days ago.

MH17 investigators forced to turn back

Battle nears MH17 crash scene

First family reaches MH17 crash site

Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine

'Russian cooperation close to zero'

Data recorders help explain MH17 downing

Family's one last photo aboard MH17
Despite previous sanctions, the flow of weapons continues and on Tuesday the fighting appeared to have entered a dangerous new phase. There were reports that Ukraine's government in the past 48 hours used short-range ballistic missiles against the rebels, three U.S. officials told CNN.
The weapons have a range of about 50 miles (80 kilometers) and pack up to 1,000-pound (454-kilogram) warheads. If the reports are accurate, they are the most deadly missiles used in the conflict to date.
The U.S. officials did not specify where the missiles hit or what damage they caused.
One U.S. official said there has been no reaction from Russia so far.
Another of the U.S. officials said using the missiles is "an escalation, but Ukraine has a right to defend itself."
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin acknowledged that his country's military has short-range missiles, but denied that the military fired any.
In a joint news conference with Klimkin, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry praised Ukrainian officials for proposing a peace plan that includes "serious and substantive dialogue with the Russian-backed separatists."
Russia: Checkpoint came under fire
Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website that a Russian checkpoint had come under fire from Ukrainian forces.
It says Ukrainian officers used automatic weapons and grenades at the Gukovo customs checkpoint, causing damage.
On Tuesday, Klimkin, the Ukrainian foreign minister, denied that Ukrainian forces had fired into Russia.
The defense minister for the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, Igor Strelkov, said that there had been "extremely severe" battles between his rebel forces and the Ukrainian military in the area of Shaktarsk and Torez.
He said a number of injured rebel fighters, as well as some medical personnel, had been evacuated from Donetsk to Russia. Moscow has denied arming and supporting the rebels, but Strelkov's words indicate that Russia is serving as a kind of haven for the rebels.
Strelkov also denied his fighters had the weapons system needed to shoot down an airliner.

U.S., EU coordinate on Russia sanctions, but will they work?

By Tom Cohen, CNN
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 0056 GMT (0856 HKT)
Watch this video

Obama: New sanctions, not a new Cold War


STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Expanded sanctions target Russian banks, arms industry, oil development
  • EU joins Obama after initially balking due to economic concerns
  • Analysts say economic shocks may not change Putin's strategy or goals
  • Another possible option: take the 2018 soccer World Cup from Russia
Washington (CNN) -- More Russian aggression in Ukraine. More U.S. and European sanctions imposed on Moscow.
What seems like diplomatic tail-chasing so many months into the Ukraine conflict invites questions about how Western powers can defuse the worsening conflict in Eastern Europe.
U.S. President Barack Obama and the European Union raised the stakes on Tuesday, announcing long-threatened sanctions that target Russia's state-owned banks, weapons makers and oil companies, along with top cronies of President Vladimir Putin.
They want Putin to stop arming pro-Russian separatists fighting the Ukraine government and instead support a political process that entrenches President Petro Poroshenko's elected leadership.

Obama announces sanctions against Russia
A deeper concern is that Putin may be planning to grab more territory from the former Soviet satellite following Russia's annexation of Crimea earlier this year.
Russia denies such ambitions and criticizes sanctions as unproductive toward the goal of finding a diplomatic solution.
Here is a look at the latest sanctions and what might come next.
How did we get here?
The Ukraine crisis developed from huge protests in Kiev late last year that led to the February ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.
In the ensuing political chaos, the pro-West Poroshenko got elected while Russia grabbed control of Crimea, an ethnic-Russian territory home to its Black Sea fleet.

Expert: No Cold War, but temps dropping
Obama and U.S. allies protested by suspending Putin from the G8 summit and imposing a series of limited sanctions, warning of tougher measures targeting specific economic sectors if Russia's aggression continued. It did, with the separatists armed and trained by Moscow rebelling in eastern Ukraine.
In response, Obama announced expanded U.S. sanctions on July 16 that targeted two Russian state-owned banks, two energy companies, eight weapons makers, along with some Putin associates and separatist leaders.
Europe's major economic ties with Russia -- about $500 billion in trade and investment per year -- caused the European Union to balk at joining Washington then.
The next day, a missile fired from separatist-held territory downed a Malaysia Airlines jet in the conflict zone, killing all 298 people aboard.
Now the separatists are hindering access to the crash site amid fighting in the area, and Russia is sending heavy weaponry to them while deploying troops along the Ukraine border.
What the European Union did
Almost two weeks after Obama initially expanded the U.S. sanctions, European leaders agreed Tuesday to coordinate similar steps.
In a major expansion signaling new resolve, they went after eight of Putin's top associates, along with Russia's finance, energy and weapons industries.
The new EU sanctions will restrict Russian state-owned banks from accessing European capital markets, and stop or slow the export of oil-related equipment and technology to Russia.
They also will stop new contracts for arms imports and exports between the European Union and Russia, and prohibit the export of goods and technology that can be used for both military and civilian purposes.
"It is meant as a strong warning: Illegal annexation of territory and deliberate destabilization of a neighboring sovereign country cannot be accepted in 21st century Europe," the EU said in a statement.
What Obama announced
Two hours later, Obama told reporters that the United States expanded its July 16 sanctions to include three more state-owned banks and another weapons company, while also targeting technology for deep-water, Arctic and shale oil production.
While expanding on the earlier moves, the latest sanctions include limits.
They don't affect Russia's current oil production, instead targeting the ability to develop new areas, senior administration officials told reporters on a background call. The European sanctions on weapons trade only involves future transactions, allowing France to complete an existing helicopter deal with Moscow.
However, Obama cited the joint action as significant, saying that "because we are closely coordinating our actions with Europe, the sanctions we are announcing today will have an even bigger bite."
"If Russia continues on its current path, the cost on Russia will continue to grow," he added, calling the moves "a reminder that the United States means what it says, and we will rally the international community in standing up for the rights and freedom of people around the world."
What is the impact?
The senior administration officials said the expanded sanctions prevent Russia's state-owned banks, which have all or most of their debt in U.S. dollars, from getting more medium- and long-term financing in America.
They noted the sanctions already have contributed to a downturn in the Russian economy, a flight of foreign capital and weakening of the ruble currency.
"Russia is not a very good bet right now for international investors," one of the officials said.
On Tuesday, shares in British oil giant BP fell by 2.5% after the company warned that it would suffer from the tougher EU sanctions. BP owns a significant stake in Rosneft, Russia's biggest oil company, which no longer can access long-term financing from U.S. sources.
Meanwhile, shares in French automotive manufacturer Renault slumped by 4.5% as the company warned about a sharp slowdown in emerging markets, including Russia. Russia is Renault's third largest market, based on sales.
Geopolitically, Obama denied that a new Cold War with Russia had started, but Gideon Rose, the editor of Foreign Affairs magazine, told CNN that "the temperature in the room has just dropped a few degrees."
"The fact that the Europeans have now finally recognized what they need to do and that the administration has been able to bring them on board" was a "positive development," Rose said.
Will it matter to Putin?
To the U.S. officials, the sanctions announced Tuesday are "the most significant tool we have to shape Russian decision-making."

Should World Cup be pulled from Russia?

Clinton: Putin partly to blame for MH17
Analysts questioned whether economic hardship would change Putin's thinking.
Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine now with the Brookings Institution, told a congressional committee last month that Putin could use sanctions "as a scapegoat and attempt to put all the blame on the West for Russia's poor economic performance."
To fellow Brookings analysts Clifford Gaddy and Barry Ickes, Russia's economy can absorb the shocks of sanctions without deteriorating to the point of forcing Putin to change his overall goals and policies.
"For that, sanctions would have to reduce Russia to its condition of the 1990s, when it was simply too weak and dependent on the West to oppose the international order created by the West after the Cold War," they wrote in an article on the Brookings website. "It is clear to us that no feasible actions by the West today can recreate the weak and compliant Russia of the 1990s."
One reason: such a move would seriously harm the global economy, too, a step Washington and the European Union won't take, the pair said.
Where do things stand?
Obama and EU leaders made clear that Putin could avoid the increasing international isolation Russia faces by working with Poroshenko's government in Ukraine, instead of helping the separatists fight against it.
The senior administration officials listed four conditions for getting sanctions eased: recognize Poroshenko's government as legitimately elected; stop arming the separatists; stop massing Russian forces at the border; and influence the separatists to enter an inclusive political process in Ukraine.
"It didn't have to come to this. It does not have to be this way," Obama said. "This is a choice that Russia and President Putin in particular has made."
The European statement specifically cited the annexation of Crimea as another grievance, while the U.S. officials did not mention it.
However, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Tuesday against any further expansionist ideas by Putin, such as invading eastern Ukraine.
"That would be taken, needless to say, as not just a violation of all notions of international law, but an exceedingly dangerous action which would wind up with, you know, the most severe possible kinds of isolation and sanctions possible," Kerry told reporters. "And Germany, France, other countries in Europe, would clearly join into that in ways that would have a profound, profound impact on the Russian economy."
What if the sanctions don't work?
Obama and European leaders have repeatedly said the Ukraine crisis requires a diplomatic solution, which rules out military intervention -- at least for now.
Beyond sanctions, another idea floated by some European officials would be to move the 2018 soccer World Cup planned for Russia to somewhere else.
Such a move, considered premature at this point by major soccer nations and organizations, would deliver a bitter blow to Putin following Russia's successful hosting of the Sochi Olympics earlier this year.
Donetsk
An armed pro-Russian separatist guards a crash site of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo), Donetsk region on July 24, 2014. Reuters/Maxim Zmeyev
At least 13 people, including two children, were killed Sunday after rockets were fired in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, even as an international team of investigators made another attempt to reach the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.
The attack came in the form of rockets and artillery shells, and civilian casualties are expected to rise up to 30, Interfax-Ukraine, a local news agency reported, citing local officials. Donetsk’s regional administration said that the rockets were fired using multiple rocket launchers. And, according to local officials, a facility belonging to Donbasenergo, a state-owned energy company, was on fire from the attack, which followed the National Guard of Ukraine's efforts to take back the city of Shakhtarsk in Donetsk Oblast from pro-Russia rebels.
"The local maternity hospital was presumably damaged in an artillery attack. Windows were blown out when a drug rehabilitation clinic was hit by artillery fire. A rocket was fired at Hospital No.2, presumably the obstetric department, at about 1300. I can't provide more accurate information about casualties and destruction as I am only approaching the territory," Oleksandr Prosianyk, a health official, told Interfax-Ukraine.
An international team of investigators, whose earlier attempts to reach Flight MH17's crash site over the weekend were thwarted by fighting between rebels and government forces in the region, will now try to reach the spot Monday, CNN reported.
Apartments and supermarkets in the region too were reportedly damaged in the attack, and the Horlivka railway terminal was also ablaze from the rocket attacks while firefighters rushed to douse the flames, the Interfax-Ukraine report said.
"Donbasenergo is ablaze, roofs were holed in several buildings, ambulances are busy doing running calls, the windows in the TSUM department store and Ukrtelecom were blown out," the Horlivka Self Defense Group said, according to Interfax Ukraine.
Pro-Moscow rebels and Ukraine’s government forces had agreed to a three-day cease-fire following the downing of Flight MH17, to assist in the recovery and investigation of the crashed plane. However, fighting has continued in the region even as reports emerged of Russia building up forces on the Ukrainian border and supplying separatists with tanks and armored vehicles.









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Satellite images prove Russia fired rockets into Ukraine after MH17 crash, U.S. says


| | Last Updated: Jul 27 7:41 PM ET
More from Associated Press
This first page of a four page document released by the U.S. State Department in Washington, July 27, 2014 shows a satellite image that purports to shows ground scarring at a multiple rocket launch site on the Russian side of the border oriented in the direction of Ukraine military unites within Ukraine. The United States says the images back up its claims that rockets have been fired from Russia into eastern Ukraine and heavy artillery for separatists has also crossed the border.
AP Photo/U.S. State DepartmentThis first page of a four page document released by the U.S. State Department in Washington, July 27, 2014 shows a satellite image that purports to shows ground scarring at a multiple rocket launch site on the Russian side of the border oriented in the direction of Ukraine military unites within Ukraine. The United States says the images back up its claims that rockets have been fired from Russia into eastern Ukraine and heavy artillery for separatists has also crossed the border.
Stepping up pressure on Moscow, the U.S. on Sunday released satellite images it says show that rockets have been fired from Russia into neighbouring eastern Ukraine and that heavy artillery for separatists have crossed the border.
The images, which came from the U.S. Director of National Intelligence and could not be independently verified by The Associated Press, show blast marks where rockets were launched and craters where they landed. Officials said the images show heavy weapons fired between July 21 and July 26 – after the July 17 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
The four-page memo is part of the Obama administration’s push to hold Russia accountable for its activities in neighbouring Ukraine, and the release could help to persuade the United States’ European allies to apply harsher sanctions on Russia.
The timing of the memo also could be aimed at dissuading Russia from further military posturing. The Pentagon said just days ago that the movement of Russian heavy-caliber artillery systems across its border into Ukraine was “imminent.”
AP Photo/U.S. State Department
AP Photo/U.S. State DepartmentThis second page of a four page document released by the U.S. State Department in Washington, July 27, 2014 shows a satellite image that purports to shows self propelled artillery only found in Russian military units, on the Russian side of the border, oriented in the direction of a Ukrainian military unit within Ukraine.
Moscow has angrily denied allegations of Russia’s involvement in eastern Ukraine. Russia’s foreign ministry over the weekend accused the U.S. of conducting “an unrelenting campaign of slander against Russia, ever more relying on open lies.”
Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by phone Sunday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, urging him to stop the flow of heavy weapons and rocket and artillery fire from Russia into Ukraine, said a State Department official. Kerry did not accept Lavrov’s denial that heavy weapons from Russia were contributing to the conflict, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details of the call.
There was no immediate comment from Moscow.
The U.S. images claim to show multiple rocket launchers fired at Ukrainian forces from within Ukraine and from Russian soil. One image shows dozens of craters around a Ukrainian military unit and rockets that can travel more than seven miles.
The memo said one image provides evidence that Russian forces have “fired across the border at Ukrainian military forces and that Russian-backed separatists have used heavy artillery provided by Russia in attacks on Ukrainian forces from inside Ukraine.”
Another satellite image depicted in the memo shows “ground scarring at multiple rocket launch sites on the Russian side of the border oriented in the direction of Ukraine military units within Ukraine.”
AP Photo/U.S. State Department
AP Photo/U.S. State DepartmentThis third page of a four page document released by the U.S. State Department in Washington, July 27, 2014, shows a satellite image that purports to shows a before and after close-up of the artillery strike depicted in the lower portion of the inset in the previous graphic.
“The wide areas of impact near the Ukrainian military units indicates fire from multiple rocket launchers,” the memo said.
Moreover, the memo included a satellite image that it called evidence of self-propelled artillery only found in Russian military units “on the Russian side of the border oriented in the direction of a Ukrainian military unit within Ukraine.”
Separately, The New York Times reported Sunday that defence and intelligence officials were working on a plan that would enable the Obama administration to give Ukraine specific locations of surface-to-air missiles controlled by Russian-backed separatists. The plan, if implemented, would allow the Ukraine government to target these missile sites for destruction, the newspaper said.
Citing U.S. sources, the Times said it was unclear if President Barack Obama would want to give Ukraine the more precise information about military targets because it would amount to America getting more involved in the conflict.
AP Photo/U.S. State Department
AP Photo/U.S. State DepartmentThis fourth page of a four page document released by the U.S. State Department in Washington, July 27, 2014 shows a satellite image that purports to shows ground scarring at two multiple rocket launch sites oriented in the direction of Ukraine military units. The wide area of impacts near the Ukrainian military units indicates fire from multiple rocket launchers. The bottom impact crater shows impact within a local village. The United States says the images back up its claims that rockets have been fired from Russia into eastern Ukraine and heavy artillery for separatists has also crossed the border.
Tensions have run high in that region since Russia seized Crimea in March and Washington has been highly critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s behavior.
More recently, U.S. intelligence officials have said they have what they call a solid circumstantial case that Russian-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine are responsible for downing the Malaysia Airlines plane. Citing satellite imagery, intercepted conversations and social media postings, officials say a Russian-made SA-11 surface-to-air missile hit the plane on July 17.
Moscow denies any involvement in the attack.
U.S. officials said they still don’t know who fired the missile or whether Russian military officers were present when it happened. But until Sunday, they were unwilling to share evidence that the separatists had the technology to down a plane.










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Satellite images released by US 'show Russian rocket fire into Ukraine'

• Dossier appears to show blast marks and craters
• US says artillery for separatists has crossed border into Ukraine





















Rebels followed by members of the OSCE mission at plane wreckage ukraine mh17 malaysia
Pro-Russia rebels lead members of the OSCE mission at the site of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. Photograph: Vadim Ghirda/AP
The US on Sunday released satellite images it said backed up its claims that rockets have been fired from Russia into eastern Ukraine and heavy artillery for separatists has also crossed the border.
A four-page document released by the State Department seemed to show blast marks from where rockets were launched and craters where they landed. Officials said the images, which were sourced from the US director of national intelligence, showed heavy weapons fired between 21 July and 26 July, after the 17 July downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, over eastern Ukraine.
All 298 people onboard MH17 were killed.
The memo is part of the Obama administration's push to hold Russia accountable for its activities in neighboring Ukraine and the release could help to persuade the US' European allies to apply harsher sanctions on Russia.
The timing of the memo also could be aimed at dissuading Russia from further military posturing. The Pentagon said just days ago that the movement of Russian heavy-caliber artillery systems across its border into Ukraine was "imminent”.
Russian officials have denied allegations of Russia's involvement in eastern Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke on Sunday with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, but details about their discussion were not immediately released by the State Department.
The US images claim to show multiple rocket launchers fired at Ukrainian forces from within Ukraine and from Russian soil. One image shows dozens of craters around a Ukrainian military unit and rockets that can travel more than seven miles.
The memo said one image provides evidence that Russian forces have "fired across the border at Ukrainian military forces and that Russian-backed separatists have used heavy artillery provided by Russia in attacks on Ukrainian forces from inside Ukraine”.
Another satellite image depicted in the memo shows "ground scarring at multiple rocket launch sites on the Russian side of the border oriented in the direction of Ukraine military units within Ukraine."
"The wide areas of impact near the Ukrainian military units indicates fire from multiple rocket launchers," the memo said.
Moreover, the memo included a satellite image that it stated is evidence of self-propelled artillery only found in Russian military units "on the Russian side of the border oriented in the direction of a Ukrainian military unit within Ukraine”.





















Tensions have run high in the region since Russia seized Crimea in March and Washington has been highly critical of the behaviour of Russia's President Vladimir Putin. More recently, US intelligence officials have said they have what they call a solid circumstantial case that pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine are responsible for downing the Malaysia Airlines plane.
Citing satellite imagery, intercepted conversations and social-media postings, officials say a Russian-made SA-11 surface-to-air missile hit the plane on 17 July.





















Moscow angrily denies any involvement in the attack.
US officials said they still did not know who fired the missile or whether Russian military officers were present when it happened. But until Sunday they were unwilling to share proof that the separatists had the technology to down a plane.











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MH17 crash: It was a rocket attack and may be a war crime, says UN

20140730_russiabuk2m_afp.jpg


This file picture taken on May 9, 2013 shows a Russia's air defence system Buk-2M arnoured launcher vehicles at the Red Square in Moscow during Victory Day parade.
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MH17 crash: It was a rocket attack and may be a war crime, says UN

20140730_russiabuk2m_afp.jpg


This file picture taken on May 9, 2013 shows a Russia's air defence system Buk-2M arnoured launcher vehicles at the Red Square in Moscow during Victory Day parade.
KIEV - Analysis of the black box flight recorders from the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 shows that it was destroyed by shrapnel from a rocket attack which caused "massive explosive decompression".
The attack was now being investigated as a war crime, the United Nations said.
Kiev and the West accuse pro-Russian rebels of shooting down the plane, and the European Union is drafting tougher sanctions against Russia.
Sanctions targeting entire economic sectors are being considered, including an arms embargo, and the 28-member bloc is expected to unveil more names of individuals and entities sanctioned.
Moscow, however, has blasted EU's move as "irresponsible". It says the Ukrainian government is responsible for the attack on the plane, which killed all 298 people on board.
The spokesman for Ukraine's Security Council, Andriy Lysenko, told a news conference here that experts analysing the recorders from the plane had concluded that a roc­ket attack brought the plane down in rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine on July 17.
Britain has been tasked with downloading the data from the two black boxes recovered from the site.
A Dutch-led investigation into the crash, however, has made little headway due to the intensifying fighting in the insurgent-held zone.
The fighting blocked a new attempt by Dutch and Australian police to reach the crash site.
The unarmed international mission has been forced to turn around as heavy bombardment rocked towns close to the site.
The Red Cross has said Ukraine is now in civil war - a classification that would make parties in the conflict liable to prosecution for war crimes.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the "horrendous shooting down" of the jet and demanded a "thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation".
"This violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime," she said.
Pillay warned that both sides were "employing heavy weaponry in built-up areas, including artillery, tanks, rockets and missiles".
"Both sides must take great care to prevent more civilians from being killed or injured," the high commissioner said.
The fighting continued overnight, as the Ukrainian army appeared to be intensifying its offensive to wrest control of the industrial east and cut off the rebels from the Russian border.
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MH17 crash: It was a rocket attack and may be a war crime, says UN

20140730_russiabuk2m_afp.jpg


This file picture taken on May 9, 2013 shows a Russia's air defence system Buk-2M arnoured launcher vehicles at the Red Square in Moscow during Victory Day parade.
KIEV - Analysis of the black box flight recorders from the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 shows that it was destroyed by shrapnel from a rocket attack which caused "massive explosive decompression".
The attack was now being investigated as a war crime, the United Nations said.
Kiev and the West accuse pro-Russian rebels of shooting down the plane, and the European Union is drafting tougher sanctions against Russia.
Sanctions targeting entire economic sectors are being considered, including an arms embargo, and the 28-member bloc is expected to unveil more names of individuals and entities sanctioned.
Moscow, however, has blasted EU's move as "irresponsible". It says the Ukrainian government is responsible for the attack on the plane, which killed all 298 people on board.
The spokesman for Ukraine's Security Council, Andriy Lysenko, told a news conference here that experts analysing the recorders from the plane had concluded that a roc­ket attack brought the plane down in rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine on July 17.
Britain has been tasked with downloading the data from the two black boxes recovered from the site.
A Dutch-led investigation into the crash, however, has made little headway due to the intensifying fighting in the insurgent-held zone.
The fighting blocked a new attempt by Dutch and Australian police to reach the crash site.
The unarmed international mission has been forced to turn around as heavy bombardment rocked towns close to the site.
The Red Cross has said Ukraine is now in civil war - a classification that would make parties in the conflict liable to prosecution for war crimes.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the "horrendous shooting down" of the jet and demanded a "thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation".
"This violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime," she said.
Pillay warned that both sides were "employing heavy weaponry in built-up areas, including artillery, tanks, rockets and missiles".
"Both sides must take great care to prevent more civilians from being killed or injured," the high commissioner said.
The fighting continued overnight, as the Ukrainian army appeared to be intensifying its offensive to wrest control of the industrial east and cut off the rebels from the Russian border.
- See more at: http://news.asiaone.com/news/malaysia/mh17-crash-it-was-rocket-attack-and-may-be-war-crime-says-un#sthash.BeQZwAXL.dpuf

MH17 crash: It was a rocket attack and may be a war crime, says UN

20140730_russiabuk2m_afp.jpg


This file picture taken on May 9, 2013 shows a Russia's air defence system Buk-2M arnoured launcher vehicles at the Red Square in Moscow during Victory Day parade.
KIEV - Analysis of the black box flight recorders from the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 shows that it was destroyed by shrapnel from a rocket attack which caused "massive explosive decompression".
The attack was now being investigated as a war crime, the United Nations said.
Kiev and the West accuse pro-Russian rebels of shooting down the plane, and the European Union is drafting tougher sanctions against Russia.
Sanctions targeting entire economic sectors are being considered, including an arms embargo, and the 28-member bloc is expected to unveil more names of individuals and entities sanctioned.
Moscow, however, has blasted EU's move as "irresponsible". It says the Ukrainian government is responsible for the attack on the plane, which killed all 298 people on board.
The spokesman for Ukraine's Security Council, Andriy Lysenko, told a news conference here that experts analysing the recorders from the plane had concluded that a roc­ket attack brought the plane down in rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine on July 17.
Britain has been tasked with downloading the data from the two black boxes recovered from the site.
A Dutch-led investigation into the crash, however, has made little headway due to the intensifying fighting in the insurgent-held zone.
The fighting blocked a new attempt by Dutch and Australian police to reach the crash site.
The unarmed international mission has been forced to turn around as heavy bombardment rocked towns close to the site.
The Red Cross has said Ukraine is now in civil war - a classification that would make parties in the conflict liable to prosecution for war crimes.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the "horrendous shooting down" of the jet and demanded a "thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation".
"This violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime," she said.
Pillay warned that both sides were "employing heavy weaponry in built-up areas, including artillery, tanks, rockets and missiles".
"Both sides must take great care to prevent more civilians from being killed or injured," the high commissioner said.
The fighting continued overnight, as the Ukrainian army appeared to be intensifying its offensive to wrest control of the industrial east and cut off the rebels from the Russian border.
- See more at: http://news.asiaone.com/news/malaysia/mh17-crash-it-was-rocket-attack-and-may-be-war-crime-says-un#sthash.BeQZwAXL.dpuf




















Erratic Putin accused as film shows rockets that hit MH17 were ‘fired from Russia’

THE world piled the pressure on Moscow yesterday as the US released satellite images supporting claims that rockets were fired from Russia into eastern Ukraine.






















Erratic Putin accused as film shows rockets that hit MH17 were ‘fired from Russia’Pressure on Putin builds as evidence shows that the rockets were fired from Russia [GETTY]
Amid fears over Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s “erratic” behaviour, President Obama is understood to have become more frustrated with Europe’s “wishy washy” response.
America is keen for tougher sanctions as soon as possible after the July 17 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 which killed all 298 on board. The United Nations also said yesterday the attack on the jet was likely to constitute a war crime.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the shooting down of the plane bore the hallmarks of an outrageous act in breach of conventions and called for a thorough, unimpeded investigation.
She said: “This violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime.”
This violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime
Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
In the UK, relatives of the 10 British victims on board the flight are scheduled to meet Prime Minister David Cameron today.
A Downing Street spokesman last night said EU ambassadors due to meet in Brussels today are being urged to finalise arrangements for economic sanctions which could come into force immediately. The plan is to target Putin’s banking, defence and hi-tech energy sectors.
As international pressure on Moscow mounted, the US Director of National Intelligence released new images showing blast marks where rockets were apparently launched from Russia and craters where they landed in Ukraine.
Officials said the pictures showed heavy weapons fired between July 21 and July 26.
One image shows dozens of craters around a Ukrainian military unit with an accompanying memo saying it provides evidence that Russian forces have “fired across the border at Ukrainian military forces and that Russian-backed separatists have used heavy artillery provided by Russia in attacks on Ukrainian forces from inside Ukraine”.
The images were just part of the Obama administration’s push to hold Russia accountable for its activities in Ukraine.
Washington hopes the pictures will persuade European allies to apply harsher sanctions on Russia.
Erratic Putin accused as film shows rockets that hit MH17 were ‘fired from Russia’John Kerry will not accept the Kremlin's denials [GETTY]
Last night, sources in America said the message is starting to filter through to European leaders, many of whom have so far been reluctant to impose significant sanctions. One senior US source said: “They seem to have lost patience with Putin. Frankly it has come as a surprise, but we are now expecting a serious package of sanctions this week that in some areas might even exceed our own.”
The timing of the American intelligence pictures could also be aimed at dissuading Russia from further military posturing. The Pentagon said just days ago that the movement of Russian heavy-calibre artillery systems across its border into Ukraine was “imminent”.
Moscow has denied allegations of involvement in eastern Ukraine.
Russia’s foreign ministry over the weekend accused the US of conducting “an unrelenting campaign of slander against Russia, ever more relying on open lies”. US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke by phone on Sunday to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, urging him to stop the flow of heavy weapons and rocket and artillery fire from Russia into Ukraine, said a State Department official.
Mr Kerry did not accept the Kremlin’s denial that heavy weapons from Russia were contributing to the conflict, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details of the call.
If the EU does come through with serious new sanctions, it will be seen as a victory for both British and US diplomacy.
Japan’s government yesterday said it was stepping up sanctions against Russia over the unrest in Ukraine.
The sanctions included the freezing of assets held in Japan by individuals and groups supporting the separation of Crimea from Ukraine, as well as a ban on imports, said chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga.
He noted that the steps are in line with measures taken by European Union and Group of Seven nations.
But it is still not known who fired the missile that hit MH17 or if Russian military officers were present.
In further bad news for Russia yesterday an international arbitration panel in the Netherlands ordered Moscow to pay $51.57billion (£30.3billion) in damages to shareholders in the defunct oil giant Yukos.
The ruling accused Putin’s officials of manipulating the legal system to bankrupt the company.
 

2 Ukrainian Military Jets Shot Down Near MH17 Crash Site

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Malaysian air crash investigators gesture at a crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in the village of Rozsypne on July 22. Two military planes were reportedly shot down on Wednesday just 20 miles from MH17's resting place.
Image: Vadim Ghirda/Associated Press
Two of Ukraine's military fighter jets have been shot down in the embattled eastern part of the country, according to its Defense Ministry.
The jets were reportedly shot down over Saur Mogila, which is less than 15 miles from where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down less than a week ago.
The video below is described as showing pro-Russian separatist militiamen examining the wreckage of one of the Ukrainian fighter jets in Dmytrivka on July 23:
The Sukhoi-25 fighter jet may have been carrying up to two crew members each, says Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksiy Dmitrashkovsky. The Defense Ministry also has preliminary information that two pilots ejected from the aircraft, but most likely landed in territory "controlled by members of illegal armed groups."
Heavy fighting was visible and audible on the eastern edge of Snezhnoe, near Saur Mogila, a strategically important hillside occupied by the rebels where the fighter jets were reportedly downed. Mashable heard several volleys of what was likely rocket or mortar fire, followed by massive plumes of thick black smoke rising from the scene.
The Ministry of Defense released a statement via Facebook (embedded below in Ukrainian).
Citing Dmitrashkovsky, Interfax is reporting that the Ukrainian government has information that pro-Russian militants shot down the warplanes.
Pro-Russian separatists, who have been fighting with Ukrainian forces for months in the east. They have strategically stationed fighters throughout eastern Ukraine — setting up check points on main roads to cities and establishing barricades on town streets. They've scaled up their aerial operations as well, shooting down a dozen Ukrainian military aircraft, including two last week just days before MH17 was downed.
In June, the rebels used man-powered air-defense systems, or MANPADS, to shoot down a military transport plane at Luhansk airport, killing all 40 servicemen and nine crew on board. Just one week ago, President Petro Poroshenko was forced to call an emergency meeting after 19 people died and more than 90 were injured in a rebel rocket attack.
After MH17, there has been international pressure for a cease-fire between the two warring groups. However, there seems to be little room for peace talks. As emergency workers tended to the wreckage on Friday, fighting continued in eastern Ukraine, with rocket attacks in Luhansk reportedly killing more than 20 people, the city council said.
On Tuesday, senior U.S. intelligence officials said the separatists likely downed the Malaysia airliner using a surface-to-air missile. The officials also noted that the Boeing 777, which was carrying 298 people, was shot down by mistake.
Christopher Miller contributed to this report from Ukraine.





















































Photo of MH17 wreckage proves missile attack, claims report

MH17 wreckage holds the clues

Shrapnel amongst the wreckage of MH17 holds the key to the type of missile that brought down the plane, says aerospace engineering academic Dr Reece Clothier.
Russia’s attempts to pin the MH17 crash on a missile fired by a Ukrainian plane have been debunked by defence experts across the world.
A key image has emerged that confirms MH17 was most likely shot out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile based on the severity and pattern of the damage wrought on the charred sheet of metal covered in small perforations with a gaping hole at its centre.
Ballistics specialist and senior lecturer at ANU Strategic Defence Studies Centre Stephan Fruhling told Fairfax Media the damage pattern confirmed it was a surface-to-air missile such as an SA-11.
A part of the wreckage is seen at the crash site of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. Damage to plane consistent with that inflicted by surface-to-air missile: A part of the wreckage is seen at the crash site of MH17. Photo: Reuters
SA-11 missiles are 70 kilograms of high-powered explosives wrapped in steel bars. They have a proximity fuse in the head, which triggers the weapon to explode close to the aircraft, showering it with hot shrapnel that shreds the vessel.
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The resulting small holes across the plane cause the cabin to rapidly depressurise at more than 10,000 metres altitude. This causes a massive blast of escaping pressure that further ruptures the plane’s frame, resulting in a large hole just like the one in the image.
“This very much looks like damage from a fragmentation warhead.  The fact that it has struck the cockpit rather than an engine also argues for a radar-guided rather than heat-seeking missile,” Dr Fruhling said.
 
He said until pieces of the actual missile were collected at the crash site, it would be too early to claim the warhead was definitely an SA-11, as most air defence missile warheads fragmented.
John Blaxland, also of the Strategic Defence Studies Centre, said there was virtually no question it was a large, surface-to-air missile.
“Air-to-air missiles tend to be heat-seekers, that go for the engine and hit the plane directly rather than fragmenting. Those tiny fragmentations looks just like the surface-to-air SA-11 to me,” Dr Blaxland said.
This is a critical point as Russia posited the missile that brought down the plane and its 289 passengers could have been fired by a Ukrainian plane.
On Tuesday, two defence analysts and a former military pilot told The Financial Times  this pattern of damage confirms the popular theory the aircraft was taken out by a missile launched "by pro-Russian separatists and Russian military personnel".
Douglas Barrie, an analyst from London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, said this was the kind of damage expected from "a high explosive fragmentation warhead".
He said this was exactly the type of weapon used by the weapons firing system spotted entering Ukraine just before the crash.
A Royal United Services Institute analyst, Justin Bronk, also said it indicated the plane was taken out by an SA-11 missile fired from a Buk-M1.
Mr Bronk said: “The size of the shrapnel holes is consistent with what one might expect to see from an SA-11 hit. However, it is difficult to assess the total blast pattern with such a small fragment of fuselage.”
An unnamed former senior Royal Air Force officer told The Financial Times the damage was similar to the devastation wrought by flying shrapnel from rocket attacks.
All three agreed the pictured fragment came from the front, left side of the plane, strongly suggesting the plane was shot down from that direction.
Bob McGilvray, an Australian who served in the British Army for 12 years, told Fairfax Media the plane would have been an "easy hit".
"The Buk would have made utter breakfast of the airliner because of the size of it," Mr McGilvray said.
Mr McGilvray added he had little doubt that whoever shot down the plane knew it was a commercial airliner based on the route it was flying.
"They would have been able to watch the aircraft for probably about five minutes at least before they fired the missile, so they would have had plenty of time to work out what it was."
Air crash forensic specialist Dr Chris Griffiths told Fairfax Media the key issue for the crash-site investigation would not be identifying what caused the crash but putting the remains of the victims together so they could be returned home.

MH17 crash: 'We have proof' that Russia participated in missile attack: Ukraine spy chief

MH17: blame game over downed jet

Ukraine accuses Russia of shooting down MH17, while a rebel leader hits back at accusations that pro-Russian separatists are to blame.
Kiev: Ukraine’s spy chief says he has proof that the missile that downed flight MH17 came from a Russian-operated missile launcher that has since been moved back onto Russian soil.
He said they probably thought they were aiming at a military target.
A video still purportedly showing the BUK-M1 system being transferred by rebels back to Russia, according to the Ukraine government. A video still purportedly showing the BUK-M1 system being transferred by rebels back to Russia, according to the Ukraine government. Photo: Ukraine Security Service
“We have proof [the attack] was planned and it was committed with the participation of the Russian Federation, representatives of the Russian Federation,” said Vitaly Nayda, Counter-Intelligence Chief at the Ukraine Security Service.
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 “All Russian media is lying, it’s cynical propaganda,” Mr Nayda said. “They are trying not to be responsible for this.
“But we have evidence. Obvious evidence.”
A video still of the BUK-M1 system purportedly being transferred in a rebel convoy back to Russia, according to the Ukraine government. A video still of the BUK-M1 system purportedly being transferred in a rebel convoy back to Russia, according to the Ukraine government. Photo: Ukraine Security Service
He shared with media in Kiev, including Fairfax, some of the information the Ukraine security service had gathered, from phone intercepts and from agents within the region controlled by the rebels.
He showed a photograph which he said was a BUK-M1 system identified on the streets of Donetsk city – near the crash site - on July 17.
Among the members of the team operating the missile system were Russian citizens, Mr Nayda said.
This is a still taken from a video made available by the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, which they said purportedly shows a truck carrying the Buk-M1 missile launcher it said was used to fire on MH17 back to Russia. This is a still taken from a video made available by the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, which they said purportedly shows a truck carrying the Buk-M1 missile launcher it said was used to fire on MH17 back to Russia. Photo: AP
Phone calls intercepted by Ukraine revealed the BUK was intended to join a column of separatist fighters. Mr Nayda showed a photograph of the column including a tank and a truck carrying the BUK-M1 system.
He also showed a photograph taken at the time of the plane being hit, showing the missile’s launch plume – allowing them to identify the launch area, near the village of Snizhne and close to the plane’s crash site.
The area was under separatist control at the time, Mr Nayda said. He would not identify the precise site “in the interests of the investigation” – he said Ukraine agents were trying to access the site but “it’s impossible to get to the place now”.
The trail of smoke left by a missile after it was fired at MH17 by a BUK-M1 system by pro-Russia rebels, according to the Ukraine government. The trail of smoke left by a missile after it was fired at MH17 by a BUK-M1 system by pro-Russia rebels, according to the Ukraine government. Photo: Ukraine Security Service
“There is no doubt that terrorists knew that they launched a missile against a plane that was higher then 10,000m,” he said.
He showed another photograph of the BUK-M1 system en route to the Russian border soon after the plane was shot down.
The photo showed that one missile was missing from the launching pad.
A file photo shows the Buk M2 missile system at a 2010 military show in Zhukovsky, Russia, outside Moscow. The Ukraine government says a BUK-M1 system was used to shoot down MH17 with the help of Russian personnel. A file photo shows the Buk M2 missile system at a 2010 military show in Zhukovsky, Russia, outside Moscow. The Ukraine government says a BUK-M1 system was used to shoot down MH17 with the help of Russian personnel. Photo: AP
“Russian side told them to put that system outside of Ukraine,” he said. “Russians gave an order to terrorists to take from Ukraine all BUK-M1 systems – there were many of them, not one.”
At 2am on Friday July 18, around 8 hours after the plane came down, in a region of Ukraine near the Russian border, two big trucks each carrying a BUK system – one with a missing missile, were seen heading for Russia.
At 4am on Saturday morning three more such trucks moved over the border into Russia. One had a BUK-M1, one was empty, and the third carried a tracking module that runs the system.
“Russia is trying to hide its terrorist activity,” Mr Nayda said.
“(Ukrainian) rebels cannot operate the very sophisticated and high-technique missile launcher BUK-M1. To operate BUK-M1 you need to have education, military education, and to be well-trained.
“We know for sure the team was Russian, they were Russian citizens operating BUK-M1 and they came from the territory of the Russian Federation together with the missile launcher.
“We documented negotiations between terrorists that directly told us. We got information directly from those conversations that three Russians, three Russian military personnel came together with BUK-M1 to the territory of Ukraine. It is direct evidence.”
On June 29 the separatists in eastern Ukraine announced to Russian media they have gained access to a BUK-M1 land-air missile system – a system capable of hitting a plane at MH17’s altitude.
They claimed to have captured it from a Ukrainian army base.
However, the base had only contained one BUK-M1 which had been disabled on March 3, and had no missiles, Mr Nayda said. The remains of that launcher were still on the base.
There was a “hint” of information from agents in the field on July 14, three days before the attack, that the launchers had arrived on Ukraine territory from Russia.
But the presence of three launchers had only been confirmed after the attack when they were returning to Russia, Mr Nayda said..
Mr Nayda said Ukraine has passed all its evidence and data on to international allies, including the US and other countries who had lost citizens in the crash.
He called on the international community to ask Russia how it would help the investigation of the attack, and demanded that Ukraine be allowed to interview Russian personnel who launched the missile.
He said Ukraine would only be able to show whether the missile had been launched on purpose at a civilian flight once those responsible had been arrested.
 “We know for sure the terrorists have the plan to shoot down every military plane, even cargo plane, even helicopter or jet fight(er) in the air over the territory of Donetsk and Lugansk region,” Mr Nayda said.
“I cannot confirm what they aimed at the moment when they launched the missile. They knew definitely that the height was more than 10,000m but they also knew that probably it was Ukrainian cargo plane, military plane that was delivering cargo to Donetsk or Lugansk region.”


























Andalou Agency
The European Union agreed on July 29 to sweeping sanctions targeting the Russian financial and oil industries, plus its arms trade, in what amounts to the stiffest anti-Russian actions taken by Europe since the end of the Cold War. The decision belies the notion that Europe has been "soft" or "weak" on Russia since the downing of MH-17. The truth is simply that the EU's decision-making process is slow. It took time to build consensus for action, but now that the action has arrived Russia is about to be dealt three big blows.

1) Cut off Russian bank finance

The financial clauses of the new sanctions package go a bit beyond anything the United States has yet done. Specifically, they would ban all citizens of EU countries from purchasing new debt or stock issues by most of the Russian banking sector. The plan also proposes to bar Russian banks from listing new stocks on European stock exchanges, using those exchanges as an intermediary to raise funds from non-Europeans.
The banks targeted would be those firms that are at least 50 percent owned by the Russian state — which include the majority of the Russian banking system by assets. The proposal is similar to sanctions already adopted by the United States against Gazprombank and VEB, two major Russian banks, but would be even broader in their impact. European markets account for about half of the total bond issuance of Russian banks, so the impact on the Russian banking sector — and on the broader Russian economy — would be dramatic.
The idea here, in essence, is to force the Russian government to choose between either watching its economy collapse as bank finance dries up, or else massively redirecting Russian public funds toward shoring up the banking system. Money spent on bank bailouts can't be spent making mischief in Ukraine and foreigners are unlikely to want to invest in a Russian economy whose financial underpinning is so rickety.

2) Embargo Russia's arms trade

The desire of countries other than France for France to cancel the planned sale of two Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia is well-known. But France doesn't want to incur the over €1 billion that would cost them and nobody wants to compensate France. Instead, the EU is going to ban any new contracts to deliver advanced military hardware to Russia.
There is also an important imports angle. While the EU exports €300 million a year in weapons to Russia, EU countries import about €3.2 billion in Russian-made equipment. Those imports mostly go to former Warsaw Pact countries whose militaries have a legacy of using Russian arms. This is an appealing target because Eastern and Central European countries are also, in general, the countries most eager to see the EU take a more anti-Russian tilt.

3) End exports of oil equipment

Main As depicted in this chart from the Energy Information Administration, Russia's export economy consists overwhelmingly of fossil fuels. This sector is Russia's greatest point of vulnerability, but it is also the most costly sector for Europe to target since Europeans enjoy burning Russian oil and natural gas.
The EU is going to halt the export of certain categories of equipment and technology that are used in fossil fuel extraction. Europe will not target the natural gas sector, but is going to implement restrictions on the sale of equipment used in deep-sea drilling, arctic exploration, and shale oil extraction.
This won't put much short-term pressure on the Russian economy. What it will do, however, is possibly divide the Russian elite. The long-term financial prospects of the Russian oil sector depend on its ability to continue pressing into new sources of oil. The imposition of this kind of sanctions could turn Russian oil barons into a constituency for a more restrained foreign policy. There is nothing concrete at stake in Ukraine that is nearly as valuable as tapping Russia's own offshore and shale reserves.

Over the longer term, inability to access such equipment would retard Russia's ability to produce truly state-of-the-art military equipment or diversify its economy away from reliance on fossil fuel extraction.

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The US State Department has released satellite photos that it says prove that Russia is using its artillery to fire into Ukrainian territory at Ukrainian military forces. Ukraine has been claiming for weeks that Russia was firing artillery across its border — an act of overt war — but the US did not confirm it until Thursday.
If true, this would be a major escalation by Moscow; for Russia to use its military openly to attack Ukrainian forces would be a step beyond its prior strategy of sending in unmarked special forces and backing separatist rebels. While this is still not as significant as Russia's invasion and annexation of Crimea in March, it is a big step up in Russia's eastern Ukraine actions.
While Ukraine says the shelling began some time before flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine, most likely by Russia-backed rebels, this report comes at a time when the world is already moving to punish Russian President Vladimir Putin for his actions. It appears that the US is releasing the photos now to further isolate Putin and galvanize European leaders to join sanctions against him.
Here are a few of the photos, tweeted by US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt:




The photos, according to the State Department, were taken after flight MH17 was shot down, indicating that the incident has not chastened Russia's attacks on Ukraine.
On Thursday, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf told Reuters that the US had "evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military positions." She added that "the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine."
The US, with these announcements, is clearly trying to at least deter Putin from deepening his military involvement in eastern Ukraine. But the fact that Russia continues to escalate there is a sign that something bigger will have to happen for Putin to step back from the region.
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Even after the crash of MH17, Europe has been slow to impose more sanctions on Russia for its involvement in the Ukraine crisis — particularly against the energy exports that make up such a huge chunk of Russia's economy.
This map of European gas pipelines, from The Economist, helps explain why:
Europe_gas
Europe is still heavily reliant on Russian gas. Germany, arguably the most powerful player in the European Union, got 37 percent of its gas in 2012 from Russia. The European Union as a whole used Russian exports for 24 percent of its gas.
Germany's reliance on Russian gas is one of the reasons why, as Vox's Matt Yglesias explains, Europe is having a tough time agreeing to new sanctions. The UK, which doesn't import Russian gas, wants to sanction Russia's gas exports. Germany disagrees, preferring a ban on military exports from Europe. France, which takes in Russian gas (but less than Germany) and plans to sell naval ships to Russia, would rather the UK seize Russian assets stored in London. All of that disagreement between major European powers has led to slow, messy negotiations.
Ironically, countries in eastern Europe that are the most reliant on Russian gas exports — such as Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — tend to be more bullish on sanctioning Russia because they see it as a more direct threat.
The problem is further complicated by the location of Russian gas pipelines. As the map above shows, much of it flows through Ukraine. If the conflict there grows worse, there's a chance Russia might feel compelled to shut off pipelines in the country — especially since Ukraine is already billions in debt to Russia for gas — which it has done in the past. Russia could shift to other gas routes if it shuts down Ukraine's lines, but the shutdown could still prove disruptive and it would likely cripple the Ukrainian economy at a time of war.
Over time, Europe could wean itself off Russian gas. But analysts believe that could take a while, since no current source of gas is as accessible and cheap.
Europe's economy, like much of the world's, isn't in the best shape right now. It's little surprise, then, that Europe is cautious about doing anything that could hurt its economy. When it comes to punishing Russia, the continent is trying to find a way to have its cake and eat it too.
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The eastern Ukraine rebels who are widely thought to have shot down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine last week, killing 298, are still shooting down high-flying aircraft. On Wednesday, they fired at and downed two Ukrainian military jets flying over their area of control.
the rebels have become no more cautious or restrained since mh17 was shot down
Crucially, the planes were flying at 17,000 feet, according to the Ukrainian government — meaning that shooting them down would, as with MH17, require a sophisticated and highly complicated surface-to-air missile system. That is just way too high to be shot down by amateur fighters wielding shoulder-fired missiles. Ukraine's rebels have admitted to possessing such military hardware, the Buk (also known as SA-11) surface-to-air system.
The point is that these two most recent jets were shot down by people who had the professional military training necessary to operate complex, vehicle-based missile systems. The Ukrainian government has argued that Russia is directly responsible and even that the missiles were fired from inside Russia. US intelligence, on the other hand, is so far suggesting that the missile shot at MH17 was fired by rebels within Ukraine, and that while Russia did not pull the trigger it has been arming and instigating the rebels.
Clearly, flying over eastern Ukraine is still very much unsafe at any altitude. The conventional wisdom at this point, again backed up by US intelligence officials, is that Ukraine's rebels shot down MH17 by accident, thinking it was a military aircraft. This would also seem to back up suspicions that MH17 was downed by rebels who have extensive military training — presumably from Russia — but are not a professional outfit themselves. Still, there's no reason to believe that the rebels have become any more cautious or restrained about shooting down airplanes since the MH17 disaster.
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Senior US intelligence officials spoke to reporters on Tuesday to share some of the latest intel on the shoot-down of flight MH17 last week over eastern Ukraine. They did not offer much that was not already known, or at least widely presumed.
The jet was most likely shot down by separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine using a Buk surface-to-air missile system (also known as SA-11 system), according to press accounts of the briefing. They showed photographic evidence to back this up.
For Americans and Europeans, this has been the conventional wisdom for some days; the point of pushing it out appears to be at least in part to counter Russian efforts to suggest that the Ukrainian government was responsible.
While it would be disturbing if this is really all that American intelligence have learned in five days of investigation, it's important to note that after the disastrous intelligence failures leading up to the 2003 Iraq War, US intelligence agencies have become more cautious about releasing information publicly without absolute confirmation.
What's perhaps more interesting is what the US intelligence officials would not say: that the attack was deliberate or that Russia pulled the trigger. The officials said they suspected the rebels fired on a commercial airliner mistakenly; this too had become conventional wisdom, as the rebels had only previously fired on Ukrainian military aircraft, but the hint of possible confirmation is something.
As for Russia, the officials said that the attack occurred "under conditions created by Russia" and that Russia has been generally arming and training the rebels, including with anti-aircraft weapons — but stopped well short of blaming Russia directly.
That assessment may well change as US intelligence gets more information; the officials admitted, for example, that they were not sure whether or not Russian officials were present when the missile was fired, or whether the rebels who fired it had been trained in Russia. But it's noteworthy that they have placed the blame so squarely on eastern Ukraine rebels that were trained and backed by Russia while declining to blame Moscow itself.
Maybe it shouldn't be surprising that American intelligence officials would take a generous view of Russian responsibility for Russian-backed rebels. As the analyst Dan Trombly put it on twitter, "Bemused so many are shocked US would say training+equipping proxies doesn't equate to direct involvement in their later use." If anyone is going to be sympathetic to the idea that proxy rebels sometimes misbehave in ways that embarrass their sponsors, it's going to be American intelligence agents.
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CORRECTION: Many of the key elements of Maarten de Jonge's story have been disproven by subsequent reporting (particularly by Slate). There is no evidence that De Jonge actually booked a ticket on either flight. We're sorry for repeating unverified claims.

Maarten de Jonge is a Dutch cyclist who rides for a Malaysia-based cycling team called Teregganu. That means he spends a lot of time on planes — and in particular, Malaysia Airlines planes. De Jonge is the sort of flyer who's always looking to adjust his itinerary to get a cheaper or more convenient flight — and that habit has saved his life twice in the same year.
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Maarten de Jonge. Via Flickr user @brassynn
In March, De Jonge was scheduled to travel from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, on his way to a race in Taiwan. After arriving at the airport, he found a direct flight to Taiwan, and switched his ticket, but chatted with passengers on the flight he'd been scheduled to take. De Jonge's flight landed safely. The one he was supposed to be on, MH370, is the flight that disappeared over the Indian Ocean and still hasn't been found.
Then, last Thursday, De Jonge had a ticket for a direct flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. At the last minute, according to the UK Independent, De Jonge realized that he could save money by flying to Frankfurt and changing planes. So he traded in his ticket on flight MH17 — the plane that was shot down over Ukraine.
According to the Independent, De Jonge told a Dutch broadcaster that he was "very sorry for the passengers and their families, yet I am very pleased I'm unharmed." But in a statement on his website, he said he wanted to keep attention on the tragedy, saying "I have my story and I would like to leave it at that...my story is ultimately nothing compared to the misery so many people have suffered."
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Russia's state media machine has a major new enemy to contend with: the internet.
Russian defense officials on Monday promoted a video that they claimed showed a Ukraine-owned Buk antiaircraft missile system rolling through the streets of Krasnoarmeisk, Ukraine, shortly after Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine. To prove their point, Russian officials pointed to a billboard in the video that supposedly contained an address in Krasnoarmeisk.
"Kremlin is getting sloppy"
The evidence, Russian officials not-so-subtly implied, is that the Ukraine-owned missile system may have shot down MH17, thus exonerating Russia from suspicions that it may have provided eastern Ukraine rebels with the missile system presumably used against the civilian airliner. "We have several questions to ask in this connection," Lieutenant-General Andrei Kartapolov, head of the Main Operations Department of the Russian Army General Staff, said at a news conference. "What kind of a launching system is this? Where was it transported? Where is it now? Why was it loaded with an incomplete set of missiles and when was the last time it fired?"
The video, however, does not appear to take place in Krasnoarmeisk. The filmed billboard, it turns out, doesn't say what the Russians claim it says.
As the tweet above shows, the circled text, which is the address Russian officials claim is on the billboard, doesn't appear to be there at all. The billboard instead matches much more closely with the original ad, which is pictured on the top left and doesn't contain an address in Krasnoarmeisk.
The Interpreter outlined other evidence, largely gathered by various people on social media, that the video doesn't take place where Russians claim:
  1. The video shows trolleybus lines, which Krasnoarmeisk doesn't have.
  2. If the Buk system really was the one that shot down MH17, it would have needed to travel 60 to 70 kilometers through densely populated territory after the plane came down. The Interpreter argues that this seems very unlikely to have happened without anyone spotting the vehicle.
Now, it's possible Russian officials genuinely mistook the billboard's text and other parts of the video. But this wouldn't be the first time Russian officials and Russian state media have trumpeted ideas that don't match the available evidence.
The Russian state media, for instance, has built a very strange narrative in their coverage of MH17, as The New Republic's Julia Ioffe explained:
Did you know Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was full of corpses when it took off from Amsterdam? Did you know that, for some darkly inexplicable reason, on July 17, MH17 moved off the standard flight path that it had taken every time before, and moved north, toward rebel-held areas outside Donetsk? Or that the dispatchers summoned the plane lower just before the crash? Or that the plane had been recently reinsured? Or that the Ukrainian army has air defense systems in the area? Or that it was the result of the Ukrainian military mistaking MH17 for Putin’s presidential plane, which looks strangely similar?
There is a lot of mystery still shrouding the downing of MH17. But what the Russians are saying doesn't seem to have much proof around it — to the point that Twitter users can quickly debunk Russian claims without much effort.
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European countries are often said to be hesitant to challenge Vladimir Putin because of their economic ties to Russia. This is true, but those ties are a two-way street — it's because they exist that European sanctions against Russia sting much harder than similar American measures.
Here's the one fact you need to know to understand where the real balance of power lies: Russia's top trading partner is the European Union, but the EU's top trading partner is the United States followed by China.
In other words, the 306 billion euro trading relationship is a big deal either way you slice it, but it's fundamentally a bigger deal for Russia than it is for Europe:
Russiagdp
Not only is the trading relationship more valuable to Russia than to the European Union, the EU has drastically more overall economic clout.
The fly in the ointment is that while Russia is a nation-state, the European Union is a confederation of separate countries. The EU has incredible clout when it speaks with one voice, but the process of deciding what to say is cumbersome and time-intensive.
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It's a little past 1 a.m. at the headquarters of the eastern Ukrainian separatist group that has seized control of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17's nearby crash site, but the rebel leaders of the Donetsk People's Republic have gathered international reporters there for a reason. With their audience crammed into the office building conference room that the pro-Russia rebels consider their separatist capital, the heavily armed men are finally — finally — handing off the black boxes from MH17 to Malaysian and Dutch representatives who will take custody.
It is, judging by the missives of those in attendance, a scene of high farce in the style we've come to expect from eastern Ukraine's unruly, often-unpredictable, occasionally drunk rebels. The black boxes, sure enough, were surrendered, but not without a strange and awful little show, led by Alexander Borodai, the self-appointed prime minister of the separatist rebel state, who used the moment to blame Ukraine's government for the shoot-down.













The black boxes are finally, after days of being held by eastern Ukraine rebels who variously claimed them and denied possessing them, in the hands of Malaysian and Dutch officials who can investigate them properly. But not before we were all treated to another glimpse at the strange little world of the Donetsk separatists.
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Europe's response to crisis situations has frustrated Americans for decades, but it's a mistake to follow Roger Cohen at the New York Times and assume European nations aren't going to do anything about Russia in response to the shooting down of MH17. In fact, European ambassadors had a meeting today in advance of a foreign ministers meeting tomorrow. The Dutch prime minister says all sanctions should be on the table while Germany's foreign minister is calling for the EU to increase the pressure on Putin. The United States and United Kingdom are both leaning on European countries to get tougher.
Things are happening. They're just going to happen to slowly. But the bulk of the leverage is on Europe's side — the economic relationship between the EU and Russia is intimate, but Europe is much bigger and richer.

Why the EU rolls slowly

Ever tried to make dinner plans with a couple of friends? Ever tried to do it with a couple of dozen friends? The bigger group makes things tougher. In the United States of America, the president and his team have reasonably broad discretion to conduct foreign affairs unless they start to massively deviate from the consensus inside congress. Individual EU heads of government tend to have even more discretion than an American president. But for the EU to reach a collective decision requires agreement among 28 member states. In foreign affairs, the union operates by consensus not by majority vote. Building a consensus among 28 states is an inherently difficult and time-consuming proposition, and the fact that it happens slowly isn't a character flaw.
The good news is that in practice things are a little more nimbler than that. In practice, small countries don't make lonely stands on issues that are peripheral to their interests. If Germany and France and a few other big countries agree, they can typically bring everyone along with them.

What to expect tomorrow

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(Andalou Agency)
European foreign ministers will meet tomorrow in Brussels to talk about the situation. They are extremely unlikely to announce any new sanctions on Russia for one simple reason — they still haven't implemented the last round of sanctions. But just a few days before the downing of MH17, Europe agreed to a new round of asset freezes targeting people and firms thought to be involved in arming the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. The meeting tomorrow should feature an announcement with more specifics of exactly which assets will be frozen. Russia's bad behavior over the past several days makes it likely that the EU will cast a wider rather than a narrower net.
The meeting could also lay the groundwork for potential new sanctions. That would require a meeting of European heads of government — prime ministers, in other words — which isn't scheduled to happen until August 30 (this is called a European Council meeting). If major countries are very far apart on reaching an agreement, expect the need to wait for the European Council to be cited as an excuse. But if foreign ministers find that they are close to an agreement, a special earlier meeting could be called to agree on new measures.

Europe's Mexican standoff

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(Getty)
The problem of agreeing on new sanctions isn't really so much that the desirability of more pressure is disputed but that European countries have different ideas of what the next steps should look like. The United Kingdom doesn't import Russian gas, but knows that Russia earns a ton of export income from gas sales. So the UK's favorite idea is for other countries to stop buying Russian gas.
The biggest gas importer is Germany, which would rather see someone else's ox gored. Angela Merkel has been talking up the idea of a ban on the export of military equipment to Russia. Conveniently, Germany doesn't have a big outstanding weapon sale to Russia.* But France is scheduled to sell advanced Mistral naval vessels to Russia. Much of the international community wants France to cancel that deal, hurting the Russian military and the French economy while leaving others unscathed. Meanwhile, from the French viewpoint a better countermove might be for the UK to seize Russian funds and property squirreled away in London.
In other words, no anti-Russian move comes without some costs. And those costs fall differently on different European countries. So everyone's preference is for someone else to bear the cost. But that doesn't mean nothing will be done. It merely means that some arrangement needs to be worked out to share the burden. That takes time. But pressure on Putin is steadily ratcheting up, and the Russian leader is fitfully trying to distance himself from his own overreach in Ukraine. Europe is slow, not weak.
* Correction: An earlier version of this article said that Germany isn't a major arms exporter. According to SIPRI, it is actually the #3 weapons exporter in the world.
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President Vladimir Putin appears to be inadvertently distancing himself from the actions of eastern Ukrainian separatists as his government faces increasing criticism over the shootdown of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 on Thursday.
Putin's comments to Russia Today — the first he's made publicly since the crash — largely sidestepped questions about whether rebels used Russia-provided weapons or training to shoot down MH17. Putin instead called for an open investigation into the crash.
"We must do everything to provide security for the international experts on the site of the tragedy"
"We must do everything to provide security for the international experts on the site of the tragedy," Putin said. "In the meantime, nobody should and has no right to use this tragedy to achieve their narrowly selfish political goals."
But recent reports showed that Ukrainian rebels spent much of the weekend blocking access to the crash site — the direct opposite of the open investigation Putin is calling for. (Following Putin's comments, some reports indicate the rebels will now cooperate with the international community.)
That Putin is calling for an open investigation while Russia-backed rebels are stifling one is yet another sign that Russia's involvement in the Ukraine crisis may well have backfired, at least in the country's east.
Joshua Rovner, the John Goodwin Tower Chair in International Politics and National Security at Southern Methodist University, summarized the situation for The Washington Post's Monkey Cage. Much as Pakistan in several instances lost control of the militants it cultivated in India, Kashmir, and Afghanistan, Russia may be losing control of the situation in Ukraine:
Russia is also suffering for its intervention-by-proxy in Ukraine. Its economy has been in deep distress since the annexation of Crimea this spring, with tens of billions of dollars exiting the country during a stock market and currency crisis. U.S.-led sanctions have worsened Russia’s economic outlook, as investors fear returning to a country that increasingly looks like an international pariah. Washington announced tougher sanctions the day before the MH17 went down, and it is now likely that these will remain in place indefinitely. The Obama administration may go further still by enacting industry-wide sanctions, a serious escalation that it has so far avoided.
This is what President Barack Obama's Russia strategy may have gambled on. Vox's Max Fisher previously explained the idea, "Russian President Vladimir Putin has over-reached in Ukraine, creating problems for himself so bad that they may force him down as or more effectively than plausible American actions alone might have (although they helped). Putin is hanging himself by his own rope."
Even before the MH17 crash, the international community had taken steps to isolate Putin and Russia. President Obama on Monday also called on Putin and the Russian government to take control of the situation and stop rebels from tampering with evidence at the crash site.
"Putin is hanging himself by his own rope"
An open letter from a grieving Dutch father — many of the victims were from the Netherlands — called out Putin and other possible suspects of the MH17 shootdown. "Thank you very much mister Putin, leaders of the separatists, or the Ukraine government! For murdering my loved and only child, Elsemiek de Borst! Hans de Borst wrote. "But suddenly she is not here anymore! She has been shot out of the sky, in an unknown country, where there is a war going on!"
Putin is often framed by supporters and even critics as a strategic mastermind. But the developing narrative and the contradiction between Putin's comments and the rebels' actions suggest that, while Putin may talk a big game, the crisis in Ukraine may have run ahead of what the Russian leader expected.
Correction: This article originally attributed the wrong quote to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
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Julia Ioffe has a fascinating piece in TNR about two aspects of the Russian media's coverage of the MH17 disaster. First, they've created a propaganda bubble in which the West's anger is completely inexplicable:
Did you know Malaysia Air Flight 17 was full of corpses when it took off from Amsterdam? Did you know that, for some darkly inexplicable reason, on July 17, MH17 moved off the standard flight path that it had taken every time before, and moved north, toward rebel-held areas outside Donetsk? Or that the dispatchers summoned the plane lower just before the crash? Or that the plane had been recently reinsured? Or that the Ukrainian army has air defense systems in the area? Or that it was the result of the Ukrainian military mistaking MH 17 for Putin's presidential plane, which looks strangely similar?
Second, the Russian ruling class are captive to a propaganda machine that now has its own autonomous logic.
This has had a noticeable impact on the ruling class, [political consultant Gleb] Pavlovsky says, which has to watch this stuff in order to stay au courant. And they become less sane as a result, too, which limits their ability to adequately assess a situation such as this and devise a good way out of it.
"It's noticeable that the Kremlin is much more tempered than Russian TV but can't change it," Pavlovsky says. "It's fallen into a trap, so it's now trying to function within the strictures of this picture." He cites the example of the PR contortions the Kremlin had to use just to announce that it would not send troops into eastern Ukraine. "In this seemingly controlled media, any rational political arguments of the state have to be hidden and packaged in idiotic, jingoistic rhetoric," Pavlovsky says.
This kind of dynamic is hardly unique to Russia. In general, people are remarkably good at discounting dissonant information that would undermine their preconceptions. But the basic psychological processes that exist everywhere are exacerbated by an authoritarian political structure and climate of systematic intimidation of opposition media.
All this is ultimately going to serve to undermine Russia's interests. Things like the mistreatment of the corpses at the crash site serve no conceivable purpose, and only increase the odds of punitive moves from European countries. But a Russian public that's unaware of what hot water the country is in won't be ready for the kind of apologetic posture that would maximize Putin's ability to make nice over the plane without making substantive concessions around Ukraine.
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President Barack Obama on Monday called on President Vladimir Putin to stop Russia-backed rebels from tampering with evidence and bodies at the MH17 crash site.
The speech was largely in response to reports over the weekend that separatists seized the MH17 crash site and blocked access to respondents.
Here are the three main takeaways from his speech:
1) Obama's priority is recovering evidence and bodies. "Our immediate focus is on recovering those who were lost, investigating exactly what happened, and putting forward the facts," he said. "We have to make sure the truth is out."
2) Separatists are making that first priority difficult by blocking access to the crash site. Obama asked, "All of which begs the question, what exactly are they trying to hide?"
3) Obama called on Russia and President Vladimir Putin to take control of the situation and stop rebels from blocking access to the MH17 crash site — or risk further isolation from the international community. "Russia has extraordinary influence over these separatists," he said. "The burden now is on Russia to insist that the separatists stop tampering with the evidence."
The Washington Post, meanwhile, reports that the rebels allowed Dutch experts into the crash site.
Check out what we know so far about the MH17 crash here.
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Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine on Thursday morning, according to US intelligence. The plane was carrying 298 people.
This has the potential to become a serious international crisis if the plane was shot down by the Russia-backed separatists who are currently fighting in eastern Ukraine, as a preliminary report from US intelligence claimed.
Here's a list of what's confirmed and unconfirmed. This will be updated as the events unfold on, so keep checking back for details.

What we know

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Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 leaving Schiphol Airport in Schiphol, the Netherlands, on July 17, 2014. Fred Neeleman/AFP/Getty Images

About the flight

MH17 was shot down in Ukraine with 298 on board. There were no survivors of the crash.
MH17 was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia Airlines lost contact with the plane at 14:15 (GMT) at 30 kilometers from Tamak waypoint, approximately 50 kilometers from the Russia-Ukraine border, per a company statement.

How it was shot down

A preliminary US Intelligence report suggests that pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine likely fired the missile from within Ukraine that brought down MH17.
Multiple reports, including from UN Ambassador Samantha Power to the United Nations Security Council, have said a Buk anti-aircraft missile system was used in the attack on the plane.
The Buk surface-to-air missile system is a "sophisticated system requiring a whole suite of radar and command vehicles," according to the US embassy in Kiev. In other words, this isn't some shoulder-fired missile in the style of ragtag militias; it takes real training and resources to use.

Who shot it down

An intercepted phone call (audio here) between a separatist leader and a Russian security official indicates the separatists were responsible for the attack, but it's still not verified.
Rebels are denying responsibility. "We simply do not have such air defense systems," they're quoted as saying in a tweet from New York Times reporter Ellen Barry sourced to Interfax. But the rebels had previously claimed to have a Buk system, according to a June 29 report sourced to the rebel Donetsk People's Republic press service.
Russia is denying responsibility for the MH17 disaster. "We didn't do it," Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said, according to the Financial Times. Vladmir Putin is blaming Ukraine for the attack.
A social media account associated with Ukrainian rebel commander Igor Strelkov appeared to take credit for shooting down a plane over Ukraine on Thursday, but later deleted the post. Here's an analysis of what this might mean.

The victims

One American citizen was killed in the crash, President Obama said in a statement Friday. The plane had Dutch, Australian, Malaysian, Indonesian, British, German, Belgian, Filipino, South African and Canadian passengers. Here are the nationality counts.
Among the passengers were researchers traveling to an international AIDS conference being held in Melbourne, including Joep Lange, former president of the International AIDS Society. Seven deaths of conference attendees have been confirmed by the society so far.

How this fits with the Ukraine-Russia crisis

Russia has had thousands of troops stationed just across the border since the crisis in eastern Ukraine began; NATO says Russia had recently increased its force on the border to between 10,000 and 12,000 troops.
Two military planes flying at high altitudes over Ukraine have been shot down under mysterious circumstances this week. Ukrainian rebels took credit for one of the attacks; the Ukrainian government blamed Russian forces for the other. The sophistication of the missile systems makes it seem likely the rebels would have needed training or help. Read more about those incidents here.
Over the weekend, Russia-backed rebels seized control of the MH17 crash site in eastern Ukraine and blocked access as respondents tried to recover evidence and bodies. The move has further angered the international community as it tries to respond to the crash.

What we don't know

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People commemorating passengers of MH17 in front of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Kiev on July 17, 2014. Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images
Who shot down down MH17. Whether, if they were separatist rebels in Ukraine, they had direct Russian support or training, particularly in surface-to-air missile systems.
Whether MH17, a commercial Boeing-777, was deliberately targeted, or whether it was attacked because it was mistaken for a military aircraft. The Times is reporting that the rebels were using a missile system that lacked full radar capabilities, causing them to inadvertently hit MH17, but it's not certain.
We also don't know how any of the major players — including the United States, Russia, and Ukraine — will respond to the incident. President Barack Obama said Friday afternoon that he did not foresee any US military response beyond what the US was already doing in Ukraine.
It's not clear how, or whether, this will change Russia's relationship with the rebel groups in eastern Ukraine, which Moscow has been supporting. It's not clear how Europe and the US will respond if the plane was shot down by Ukrainian rebels or, even more consequentially, by forces inside of Russia.

What major leaders are saying

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Russia's President Vladimir Putin looks on while speaking with journalists in Itamaraty Palace in Brazilia, early on July 17, 2014 Alexis Nikolsky/Getty Images
— President Obama on Friday called for a ceasefire in the area so "a credible international investigation" could be conducted. "I think it's very important for folks to sift through what is factually based and what is merely speculation," he cautioned. Obama said separatists have received "a steady flow of support" from Russia, including sophisticated weaponry. "Time and again, Russia has refused to take the concrete steps necessary to deescalate the situation," he said. "It has continued to violate Ukrainian sovereignty and to support violent separatists… Now is, I think, a somber and appropriate time for all of us to step back and take a hard look as what has happened. Violence and conflict inevitably lead to unforeseen consequences."
— Russian President Vladimir Putin said Ukraine ultimately bears responsibility: "I want to note that this tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine. And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy." He also announced that Russia would investigate.
— Vice President Joe Biden warned about the wider consequences: "It is important to get the bottom of this sooner than later because the possible repercussions that could flow from this beyond the tragic loss of life."
— Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said that if pro-Russian separatists shot down the plane, Putin should pay a "heavy price": "It's an outrageous and incredible act of terrorism that people [should be] held responsible — and not only the people directly responsible, but indirectly. And if these are the, quote, 'separatists,' which are also Russian, Vladimir Putin should be paying a heavy price. But I am not concluding yet until we find out all the information. I don't want to jump to any conclusion."
— Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also warned about potential consequences for Russia — if they were involved: "The questions I'd be asking is who could have shot it down, who had the equipment — it's obviously an anti-aircraft missile. Who had the expertise to do that? There does seem to be growing awareness that it probably had to be Russian insurgents. If there is evidence pointing in that direction, the equipment had to come from Russia. What more the Russians might or might not have done, we don't know." She cautioned, however, that the investigation was still ongoing.
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President Barack Obama is speaking shortly on the situation in Ukraine and the MH17 flight soon. Watch his comments here:


Over the weekend, Russia-backed rebels seized control of the MH17 crash site in eastern Ukraine and blocked access as respondents tried to recover evidence and bodies.
To understand how that's possible, it's first important to see just how much territory the separatists currently control in Ukraine. Here is one map, from BBC:
Ukraine_rebel_control
Here is a more detailed Ukrainian version of the map, from Pravda:
Ukraine_rebels_plane
As can be seen in both maps, the rebels control a significant chunk of Ukraine, and the rebels seemed to control the MH17 crash site even before the plane was shot down.
Hundreds of people have died in civilian airliner shootdowns over the past 84 years, and most of the incidents involved militaries.
Twitter user dmanww mapped and charted the recent history of civilian airliner shootdowns in this infographic, which you can click to see the full interactive version. (The embed is too large for Vox's pages.)
History_of_civilian_airliner_shootdowns
As Vox's Dylan Matthews previously explained, many of these shootdowns involved warring or otherwise in-conflict nations.
A US battleship, for instance, shot down Iran Air Flight 655 after confusing the plane for an enemy fighter during a skirmish with Iranian ships toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War. About 290 civilian passengers died as a result. The US government insisted the shootdown was an accident, but it never formally apologized for the incident after President Ronald Reagan's initial statement. Vox's Max Fisher wrote for The Washington Post that, to this day, the loss of Iran Air Flight 655 contributes to Iranians' mistrust of Americans.
In many cases, these losses appear to be horrific misunderstandings. After the Soviet Union downed Korean Air Lines Flight 007 and killed the 268 passengers and a congressman (Larry McDonald, a Georgia Democrat) on board, documents revealed that Soviet personnel appeared genuinely baffled and concerned by the presence of an unknown aircraft. They did not, in other words, seem to purposely target and kill civilians.
None of that alleviates the deep loss of human life in these tragedies. But it is somewhat comforting that in many cases, including the crash of MH17, even feuding governments and groups are so aware of the unjustifiable loss of human life that they don't want to look culpable.
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All passengers on MH17 are now included in the toll of victims by nationality. Malaysia Airlines has also posted the passenger manifestHere's where the plane's passengers were from; two had dual citizenship, including one Dutch-American.
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Separatist rebels have taken control of the crash site of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine, where it was shot down on Thursday, possibly by the same rebel group. It appears, based on these tweets from the scene by BuzzFeed's always-excellent correspondent Max Seddon, that the rebels are not just blocking aviation investigators and health workers, but are conducting their own amateur investigation effort.



Needless to say, that the untrained rebels are carting away evidence and refusing entry to actual investigators from the The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) could make it harder for the world to ever fully understand what happened. The OSCE is a Vienna-based intergovernmental organization that works on conflict and disaster management issues such as the Ukraine crisis; its investigators are typically allowed complete access to such scenes. After leaving the scene of the crash, OSCE officials told reporters that the rebels had appeared to be drunk.


Maybe worse, the rebels' apparently lax treatment of the bodies of the 298 dead, who are casually hauled off or simply left on the ground, risks putting the victims' families through even more trauma. And there has been looting; reports indicate that locals may be using credit cards found on the victims' bodies.




The rebels who have taken control of the site are from a group called the Donetsk People's Republic, typically abbreviated to DNR, which had previously declared independence from Ukraine after seizing parts of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. DNR is widely considered to be supported and armed by Russia, which has sought to promote the rebels to sow chaos in Ukraine.



DNR rebels had, in earlier weeks, claimed to have seized a Buk surface-to-air missile system, and to have shot down Ukrainian military planes with simpler shoulder-fired missiles. It's not yet clear whether DNR was involved in the shooting down of MH17, or whether they would have had implicit or indirect Russian support for this. But the group is under wide enough suspicion that it seems especially egregious for them to have seized the crash site, blocked investigators, and so casually dismissed shrugged off the need for a crash investigation and proper removal of the bodies.


Read Seddon's dispatches from the Ukraine crisis here. Read our constantly-updated tally of what we know and don't know here.
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Since news broke that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 went down in eastern Ukraine, a flood of information has poured out from news outlets, on-the-ground correspondents, aviation professionals, and policy experts. News articles are extremely helpful in understanding the complexities of the situation, but quality coverage can also come from Twitter — if you know who to follow.
These Twitter accounts are great for following the unfolding story, getting the facts, learning what matters, and experiencing the perspective from those at the scene.

On the ground in Ukraine

1) Noah Sneider

Journalist providing personal, firsthand accounts of the situation

2) David M. Herszenhorn

Moscow-based New York Times reporter on top of official news coming out of Ukraine

3) Kevin Bishop

BBC News foreign field producer tweeting live updates from the crash site

4) Max Seddon

Sharp-eyed BuzzFeed correspondent

5) Christopher Miller

Editor of the excellent Kiev Post

6) Ukrainian Updates

High-volume feed run by Ukraine activists who helped oust government in February

7) Christian Vermont

Holland-based reporter now living in Ukraine, often tweets photos and videos

Ukraine, Russia, and foreign policy watchers

8) Julia Ioffe

A journalist who is one of, if not the, best on Russia


9) Anne Applebaum

Pulitzer-winning author and columnist


10) Miriam Elder

BuzzFeed editor and former Moscow correspondent


11) Adam Taylor

Washington Post blogger and former Soviet world specialist


12) Hannah Thoburn

Brookings analyst on Russia and eastern Europe


13) Mark Adomanis

Independently minded analyst


14) Michael McFaul

Former US ambassador to Russia, now a bit freer to speak his mind


15) Alexander Kliment

Eurasia Group analyst


16) Peter Baker

New York Times White House correspondent


17) Kevin Rothrock

Sharp-tongued Russia analyst


Aviation

18) Malaysia Airlines

Official account of Malaysia Airlines: Low-volume, but sends official updates as soon as they're available

19) Aviation Safety

Service of the Flight Safety Foundation, tweets technical info about airline accidents

Live from other areas: Netherlands, Malaysia

20) Patrick Fok

Producer reporting updates from Amsterdam

21) Sumisha Naidu

Channel NewsAsia reporter, live updates from Malaysia

22) Andrew Stevens

CNN journalist, covering local reactions from MH17 captain's hometown in Malaysia

23) Thomas Erdbrink

New York Times bureau chief providing Malaysia Airlines info from Amsterdam

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The world in general, and the US government in particular, seems to coalescing around the hypothesis that Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was most likely shot down by separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. There are several very good reasons to suspect this.
But there is also at least one pretty significant reason to doubt that eastern Ukraine's ragtag rebels really did this, or that if they did that they were operating entirely on their own. The military technology that shot down MH17 was, because of its high altitude, almost certainly a Russian- or Ukrainian-made Buk surface-to-air missile system. The Buk, sometimes called SA-11 by Americans, is no simple, shoulder-mounted missile: it is a complex system of one to three vehicles that requires extensive training to just turn on.
That's not something that a few rebels are going to randomly stumble onto, switch on, and start accurately firing at airliners 33,000 feet above the ground. Here's Moscow-based Alexander Bunin making the point eloquently, as translated by Russia analyst Kevin Rothrock:
Those are the controls of the Buk launcher system. To aim and fire a Buk missile, it typically requires three vehicles: the launcher, a commander vehicle, and a radar vehicles, all manned and operated in conjunction by people who know how to use them. (Some analysts say the launcher can sometimes be used on its own.)
This may help explain why, when a Ukrainian military cargo plane flying at high altitude was shot down earlier this week, the Ukrainian government suggested that the Russian military, not separatist rebels, was responsible. And why some analysts are still skeptical of the idea that this was purely rebels acting on their own. "Volunteer militia do not have the training to shoot sophisticated antiaircraft weapons," former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul tweeted.
It is possible, of course, that some of the rebels were former military and had thus received the training to operate a Buk system. Or that they mashed buttons at random and got very, very, very lucky. But Russia has been backing eastern Ukraine's separatist rebels very closely since the crisis broke out there a few months ago; it is hard to rule out the possibility that Russia may have trained the rebels in the use of the Buk system, hoping they would terrorize Ukrainian military planes (49 were killed in Monday's shoot-down) as they've been terrorizing ground forces.
Neither Russia nor the rebels has anything to gain by shooting down a civilian aircraft, so whoever fired at MH17 likely did so in a terrible error. But if Russia did train and encourage Ukrainian rebels to use the Buk system against aircraft then, error or not, this would raise serious questions about Moscow's complicity in the MH17 tragedy — and about how the world should respond.
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Early Friday morning, someone at VGTRK — Russia's state-run TV and radio network — made a conspicuous edit to the Russian language Wikipedia article about airplane crashes.
Previously, someone with an IP address in Kyiv, Ukraine's capital, edited the article to say that MH17 was taken down "by terrorists of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic with Buk system missiles, which the terrorists received from the Russian Federation."
Within an hour, someone with an IP address that puts them at VGTRK's Moscow offices changed it to say "The plane was shot down by Ukrainian soldiers."
This exchange was spotted by a new Twitter bot called @RuGovEdits, which was inspired by @congress-edits, a bot that tweets whenever an anonymous Wikipedia edit is made from a Congress IP address.

Translation: "Wikipedia article List of aircraft accidents in civil aviation has been edited by VGTRK."
This edit fits in with Russian president Vladmir Putin's previous comments about the crash, which he's blaming on Ukraine, and VGTRK is well-known as a mouthpiece of the Russian government.
h/t GlobalVoices
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The head of the International Air Travel Association vented his frustration Friday over the fact that MH17 was shot down despite flying what had seemed to be a safe route.
"Airlines depend on governments and air traffic control authorities to advise which air space is available for flight, and they plan within those limits," said Tony Tyler, CEO of the trade association. "It is very similar to driving a car. If the road is open, you assume that it is safe. If it's closed you find an alternate route."
He did not assign blame to any particular authority or actor, but with the crash of MH17, US and foreign aviation authorities have snapped into action. They have closed the "roads" over eastern Ukraine, telling pilots not to fly there, but it's too late for nearly 300 people. The route over eastern Ukraine was popular, as several outlets have noted, and airlines often fly over conflict zones. The MH17 incident highlights the complicated business of what are and are not safe flight paths for a civilian airliner.
Europe's international aviation organization Eurocontrol had deemed MH17's flight path safe, as Aviation Week reports. Though it is true that the pilot's flight path had been cleared for 35,000 feet and the plane had traveled at 33,000, it was still in what was considered a safe range, according to a NOTAM, short for "notice to airmen," sent before the plane went down.
Aviation authorities issue NOTAMs for all sorts of reasons, from an air show to an international conflict, and thousands are in effect at any given time. Aviation Week points to a Russian NOTAM issued shortly before the crash that had restricted many flight paths over Ukraine on any plane flying below 32,000 feet, due to fighting on the ground in that country. But the prescribed altitude was clearly was not out of range of a surface-to-air missile, the weapon that brought MH17 down.
So is it just a question of knowing who has which weapons in any given conflict? It's much more complicated than that, says one expert.
"It's not just about the weaponry; it's about the disposition of the people" that have that weaponry, says Kees Rietsema, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeuronautical University.
He points to the incident in which the US shot down an Iranian airliner as an example.
"Passenger airlines didn't quit flying the middle east when the US shot down that Iranian airplane years ago. They decided it was a one-off type of thing, and so they continued," he says. "But in this particular case, I think the people that are making those decision are far less certain that that was a mistake. Nobody really knows."
That makes it hard to draw lessons from the MH17 crash. But it doesn't mean planes will stop flying over conflict. Airlines fly over combat zones all the time. When the US deployed troops in Afghanistan in 2011, airplanes didn't suddenly avoid the airspace over the country altogether, says one expert.
"Planes were still flying over Afghanistan. They'd fly a specific routing at altitudes that were quote-unquote 'safe,'" says Seth Miller, an independent aviation analyst and blogger. "That's not uncommon at all."
Likewise, as the BBC reports, there are only a few big trouble spots — Syria, North Korea, and Somalia — that airlines generally avoid. And Business Insider and the Washington Post note that the route MH17 flew was popular for several airlines. However, different airlines independently set their own policies for where they will and will not fly.
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Malaysia Airlines has had a very rough year: 537 people have died on the company's flights this year, which is more than double the total number of fatalities from all commercial airline crashes in 2013.
The last carrier to experience more than one fatal crash in a year was American Airlines, which lost three flights in 2001 — two on September 11 and another flight that crashed after takeoff from New York's JFK Airport on November 12.
There have been 16 commercial airline crashes with at least 50 casualties since 2009, according to the Aviation Safety Network. Malaysia Airlines was the only carrier to have two crashes within that timeframe, both this year; the carrier has only had two other fatal crashes in its 41-year history.
Both planes went down under highly unusual, somewhat mysterious circumstances — MH370 lost somewhere over the south Indian Ocean; MH17 shot down over Ukraine.
Until the full story of both Malaysia Airlines flights are known, it's impossible to say how much responsibility, if any, the airline bears for the deaths. The company said in a press release today that the flight path of MH17 was determined by European air traffic controllers and navigation services, and that other carriers have flown similar routes over Ukraine.
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President Obama's press conference on MH17 Friday morning
President Barack Obama just spoke at the White House on the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, and confirmed that the plane was brought down by a missile. "Evidence indicates the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile from an area that is controlled by Russian-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine," Obama said. The president also confirmed that at least one American citizen, Quinn Lucas Schansman, was killed in the crash.
Obama called for a cease-fire in the area so "a credible international investigation" could be conducted. "I think it's very important for folks to sift through what is factually based and what is merely speculation," he cautioned.
Yet he did list several recent incidents in which pro-Russia separatists claimed responsibility for shooting down Ukrainian aircraft, and pointed out that the separatists have received "a steady flow of support" from Russia, including sophisticated weaponry. "Time and again, Russia has refused to take the concrete steps necessary to de-escalate the situation," Obama said. "It has continued to violate Ukrainian sovereignty and to support violent separatists." He added, "Now is, I think, a somber and appropriate time for all of us to step back and take a hard look as what has happened. Violence and conflict inevitably lead to unforeseen consequences."
Asked if the US military would get involved, Obama said that beyond continuing to comply with NATO treaty obligations, "we don't see a US military role."
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We don't yet know who shot down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, which went down over eastern Ukraine on Thursday. There's no conclusive evidence so far, but speculation is centering on the pro-Russia rebels who have been operating in the region for the last few months.
It's not hard to see why: they are, after all, anti-government rebels who have been attacking Ukrainian government forces. But it's more than that. Rebels have shot down planes before, although they were all military aircraft. And, very recently, Ukrainian military planes in the area have been getting hit with missiles while flying at high altitudes — which suggests that, as with MH17, whoever was shooting at them had some awfully advanced military technology.

Planes have been shot down with increasing frequency over eastern Ukraine

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Locals pose with the wreckage of a Ukrainian military plane shot down in eastern Ukraine on Monday (DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
Four Ukrainian military planes have been shot down since June. Two of those incidents appear to have almost certainly have been caused by rebels, apparently demonstrating that they have the ability and willingness to shoot down a plane. But the other two were shot down at a high altitude, like the MH17 flight was, and it's not nearly as clear who was responsible.
On June 6, rebels shot down an Ukrainian Air Force Antonov AN-30 surveillance plane — a medium-size, two-propeller military craft that's typically Russian-made. This was near Slavyansk, in eastern Ukraine. Ten days later, on June 16, rebels shot down a big Ukrainian Air Force transport plane, an Il-76, killing all 49 people on board. An Il-76 is much larger than an AN-30 and has four jet engines, more the size of the Boeing 777 that was downed on Thursday.
There's a "but" that makes these two cases very distinct from MH17, though — the AN-30 and ILl-6 were shot down by MANPADS, which stands for man-portable air-defense systems, a small missile launcher you carry on your shoulder. It can only fire to an altitude of about 11,500 feet, but MH17 was flying at 33,000 feet. That's way, way outside of the range of shoulder-fired MANPADS missiles.
That's why, at first, people were wondering if rebels even had the capability to shoot down a high-flying commercial airliner like MH17. But there was another incident just on Monday, July 14, that did not get very much attention at the time. That day, over eastern Ukraine, an Antonov AN-26 Ukrainian military transport plane was hit by a missile while flying over eastern Ukraine — at 21,000 feet altitude. That's far beyond the range of a shoulder-fired system like the MANPADS.

Ukraine has been blaming Russia — not rebels — for high-altitude shoot-downs

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A pro-Russia rebel carries a MANPADS surface-to-air missile in eastern Ukraine (DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images)
The Ukrainian government didn't blame the ragtag separatist rebels for Monday's shoot-down, though: it suggested that the missile had possibly been fired from Russia, which borders eastern Ukraine. Ukrainian rebels took credit, though, and Ukraine has not presented public evidence pinning the shoot-down on Russian forces.
The BBC's David Stern wrote at the time, "The accusation that Russian forces shot down a Ukrainian transport plane is potentially a game changer. If Russia is indeed targeting Ukrainian aeroplanes from inside its territory, it is an act of aggression of the highest order." Still, Stern acknowledged, "For the Ukrainians not to respond would raise the suspicion that their charge is false — or demonstrate that the Ukrainian military is completely powerless."
Ukraine's lack of a stronger response or presentation of evidence blaming Russia may explain why the Monday shoot-down got comparatively little attention. On the one hand, Russia does have thousands of troops — as many as 12,000 — amassed along its border with eastern Ukraine, and Moscow has actively backed the eastern Ukrainian rebels. On the other hand, firing missiles at Ukrainian aircraft across the border would be a remarkably provocative move, even for Russia.
Then, on Wednesday, a Ukrainian Sukhoi SU-25 fighter jet was shot down over eastern Ukraine, and the Ukrainian government did not at all equivocate in blaming Russia. "A Russian Federation armed forces plane delivered a missile strike at a Ukraine armed forces Su-25 jet which was carrying out tasks over the territory of Ukraine," Ukrainian government official Andrey Lysenko announced at a press conference.

High-altitude shoot-downs like MH17 require complicated, high-tech military hardware

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Part of a Russian-made Buk-2M surface-to-air missile system on parade in Moscow (YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images)
The first few planes shot down over eastern Ukraine were all shot down at low altitude, and apparently by rebels carrying shoulder-mounted MANPADS. While tragic, this was not shocking: eastern Ukraine is an open conflict zone, the rebels are firing at every Ukrainian military target they can find, and MANPADS are basic enough for ragtag irregulars like the eastern Ukrainian rebels to operate.
But the technology of shooting down a high-altitude plane such as MH17, or the high-altitude Ukrainian military aircraft shot down earlier in the week, is much more complex. Analysts are saying the most likely tool is the Buk surface-to-air missile system, typically Russian-made but also used by the Ukrainian military. The Buk system has an altitude range of about 50,000 feet, but it is much more complicated than a shoulder-fired missile. That may be why US officials are now saying they believe the plane was likely shot down by an SA-11 system, which is the American designation for the Buk.
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Graphic by Straits Times
The Buk surface-to-air missile system is a "sophisticated system requiring a whole suite of radar and command vehicles," according to the US embassy in Kiev. In other words, this isn't some shoulder-fired missile in the style of ragtag militias — it's a system that requires several people with real training and resources to coordinate across multiple complex, vehicle-based systems. Typically, firing a Buk takes three vehicles — the launcher itself, a commander vehicle, and a radar vehicle — though some analysts say it is possible for a one-vehicle launcher to operate on its own.

That would seem to significantly narrow down who could be responsible

Even with a week or two of Russian military training, it's very hard to imagine a bunch of Ukrainian volunteer rebels wandering onto this system and knowing how to use it properly.
It is true that Ukrainian rebels appeared to possess the system, likely seized from the Ukrainian military. The rebels had previously claimed to have a Buk system, according to a June 29 report sourced to the rebel Donetsk People's Republic press service. But that does not mean they knew how to use it.
is it possible the ukrainian government was right in blaming russian forces?
This all suggests that whoever shot down the other planes this week, at least one of which was flying at a high altitude beyond MANPADS range, either were formal military forces or had intensive training from a formal military on surface-to-air missile systems.
That would seem to narrow down the list of suspects pretty significantly. Maybe it was Ukrainian military forces with that training who had defected to the rebels. Maybe it was Ukrainian rebels who had received extensive Russian training on the Buk systems, which would raise the question of why Russia would give this training and what that would mean for Moscow's complicity in the attack. Or maybe the Ukrainian government was right about the first two attacks coming from formal Russian military ground or air forces.
In any of these possible scenarios, it seems most likely that whoever fired on MH17 probably thought they were shooting at another Ukrainian military plane, not realizing it was a civilian airliner. And there is, as yet, no conclusive evidence pointing to Ukrainian rebels gone rogue, Ukrainian rebels backed by Russia, Russian military forces themselves, or anyone else. Still, it's hard to imagine any way the investigation into MH17's downing that would not end with a significant escalation of the Ukraine crisis, which was already severe before Thursday's tragedy.
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A preliminary report from US Intelligence claims that pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists shot down MH17 with a surface-to-air missile, according to the Washington Post, which is citing an unnamed US official. The separatists probably used an early version of the Buk anti-aircraft system, a sophisticated surface-to-air missile system:
"Our assessment is that Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 . . . was likely downed by an SA-11 missile, operated from a separatist-held location in eastern Ukraine," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power told the U.N. Security Council on Friday.
She added that "because of the technical complexity of the SA-11," it was unlikely that the separatists could have effectively operated it on their own. "We cannot rule out Russian technical assistance," Power said.
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Friday morning, President Obama spoke about the Malaysian Airlines crash and the situation in Ukraine, confirming the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile launched from a rebel-controlled area in Eastern Ukraine.
Watch the whole speech here:
Even for a community that's used to tragedy, the sudden deaths of prominent HIV researchers and activists in the Malaysia Airlines plane en route to an international AIDS conference came as a body blow.
Australian newspapers were reporting that as many as 108 conference participants died en route to AIDS 2014, though organizers say they are only able to confirm six names:
  • Pim de Kuijer, STOP AIDS NOW!
  • Joep Lange, co-director of the HIV Netherlands Australia Research Collaboration (HIV-NAT)
  • Lucie van Mens, Director, AIDS Action Europe
  • Maria Adriana de Schutter, AIDS Action Europe
  • Glenn Thomas, World Health Organisation
  • Jacqueline van Tongeren, Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development
Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, president of the International AIDS Society, said we may still learn that more AIDS 2014 participants died in the crash, but she believes the final toll to be much smaller than the early figures circulated in the international media. "The extent of our loss is hard to comprehend or express," she added.
"To lose people so heavily engaged in efforts to fight hiv is an incalculable  loss in every sense."
The conference, which takes place from July 20 to 25, is expected to attract as many as 12,000 attendees to Melbourne, Australia this week. Those involved are still reeling from the tragedy.
"To lose people so heavily engaged in efforts to fight HIV is an incalculable loss in every sense," said Shawn Jain of the Whitman-Walker Clinic in Washington, DC.
"The International AIDS Conference is already a time of reflection for those we have lost to HIV/AIDS. Losing colleagues engaged in the fight against HIV who were in transit to the event will only make it more somber. "

Prominent HIV researcher among the victims

Joep Lange, a prominent HIV researcher and former president of the International AIDS Society, was one of the victims.
Lange was one of the key researchers behind several HIV treatment trials
A professor of medicine and head of the department of global health at the University of Amsterdam, Lange had been involved in HIV treatment and research since 1983, just as the virus was emerging as a global health threat.
He was one of the key researchers behind several pivotal antiretroviral therapy trials, including projects involving the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of the virus in both the developing and developed world, according to the Amsterdam Institute of Global Health and Development. He was also an early advocate of bringing HIV medications to the developing world, traveling to the most under-served areas to promote best practices in HIV care. He contributed to knowledge about HIV/AIDS with more than 300 academic papers and as editor of the journal Antiviral Therapy.
Lange was traveling with his partner, Jacqueline van Tongeren, who has also died in the crash. According to University of Amsterdam website, van Tongeren helped Lange with many of his HIV/AIDS efforts and was involved in global health work, too.
"Thanks to her previous experience as an HIV-AIDS nurse, she was extremely familiar with the issues concerned," the website reads. "Over time, the bonds between Joep and Jacqueline developed far beyond those of a relationship between colleagues."
"Joep was a visionary amongst HIV researchers," American HIV researcher Dr. Rick Elion told Vox. "He was acutely aware of the multiple dimensions of HIV spanning science to society and had a heart of gold. This is a huge loss for the field."
Dr. Martin S. Hirsch, a professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School who trained many of the current leaders in the HIV/AIDS field, said Lange was "someone who rationally looked at the problems of access to HIV therapies around the world, and did something about it."

The global health community reacts to the tragedy

The global health community is trying to make sense of the losses as a clearer picture of the death toll emerges.






At a news conference Friday, President Barack Obama paid tribute to the felled conference-goers.
"In this world today, we shouldn't forget that in the midst of conflict and killing, there are people like these, people who are focused on what can be built, rather than what can be destroyed; people who are focused on how they can help people that they've never met; people who define themselves not by what makes them different from other people, but by the humanity that we hold in common."
British-born World Health Organization staffer Glenn Thomas was among the dead. He was a media relations specialist for the UN based in Geneva, and a former journalist.
Dr. Rachel Baggaley, of the HIV Department at the WHO, had just landed in Melbourne when she heard about the news. "I'm just devastated," she said. "He's a very close colleague whom I work with on a daily basis." She added: "He just had his birthday. He was going to plan all sorts of celebrations."
Several WHO staffers were on flights to the conference, but Thomas was the only one on MH17, according to a WHO statement.
Pim de Kuijer, Maria Adriana de Schutter, and Lucie van Mens—prominent activists who worked for Dutch HIV organizations—were also on the felled plane.
De Schutter had worked and lived in Argentina, Bolivia and the United States, according to her LinkedIn profile, where she wrote, "Throughout my (professional) life I hope to contribute to making the world a better place to live, work and love."
"It is incomprehensible that they're no longer here," Stop AIDS Now Executive Director Louise van Deth told the Washington Post. "It is a heavy blow that people who have been so active for so long in the fight against AIDS have been wiped out."
"Every human life is precious," global health researcher Dr. Peter Singer wrote to Vox, "but when we lose those dedicated to saving lives we suffer a double loss."

The conference will go on


The most recent statement from the International AIDS Society, convenors of AIDS 2014, said the conference will go on.
"In recognition of our colleagues' dedication to the fight against HIV/AIDS, the conference will go ahead as planned and will include opportunities to reflect and remember those we have lost."
IAS president Barre-Sinoussi also said that the organizations who lost colleagues in MH17 would be invited to pay their respects in the opening ceremony, and that books where people can share their condolences will be distributed at the conference.
Laurie Garrett, a Pulitzer Prize-winner researcher and journalist who has written about infectious diseases including AIDS, told Vox that the HIV/AIDS community is used to dealing with death. "I would say if there's any scientific community that is resilient in the face of death, it's this one."
"if there's any scientific community that is resilient in the face of death, it's this one."
"This is a community that has dealt with death profoundly since the discovery of the virus," she said over the phone. Of the pre-antiretroviral days, she added, "We have known meeting after meeting when we arrive some of our colleagues would not be there to join us because they would have died of AIDS."
Still, she noted that some of the younger conference participants may not remember the early days of AIDS. "I am not in the Melbourne meeting, and I'm glad of it. When it opens on Monday,  it will be a mass funeral. It will be difficult for a lot of people to shake off the shock and sadness. But I believe very much this is a community that is determined and dedicated, and they will succeed."

Not the first plane tragedy to impact the AIDS community

Other AIDS researchers have died tragically in plane crashes. Jonathan Mann, a prominent AIDS researcher who knew Lange, also died in a plane crash with his wife, Dr. Mary Lou Clements-Mann, while on their way to an AIDS conference.

Lange and Mann had organized the 1992 AIDS conference in Amsterdam, which was originally supposed to be held in Boston but had to be re-routed to Europe because of policies banning HIV-positive people from entering the US.
Irving S. Sigal, a molecular biologist who helped to develop AIDS treatments, died in the explosion of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.
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The United Nations Security Council called for a "full, thorough, and independent international investigation" into the downing of MH17 in Ukraine, Reuters reports.
Watch the full stream of the Security Council meeting here.
Malaysia Air made public early Friday a copy of MH17's cargo manifest, which details items that the plane carried. It includes live animals, and a few other notable items. Here's a partial list of things carried on board:
  • Two live dogs.
  • Five live birds.
  • Four live pigeons.
  • Some flowers and plants.
  • Several helicopter parts.
  • Some aircraft parts.
  • Textiles.
You can read the full manifest here.
Update: Removed reference to "a shipment of pot." The shipment is not marijuana; it's actually a shipment of a potentiostat galvanostat for an electrochemistry workstation.
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People commemorating passengers of MH17 in front of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Kiev on July 17, 2014. Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images
There's a particularly sobering statistic that emphasizes the magnitude of this tragedy: with the reported death count now including 189 passengers from the Netherlands, the MH17 crash has claimed the lives of a greater share of the country's population than the September 11th attacks did in the US.
The people lost onboard MH17 represent approximately .0011 percent of the total Dutch population of 16.8 million.
Many more Americans were killed in the 9/11 attacks — 2,624 in total — but because the US population is so much larger (it was roughly 285 million in 2001), the death toll represented .0009 percent of the overall population.
Obviously, it's impossible to compare the immensity of two tragedies like these, but it shows just how much of an impact the crash will have on the small country.
h/t squarelyrooted
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Today's crash over Ukraine is obviously bad news for Malaysia Airlines. They're offering 100 percent refunds for anyone who wants to cancel a ticket and their business already took a beating over the (apparently unrelated) disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Their traffic fell 4 percent in May, and the stock is down about 27 percent on the year so far.
Screen_shot_2014-07-17_at_4.18.15_pm (Source: Bloomberg)
That said, the financial problems at the airline are actually so big and longstanding that it's difficult to lay the blame for its problems at the feet of these tragedies. As you can see above, the share price has been sliding consistently for three years.
Malaysia Airlines was profitable back in 2007 through 2010, but posted a record loss in 2011 and began cutting back service in response. Their key problem has been the rise of new low-cost carriers in Southeast Asia, and especially the growth of Air Asia which is based in Malaysia and directly competes with Malaysia Airlines.
In the United States, the growth of low-cost competitors put many airlines (PanAm, TWA) out of business or forced them into mergers. But Malaysia is mostly owned by a government-controlled investment fund, so it's in no direct danger of going out of business. Almost exactly one month ago, rumors surfaced that the government was going to work out a deal with Etihad Airlines out of the United Arab Emirates which briefly sent Malaysia's stock soaring. Etihad has operated as an investor in a number of distressed European airlines, but nothing seems to have come of the talks — if there were any talks — so far.
But with more trouble for the already-troubled airline, Kuala Lumpur is likely only going to grow more desperate to find a new way forward for its flag carrier.
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White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest released a statement Thursday night calling for an "unimpeded" investigation of the MH17 attack:
It is critical that there be a full, credible, and unimpeded international investigation as quickly as possible. We urge all concerned - Russia, the pro-Russian separatists, and Ukraine - to support an immediate cease-fire in order to ensure safe and unfettered access to the crash site for international investigators and in order to facilitate the recovery of remains. The role of international organizations - such as the United Nations and the OSCE in Ukraine - may be particularly relevant for this effort, and we will be in touch with affected nations and our partners in these organizations in the coming hours and days to determine the best path forward. In the meantime, it is vital that no evidence be tampered with in any way and that all potential evidence and remains at the crash site are undisturbed. The United States remains prepared to contribute immediate assistance to any international investigation, including through resources provided by the NTSB and the FBI.
He also noted that they are still seeking information about whether or not Americans were on the flight. Read the full statement here.
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The HIV/AIDS community is mourning the loss of Joep Lange, a prominent HIV researcher and former president of the International AIDS Society, who died on flight MH17 on his way to an international AIDS conference.
"Joep is one of our giants in terms of AIDS research and AIDS access to treatment and care in poor places around the world," said Richard Marlink, executive director of the Harvard School of Public Health AIDS Initiative. "He worked in Thailand on vaccines, in Africa on access to care and medical education. On top of all that was just a gem of a person."
Lange was one of the key researchers behind several HIV treatment trials
A Dutch citizen, Lange was professor of medicine and head of the department of global health at the University of Amsterdam. He had been involved in HIV treatment and research since 1983, just as the virus was emerging as a global health threat.
Lange was one of the key researchers behind several pivotal antiretroviral therapy trials, including projects involving the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of the virus in both the developing and developed world, according to the Amsterdam Institute of Global Health and Development.
Very early on in the fight against AIDS, Lange advocated bringing HIV medications to the developing world. He'd travel to the most under-served areas to promote best practices in HIV care, and contributed to knowledge about HIV/AIDS with more than 300 academic papers and as editor of the journal Antiviral Therapy. At the World Health Organization in the 1990s, he led their clinical research and drug development unit.

Lange on the hope for AIDS

Lange was traveling with his partner, Jacqueline van Tongeren, who has also died in the crash. According to University of Amsterdam website, van Tongeren helped Lange with many of his HIV/AIDS efforts and was involved in global health work, too.
"Thanks to her previous experience as an HIV-AIDS nurse, she was extremely familiar with the issues concerned," the website reads. "Over time, the bonds between Joep and Jacqueline developed far beyond those of a relationship between colleagues."
"Joep was a visionary amongst HIV researchers," American HIV researcher Dr. Rick Elion told Vox. "He was acutely aware of the multiple dimensions of HIV spanning science to society and had a heart of gold. This is a huge loss for the field."
Dr. Martin S. Hirsch, a professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School who trained many of the current leaders in the HIV/AIDS field, said Lange was "someone who rationally looked at the problems of access to HIV therapies around the world, and did something about it."
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and researcher Laurie Garrett told Vox, "Joep made fundamentally important discoveries at a time when there was a team of Dutch scientists who were disproportionately effective in AIDS research."
"Joep was absolutely committed to the development of affordable HIV treatments, particularly combination therapies, for use in resource-poor countries," David Cooper, a friend and fellow researcher told the Australian academic news website The Conversation.
"Another outstanding area of [Lange’s] contribution has been his pioneering role in exploring affordable and simple antiretroviral drug regimens for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV in resource-poor settings," Cooper said.
Other researchers, professionals, and activists have died en route to AIDS 2014, though the death toll has not yet been confirmed. Right now, conference organizers said they can only confirm the names of six participants, including Lange and van Tongeren.
Some have noted the parallels between Lange's death, and that of other prominent AIDS researchers who died in plane crashes. As Laurie Garrett wrote on her blog:
In 1996 the one and only joyous AIDS Conference convened in Vancouver – a meeting marked by announcement of successful combination therapy that knocked the dastardly virus down to levels undetectable in blood. There was hope for a cure, thanks in large part to the Dutch work. Some dared to speak of eradicating HIV all together.
Two years later, as hundreds of thousands of HIV-positive men and women living in wealthy countries were thriving on those treatment combinations, hope dominated the pandemic, until 1998 when Swissair Flight SR11 crashed off Nova Scotia, killing all on board. Among them, Jonathan Mann and his new wife, AIDS vaccine researcher Mary Lou Clements. Their sudden loss felt like a kick in the gut for the world AIDS community.
Here we are, sixteen years later, facing airline tragedy again.
Read more on the impact of MH17 on the HIV/AIDS community here.
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The death toll from MH17 has now been increased to 298 — because there were three infants on board who weren't previously counted, according to a statement from Malaysian Airlines.
One of the babies was from Indonesia and two from Malaysia, according to the statement. The dead include 283 passengers and 15 crew members.
Here's the latest breakdown from the airlines, including nationalities:
Screen_shot_2014-07-17_at_7.54.51_pm
In an interview with Charlie Rose that's airing Thursday night, Hillary Clinton says that the MH17 attack can "probably" be blamed on pro-Russian rebels.
While she cautions that investigation into the attack is still ongoing and we still don't know who's behind it, Clinton believes the clues point towards pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
"Who had the equipment? It's obviously an anti-aircraft missile," she said. "The Ukrainian government has been quick to blame it on terrorists, which is their name for the Russian insurgents, and there does seem to be some growing awareness that it probably had to be Russian insurgents."
If these separatists did have anti-aircraft missiles, she goes on, the weapons were probably supplied by Russia.
Clinton also mentioned that "if there is evidence linking Russia to this" — something we don't yet have — then that should "inspire" Europe to tighten sanctions on Russia and reduce its dependency on Gazprom, the large Russian natural-gas supplier.
For more background, here's our earlier cardstack on the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
Here's the full segment:
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On the eve of a large international AIDS conference in Australia, conference-goers are learning that they may have lost some of their colleagues on MH17.
Glenn Thomas, a World Health Organization media relations coordinator, has died in the crash, according to Dr. Haileyesus Getahun, coordinator of the WHO's Global TB program, and Dr. Rachel Baggaley, of the HIV Department at the WHO.
Dr. Baggaley had just landed in Melbourne when she heard about the news. "I'm very shocked," she said. "I'm just devastated. He's a very close colleague whom I work with on a daily basis." She added: "He just had his birthday, he was going to plan all sorts of celebrations."
Several WHO staffers were on flights to the conference, and Dr. Baggaley said she is awaiting confirmation about who else was on flight 17.
An outpouring of grief has emerged on Twitter as conference attendees to the 20th international AIDS conference in Melbourne Australia learn of colleagues who may have been affected.
The conference, AIDS 2014, runs from July 20-25.
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Ray Wert points out a striking fact about the MH17 crash:

It's true: the 295 people killed in the attack on MH17 are the most of any incident since the 2,996 casualties caused by the September 11 attacks.
According to the AP, Russian President Vladmir Putin is blaming Ukraine for the MH17 crash.
In a statement, he said, "This tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine. And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy."
(For background, here's our earlier card stack on the Russia-Ukraine crisis.)
The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 has made airlines justifiably worried about the safety of Ukrainian airspace. Several airlines have announced that they're planning to avoid flying over Ukraine. This animation from earlier this afternoon shows the results:
Planesavoidingcrashloop
Of course, there were already warnings for international flights to avoid certain parts of Ukraine, so the skies would have been sparse even before today's crash.
Our own video editor Joe Posner made this animation by capturing images from flightradar24.com. Click here to see realtime data on airplane locations.
The social media coverage of flight MH17, which US intelligence officials say was shot down over eastern Ukraine, began Tuesday afternoon with this tweet from the official Malaysia Airlines account:

Shortly after, numerous photos — some authentic, many questionable — emerged on social media documenting the crash and its aftermath.
Chris York of Huffington Post UK shared this eery Facebook post, reportedly from an MH17 passenger who made a joking reference to the missing Malaysia Flight MH370 before taking off:

Reuters tweeted the first images of the crash site:


Throughout the day, LifeNews Russia has been tweeting screengrabs of its live coverage:

The Associated Press tweeted a video of the fiery crash:

This amateur video is not yet confirmed, but has quickly spread on social media today:
A map from Flightradar24 shows international flights rerouting their paths to avoid all Ukrainian airspace after news of the MH17 crash:
Amidst all the chaos, New York Times reporter Thomas Erdbrink has been live tweeting from the Amsterdam airport where the victims' families have been waiting for answers:

And Mashable executive editor Jim Roberts shared a photo (via Reuters) of a touching memorial to the victims of MH17 outside the Dutch embassy in Kyiv:

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US intelligence reports that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down, making it one of the highest-casualty airliner shoot-downs in the history of aviation. But it's hardly the first. Events like this — though usually much smaller in scale — have occurred about two dozen times. Many instances were part of ongoing wars, such as Nazi Germany's shoot-down of a British Overseas Airways Corporation flight from Lisbon to London in 1943, or Zimbabwean rebels' shoot-downs of two Air Rhodesia flights in 1978 and 1979.
But in those cases, the countries involved were at war with each other. In contrast, Flight 17 was going from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, and neither the Netherlands nor Malaysia have much of any involvement in the Ukrainian civil war. And the death toll — there were 295 crew and passengers, and, to the best of our knowledge, no survivors — is extremely high.
With that in mind, here are seven previous airliner shoot-downs that could provide some clue as to what the consequences of the crash will be. The list is hardly comprehensive but gives a sense of how these situations are handled.

1) Korean Air Lines Flight 007 (1983)

Koreanair
Korean Air Lines Boeing 747SP at EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg in 1985; the plane that crashed in 1983 was a 747-230B. (Sangil)
Also known as "that time the Soviet Union killed a sitting US Congressman." KAL007 was shot down by a Soviet fighter plane on September 1, 1983, killing all 269 passengers and crew, including Larry McDonald, a Congressman from Georgia then in his fourth term. An ardent anti-Communist and believer in various conspiracy theories about the Rockefellers, the Trilateral Commission, and the Council on Foreign Relations plotting to bring about a socialist world government, McDonald also was president of the John Birch Society, the ultra-right-wing conspiracist group.
The fact that the crash killed McDonald would fit perfectly into his particular set of conspiracy theories, but there's no evidence that what happened was more complicated than KAL007 entering Soviet airspace and being shot down as an intruder. This International Civil Aviation Organization report from 1993, incorporating documents released by Russian president Boris Yeltsin that Soviet leaders had previously withheld, summarizes what we know well, and finds Soviet personnel appearing baffled and concerned by the presence of an unknown aircraft, rather than determined to strike intentionally, though their decision to strike without attempting to establish contact with the plane was reckless.
The direct response to the attack — and subsequent Soviet attempt at a cover-up — was largely rhetorical. President Reagan condemned the shoot-down as a "crime against humanity" which "must never be forgotten." The US responded to Soviet intransigence by releasing substantial amounts of classified material to back up the charge that the Soviets (accidentally or not) shot the plane down. An unintended side effect of that was to weaken the US's ability to monitor Soviet communications through Japan "According to various unnamed Japanese officials, changes made in the Soviet codes and frequencies following the American disclosures reduced the effectiveness of Japanese monitoring by 60 percent," David M. Johnson noted in a write-up on the intelligence losses for Harvard and the Center for Information Policy Research.
The shoot-down led to the expansion of the Global Positioning System to civilians, which Reagan announced in the wake of the shoot-down. It would have been harder for the KAL pilots to drift into Soviet airspace with satellite navigation technology.

2) Iran Air Flight 655 (1988)

Iranair
Another Airbus A300B2-203 operated by Iran Air, at Barcelona - El Prat Airport in 2011. (Dura-Ace)
Though the Soviets did it first, the US also once accidentally downed a civilian airliner carrying about 300 people on it. On July 3, 1988, as the Iran-Iraq war was winding down, US and Iranian ships were involved in some skirmishes in the Persian Gulf. An Airbus A300 took off from a nearby airport, one which was used for both military and civilian purposes. An American cruiser, the USS Vincennes, mistook the plane for an F-14, an American fighter plane that we had sold to Iran before the 1979 revolution, and launched two missiles, downing the plane and killing everyone on board.
President Reagan called the event a "terrible human tragedy," and stated "we deeply regret any loss of life." Iran's UN ambassador condemned the action as ''criminal act,'' an ''atrocity'' and a ''massacre," while the US insisted it was a misunderstanding. Then-Vice President George H.W. Bush called the idea the US would have shot down the plane deliberately "offensive and absurd," and argued that allowing passenger flights out of an airport as a naval battle was underway was irresponsible of the Iranians. "They allowed a civilian aircraft loaded with passengers to proceed on a path over a warship engaged in battle,'' Bush said. ''That was irresponsible and a tragic error.''
Iran sued the United States in the International Court of Justice, and the American government eventually agreed in 1996 to pay $61.8 million ($93.7 million today) to the families of victims; notably, that amount was 1/30th of the compensation the US secured from Libya for victims of the Lockerbie plane bombing that same year. The US government has never apologized for shooting down the plane, beyond Reagan's initial statement, and Max Fisher has noted the event contributes to Iranian mistrust of American intentions to this day.

3) Itavia Flight 870 (1980)

Itavia
An Itavia DC-9, similar to the one shot down. (Piergiuliano Chesi)
This is a case where we still don't really know the true story. On June 27, 1980, an Itavia Airlines flight from Bologna to Palermo with 81 passengers and crew crashed in the Tyrhennian Sea, near Sicily. The New York Times' Elisabetta Povoledo reports that the "most widely accepted theory behind the crash" — for which an Italian court last year said there was "abundantly" clear evidence" — was that a stray missile from an aircraft hit the plane, but any information about which country's aircraft it was, or why, is still very much up in the air.
An Italian judge, Rosario Priore, presented the theory that there was a NATO plot to shoot down a plane carrying Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and the Itavia jet got caught up in that operation. He presented radar evidence suggesting the presence of US, French, Libyan, and British military operations near to where the plane crashed. Francesco Cossiga, the prime minister at the time, said decades later that the plane was shot down by French military personnel. But neither his nor Priore's claims have been proven.

4) El Al Flight 402 (1955)

Elal
An El Al Lockheed Costellation, similar to the one that was shot down. (Oyoyoy)
On July 27, 1955, an El Al flight from Vienna to Tel Aviv flew into Bulgarian airspace and was shot down by two Bulgarian MiG fighters. All 58 people on board were killed. After initially denying involvement, Bulgaria admitted to having shot the plane down. Despite occurring during a low point in relations between the Soviet bloc (including Bulgaria) and the US and its allies (including Israel), international fallout was minimal.
Eight years after the attack, Bulgaria agreed to pay a total of $195,000 ($1.5 million in current dollars) to Israel, having already compensated non-Israeli passengers.

5) Cathay Pacific Airways (1954)

Cathay
A Douglas DC-4, a similar aircraft to the one that was shot down. (Russavia)
On July 23, 1954, mainland China's People's Liberation Army fighters shot down a Cathay Pacific Airways (the airline of Hong Kong, then under British control) C-54 Skymaster flying from Bangkok to Hong Kong; 10 out of the 19 passengers and crew died. In apologizing for the attack to Britain days later, the Chinese government stated that they had thought the plane was a military aircraft from the Republic of China n (Taiwan) on an attack mission against Hainan Island (near where the shoot-down took place).
However, the initial tragedy was compounded when two PLA fighters engaged three US Navy planes that were searching for survivors; the two PLA planes were shot down. While admitting fault and promising compensation in the case of the civilian plane, China claimed that it was faultless in the confrontation with the US. President Eisenhower, in turn, alleged the harsh tone toward the US and conciliatory tone toward Britain in reference to the Cathay plane was a Communist plot to split the allies.
It's hard to say the incident made relations between the Allies and mainland China much worse than they already were, but it risked bringing the Allies further into the battles that were then occurring between the People's Republic of China and the Republic of China. Given that the Eisenhower administration was apparently considering using nuclear weapons on the ROC's behalf, any heightening of the tensions there was dangerous.

6) Libyan Arab Airlines Flight 114 (1973)

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Israeli defense minister General Moshe Dayan (to the right of then-Prime Minister Golda Meir) apologized for shooting down Flight 114, and Chief-of-staff General David Elazar (to her left) gave the initial order. (AFP/Getty Images)
On February 21, 1973, a Libyan Arab Airlines (a wholly owned part of the Libyan government) Boeing 727 flying from Tripoli to Cairo got lost and flew over the Sinai peninsula, which had been under Israeli control since the Six-Day War in 1967. After giving signals to land and firing warning shots, Israeli jets shot down the plane, killing 108 of the 113 people on board, and leaving four passengers and a co-pilot alive.
David Elazar, the chief of staff of the Israeli armed forces, took responsibility for ordering the shoot-down. Defense Minister Moshe Dayan called the event an "error of judgment" and the Israeli government compensated the families of victims. Libya condemned the attack as "a criminal act" while the Soviets called it a "monstrous new crime."

7) Siberia Airlines Flight 1812 (2001)

Siberianairlines
Oleksandr Kuzmuk, the Ukrainian Minister of Defense who resigned after the military short down Siberian Airlines Flight 1812.  (Robert D. Ward/DOD)
Perhaps the strangest precedent for the Malaysian Airlines crash in Ukraine is a shoot-down in 2001 caused by military forces in … Ukraine. On October 4, 2001, 64 Siberia Airlines passengers and 12 crew members onboard a Soviet-made Tupolev Tu-154 en route from Novosibirsk to Tel Aviv were killed when the plane was shot down over the Black Sea by a Ukrainian missile.
It took a while for Ukraine to admit that was what had happened, but after pressure from Russian investigators, Ukraine's then-president, Leonid Kuchma, accepted that the Ukrainian military was at fault. The day of the shoot-down, the Ukrainian military was conducting a massive military exercise which involved shooting 23 missiles at drones. "Experts say that the radar-guided S-200, among the farthest-flying and most capable antiaircraft missile in the arsenal of former Soviet nations, simply locked onto the Russian airliner after it raced past the destroyed drone some 20 miles off the Crimean coast," the New York Times' Michael Wines reported.
Kuchma accepted the resignation of his Minister of Defense, Oleksandr Kuzmuk, following the admission that the military was at fault. From 2003 to 2005, Ukraine paid $15.6 million to families of victims following a deal with the government of Israel.
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The Malaysian Airlines crash is of course, a tragedy that directly affects thousands of friends and family members of the victims.
But it also is having ripple effects in the US economy, and that appears true particularly for stocks of US airlines. The crash helped pull stocks down across the board — the Dow Jones Industrial Average took a hit of nearly 1 percent — but airline stocks fell even further. Major US airlines all saw their stock prices follow the same pattern: an immediate plummet late morning, just after the crash; a bounce back; and an eventual fall leading into the end of the trading day.
Here's American Airlines' 4-percent fall, for example:
Screen_shot_2014-07-17_at_4.15.03_pm
Here's Southwest Airlines dropping off by nearly 2 percent:
Screen_shot_2014-07-17_at_4.16.12_pm
And here's Delta falling by more than 3 percent.
Screen_shot_2014-07-17_at_4.14.15_pm
Why would a crash on one airline send investors running from other airways halfway around the world? One is fears of equipment failure. The Malaysian jet was a Boeing 777, explains Robert Mann, an independent airline analyst. Particularly early on, when it was more uncertain whether it was a crash or whether the plane was shot down, investors may have feared that other airlines using 777s might face similar risks of crash in the future.
But as the theory that the plane was shot down gained more traction, it made for a new potential worry.
"The problem with that, of course, is that it's essentially a headline geopolitical risk, which is not helpful for international travel," he says. That can make international travelers skittish.
"US global carrier networks are now about 40 percent international. Therefore anything that affects international is going to affect network carriers," he adds, referring to the US's major legacy airlines. The irony, he adds, is that those airlines almost never cross into Ukrainian airspace.
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MH17 was "apparently" shot down, Vice President Joe Biden said at the beginning of remarks at the Netroots Nation conference. The plane was "shot down, not an accident, blown out of the sky," Biden said.
He also said US officials will be assisting with the crash investigation.
Ukraine-based journalist Noah Sneider has been among the first to arrive at the crash site of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine, where it went down on Thursday, reportedly killing all 295 people aboard. Sneider has been tweeting from the scene, which he describes in horrifying terms:




That locals say the plane exploded mid-air is, if true, extremely significant as it would suggest that the plane was shot down.
US intelligence agencies seemed to confirm this on Thursday when they reported that they'd detected a surface-to-air missile fired at flight MH17, though they were unsure whether it had come from eastern Ukraine or from Russia.
Read here for everything we know — and don't know — about this story.
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The AP is reporting that Ukraine's security forces have produced a pair of intercepted phone calls that they say provide evidence that pro-Russian rebels are responsible for the attack. At this time, the recordings are unverified.
Here's the audio, reportedly between a Ukrainian rebel commander and a Russian military intelligence officer:
Here's a translated transcript, featuring the rebel commander (Igor Bezler) and the security officer (Vasili Geranin):
Igor Bezler: We have just shot down a plane. Group Minera. It fell down beyond Yenakievo.
Vasili Geranin: Pilots. Where are the pilots?
IB: Gone to search for and photograph the plane. It's smoking.
VG: How many minutes ago?
IB: About 30 minutes ago.
A second call, reportedly between two unnamed rebel fighters, indicates that the attack was carried out by insurgents approximately 15 miles north of the site of the crash.
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The Wall Street Journal is reporting that US intelligence says a surface-to-air missile was fired at MH17, but the paper says intelligence agencies are divided on whether the missile was fired from Russia or Eastern Ukraine.
US intelligence said the plane was shot down, according to news reports from NBC News and CNN.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said today that if pro-Russian separatists shot down MH17, Russian president Vladimir Putin should pay "a heavy price," reports Roll Call.
McCain called the crash "obviously a game-changer." He continued: "It's an outrageous and incredible act of terrorism that people [should be] held responsible — and not only the people directly responsible, but indirectly. And if these are the, quote, 'separatists,' which are also Russian, Vladimir Putin should be paying a heavy price. But I am not concluding yet until we find out all the information. I don't want to jump to any conclusion."
Per Voice of America:

According to NBC, the Ukrainian government claims to have tapes of Russian intelligence officers and "terrorists," code for Ukrainian separatists, discussing the shoot-down:

It looked like the smoking gun: exactly 35 minutes after Malaysia Airlines flight 17 went down over eastern Ukraine, a social media account belonging to the eastern Ukrainian rebel commander Igor Strelkov posted a message bragging of having "brought down" an aircraft.
"We warned you, stay away from our skies," the message said in Russian, according to translations posted by Russian-speaking reporters. The message was posted at 5:50 pm local time on Thursday; the flight had crashed at 5:15 pm. The post included two videos that appeared to show a large explosion. One of them is still viewable on YouTube.
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The now-deleted Strelkov post on VK taking credit for downing a plane
Many read this as Strelkov taking credit for his separatist rebels shooting down MH17, killing the 295 people on board. But there are real reasons to doubt that the message was genuine.
It's not hard to see why people would believe Strelkov's post. Strelkov is a top figure among eastern Ukraine's rebels, who have been receiving arms from the Russian government. His official title is Prime Minister of the Donetsk People's Republic, named for the eastern Ukrainian city where they've seized territory and declared independence. He's known for being highly unpredictable; the New York Times called him "as mysterious as he is fearsome." The report warned, "many analysts fear that Mr. Strelkov could go rogue."
Here's the most worrying detail: Just last month, eastern Ukrainian rebels had reportedly seized BUK surface-to-air missile systems — the kind of thing used to shoot down airplanes.
The pieces certainly seem to fit. But there are also some strange aspects of Strelkov's claims that should at least give pause before reaching definitive conclusions about MH17. Here are three big ones:
(1) Strelkov's post, on the Russian social networking site VK, was quickly deleted. A later post appeared to blame Ukrainian government forces for shooting down the plane.
(2) The VK account may not actually be run by Strelkov at all. BuzzFeed's Max Seddon spoke to eastern Ukrainian rebels who said the page "is a fake made by fans." If that's the case, it may be that Strelkov fanboys saw the plane go down, surmised (perhaps wrongly) that rebels had shot them down, and bragged about it on the VK page. It is also possible, to be fair, that the rebels were lying to Seddon about the VK page.
(3) Strelkov's post appeared to claim credit for shooting down not a civilian airliner but an Antonov AN-26, a two-prop transport plane that is often used by militaries in eastern Europe. The AN-26 is 78 feet long; MH17 was a Boeing 777, which is 242 feet long. It's possible that rebels mistook the large Boeing 777 for a much smaller AN-26, especially from thousands of feet away. But this casts a bit further doubt on the idea that people fired on the airplane and then posted on VK about it; if someone fired on the plane they likely would have noticed it was a large jet and not a small-ish prop plane.
None of this specifically exonerates eastern Ukrainian rebels, who are after all heavily armed, poorly organized, and highly aggressive. Armed rebels shooting down a civilian airliner they'd mistaken as a military plane is sadly within the realm of possibility. But the strangeness surrounding Strelkov's posts should cast doubt on conclusions that he or his forces were directly responsible, at least until further evidence comes in.
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On Thursday, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed in eastern Ukraine, raising tensions in the ongoing Ukraine crisis as rumors circulated that rebels may have shot the plane down. While there is no clear connection yet and those rumors may turn out to be false, the Ukraine crisis was already entering a new stage of escalation. The day before the crash, the Obama administration had imposed a slate of new sanctions on the Russian economy to punish it for its support for separatist rebels. In the morning, even before the crash, the Moscow Exchange plummeted:
Micex_7.17
Moex/Business Insider
But why, after the US has imposed a number of sanctions before, are the markets responding now? And why is the US imposing these new sanctions? Here are a few answers.

These sanctions are different in kind from the ones before them

The New Republic's Julia Ioffe has the clearest and best explanation of how the new sanctions work. As Ioffe explains, there are two kinds of sanctions in the new package. First, the US hit high-level Russian officials and defense companies with traditional sanctions: it froze their assets and prohibited companies from doing business with them. The defense companies, including the famous Kalashnikov, were notable, but this type of sanction is basically an extension of the current US strategy.
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Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images
What's new about the US sanctions was the introduction of something called "sectoral" sanctions. These targeted core, huge sections of the Russian economy: most notably oil/gas and banking. Russia's massive state-run oil company, Rosneft, and largest independent gas producer, Novatek, were both hit. Two big banks, Gazprombank and VEB, also got hit. These sanctions don't freeze assets or prohibit any business; rather, they prohibit any new deals with these companies and prevent banks from holding their debt for more than 90 days.

The new sanctions bite Russia a lot harder, but still aren't as strong as they could be

This is a very big deal. Expert estimates suggest between 17 and 25 percent of Russia's GDP comes from oil and gas, so limiting business opportunities abroad is painful. Russian banks have a serious problem raising domestic capital, so curtailing their access to foreign money seriously crimps their ability to make loans and do business. And the sanctions will affect both US and EU companies, because "every Western business is ultimately forced to comply with the Securities and Exchange Commission/U.S. Treasury Department/[Office of Foreign Assets Control]," Timothy Ash, an analyst at London's Standard Bank, writes. The EU is easily Russia's most important trading partner.
"I'd assume it's the blatant transfer of Russian weapons to the rebels"
Moreover, the effects of the sanctions could semi-permanently unsettle Russian markets. "Through these actions the US administration has sent a very clear signal to US and Western investors that they need to think long and hard over having exposure to Russia," according to Ash. "Risk management teams and investors are likely to dump Russian assets first, rather than be caught further down the line with sanctioned Russian assets on their balance sheets."
Mark Adomanis, a University of Pennsylvania graduate student who watches Russian sanctions closely, thinks the sanctions aren't as bad as they could have been. "They lack the severity and scope that we were previously told sectoral sanctions would have," he writes via email. That said, "these sanctions definitely have some sting to them, and they've positively infuriated the Russians."

The sanctions are punishing Russia for recent weapons transfers to Ukrainian rebels

So the sanctions are pretty painful, but they aren't going to nuke the Russian economy. What's the point of imposing them now?
"If the Russians respond aggressively the situation could escalate very quickly"
"I'd assume it's the blatant transfer of Russian weapons to the rebels," Dan Drezner, a professor at Tufts' Fletcher School and an expert on sanctions, said. Indeed, Russia has been openly dumping weapons — including tanks and rocket launchers — into East Ukraine. That's because the Ukrainian military had been slowly getting the upper hand over the Russian-backed separatists, including retaking two major rebel-held cities, Slovyansk and Kramatorsk, in early July.
An anonymous administration official confirmed Drezner's suspicion — that this was a signal to the Russians to back off — to Ioffe. "The Russians were reacting to the fall of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk by increasing military pressure," the official said. "That's not cost-free. We said so and we meant it."
It's not apparent whether this will work. In the past, US economic pressure appears to have induced Russia to (at least temporarily) back down in Ukraine. Adomanis isn't sure it'll be the same this time around. "Moscow has promised to retaliate, but it's not yet clear how it does that," he writes. "Options range from getting more involved in supporting the separatists in Eastern Ukraine all the way to responding with (purely symbolic) visa bans against high-ranking Americans."
"If the Russians respond aggressively, the situation could escalate very quickly, and you'd see even more aggressive sanctions from the US," he concludes.
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Russia’s top businessmen fear lasting damage after MH17 rocket attack


MOSCOW—Having for months dismissed Western sanctions on Russia as toothless, business leaders here are now afraid that the crash of the Malaysian jetliner will bring about an international isolation that will cause serious and lasting economic damage.
Throughout the Ukrainian crisis, US and European sanctions had mainly targeted a handful of individuals, sparing economic ties. Then last week the US imposed penalties on some of Russia’s largest corporations. And when the airliner was shot down just a day later in Ukraine, allegedly by separatists with Moscow’s support, concern grew in Russia that the sanctions would only get worse as President Vladimir Putin showed little sign of cooperation.
“Over the past few months, there was a sense that Mr. Putin acted decisively, forcefully, and correctly, and that everybody else in the world would accommodate themselves to that reality and we’d get back to something like business as usual,” said Bernard Sucher, a Moscow-based entrepreneur and board member of Aton, an independent investment bank. “Now we’re talking about real fear.”
When Russia annexed Crimea in March, triggering a deep freeze in relations with the West, stock markets in Russia dropped but later rebounded as investors understood that the country’s lucrative trade relations would remain largely unscathed. Europe, which is in frail economic health, dared not block energy imports from Russia or the trade in goods such as cars or heavy machinery. Oil companies like BP and ExxonMobil continued their operations in Russia, with some even signing new deals.
The US took a tougher stance, but until last week was also careful to limit sanctions to asset freezes on individuals who were perceived to have had a hand in supporting eastern Ukraine’s insurgency.
On July 16, the night before the Malaysia Airlines jet crash, Russian markets appeared to have fully recovered from the crisis in Ukraine, with the Micex benchmark index adding roughly 23 percent since March 1.
Then last week, the US announced new sanctions that had investors in Russia fear a turn for the worst. The US shut off its financial markets for a broad swath of defense companies, as well as Russia’s largest oil company, a gas producer, half-owned by a close Putin ally, and a major bank. The move offered investors a glimpse of what they had thought would never happen: serious international isolation of Russia’s powerhouse corporations.
According to Alexis Rodzianko, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia, those sanctions were the first to really pack a punch because they were “broader and more specific: they went beyond the symbolic.”
Rodzianko said anecdotal evidence suggests that in some cases investment decisions have been delayed “particularly when people were just considering coming in to the market.”
When the Malaysian airliner went down one day later, investors worried conditions would only get worse.
The stock market has fallen 5 percent since Thursday last week. That is expected to see investors keep pulling money out of the country. They withdrew $74.6 billion in the first six months of the year, a figure forecast to reach $100 billion for the whole of 2014—almost twice the $60 billion in withdrawals seen last year.
Growth, meanwhile, is nose-diving. The International Monetary Fund this week slashed its forecast for 2014 from 1.3 percent to 0.2 percent. And the currency is unstable—Russia’s central bank on Friday raised its key interest rate by half a point to 8 percent, saying the heightened geopolitical risks are putting pressure on the ruble.
And yet, there is little public criticism—none at all from the billionaire oligarchs.
Russia’s biggest companies denied comment for this story. One spokesman said he was not authorized even to say a “no comment” for an article about sanctions.
A person who had close ties to the government until last year told the Associated Press that it is “too risky to express concerns in public and even in closed door meetings with Putin.” The person, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said tycoons usually express their concerns to government officials who in turn communicate them to the president.
That silence has been a hallmark of Putin’s rule. In the early 2000s, he forged a deal with Russian businessmen in which the Kremlin offered its protection for the often murky deals that created the oligarchs’ fortunes. In return, the tycoons promised to not meddle in government policy. The only man who broke this rule—Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man—was punished with two sets of charges and spent 10 years in prison before he was pardoned by Putin a month before the showcase Winter Olympics held in Russia.
In public, Putin appears to be unfazed by the economic sanctions. In a speech on Tuesday, he suggested Russia should accept to sacrifice economic growth for the sake of foreign-policy objectives—a nightmare scenario for a business leader hoping to tap global markets.
But analysts note that for all his belligerent rhetoric, the Russian leader has softened on some fronts in Ukraine.
Though the first rounds of sanctions, which targeted Putin’s billionaire friends, were perceived as a failure, they did work in the sense that Russia did not annex any other parts of Ukraine the way it did with Crimea, says Sergei Guriev, a prominent Russian economist now working at Sciences Po university in Paris. They also “forced the Russian government to recognize Ukrainian elections,” he said.
Putin seems to be in a balancing act, seeing how far he can pursue his geopolitical interest in Ukraine without getting hit too hard by Western sanctions. The US and EU’s level of tolerance may have dropped since the Malaysian plane’s downing, however, increasing the risk of damage to Russia’s economy.
Russia’s former longtime finance minister Alexei Kudrin blames a part of Russia’s political elite for seeking Russia’s isolation from the rest of the world, no matter the cost to businesses.
“Business wants development, wants to invest, build new factories, trade. And businesses are really worried about what they hear on radio and television,” Kudrin said in an interview with the Itar-TASS news agency.
On Tuesday EU governments targeted more Russian officials with economic sanctions and travel bans and said they would draw up more sweeping measures in coming days if Russia failed to use its influence over the rebels to ensure an independent investigation into the Malaysian plane disaster. New sanctions would target Russia’s high-tech, energy and weapons industries, they said.
Despite those warnings, however, it is unclear how far the 28-member bloc is willing to go, as it has a lot to lose economically. Defying calls from London and Washington to impose an arms embargo on Russia, France on Tuesday announced it would go ahead with the sale of a warship to Russia.
The US and EU are still playing something similar to “good cop, bad cop” with Russia, said Chris Weafer of the Moscow-based Macro-Advisory, but it remains to be seen whether the Malaysian plane crash will be a game changer.
“Either the event will push Russia toward greater isolationism...or it will mark some sort of end, or the start of the end, of the most dangerous phase in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.”
In the meantime, Russia’s businesses will have to cope with the uncertainty.

In Photo: An electronic board displays a drop in the stock price index curve at the Micex-RTS Moscow Exchange, Russia’s benchmark stock index, the day after the downing of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, in Moscow, Russia, on July 18. Russia’s Micex stock index fell 1.6 percent at 4:22 p.m. in Moscow, following a 2.3-percent decline on July 17. (Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg)

Downing of MH17 jet in Ukraine 'may be war crime' - UN

Wreckage of MH17, 26 Jul 14 There are fears that some evidence at the crash site may have been compromised as it was not protected
The downing of the Malaysia Airlines jet in Ukraine may be a "war crime", the UN's human rights chief says.
Pro-Russia Ukrainian rebels and the Ukrainian authorities have accused each other of shooting down flight MH17.
A Ukrainian official said on Monday that MH17's data recorders show a "massive explosive decompression" caused by a rocket.
Meanwhile, heavy fighting has again prevented international police from reaching the crash site.
Ukraine's military said it was battling separatists for control of several towns near the site in eastern Ukraine.
All 298 people on board the airliner - mostly Dutch - died on 17 July.
'War crime'
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International police want to help secure the huge site so that plane wreckage and human remains can be examined by crash experts.
Most of the bodies have been removed, many of them repatriated to the Netherlands.
"This violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime," Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said of the downing of MH17.
"Every effort will be made to ensure that anyone committing serious violations of international law including war crimes will be brought to justice, no matter who they are," Ms Pillay said.
Ms Pillay spoke as the latest UN report on Ukraine suggested at least 1,129 people have been killed and 3,442 wounded in the Ukraine conflict since mid-April.
Smoke from shelling rises over a residential apartment house in Shakhtarsk, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine on 28 July 2014. Ukraine's army says it has advanced into the town of Shakhtarsk, near the crash site
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The conflict has displaced more than 200,000 people, many of whom have fled east to neighbouring Russia.
Pro-Russian rebels have been accused of attacking the plane with a missile fired from a Buk system, also known to Nato as an SA-11 Gadfly. The missile is designed to explode close to an aircraft, spraying it with shrapnel.
Flight MH17's two black boxes are currently being analysed by aviation experts in the UK.
Shelling Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he hoped international monitors would be able to deploy on the Ukraine-Russia border in the next few days.
In a statement on Monday, the Ukrainian military said it had "entered" the towns of Shakhtarsk and Torez and was working to seize control of Pervomaysk and Snizhne - all close to the crash site of MH17.
A separatist leader in Donetsk, Vladimir Antyufeev, told the AFP news agency that the Ukrainian army had taken over part of the crash site.
A team of Australian and Dutch police and forensic experts abandoned attempts to reach the site on Monday, blaming the security situation in the area. It was the second failed attempt in as many days.
A convoy of international forensic experts, police officers and OSCE members approach Shakhtarsk, Donetsk region, on 28 July 2014. Fighting prevented a convoy of international forensic experts and police from entering the crash site
A man stands in rubble of a damaged house in Horlivka, Ukraine, on 27 July 2014. Several civilians were killed in heavy shelling in the city of Horlivka over the weekend
"We are sick and tired of being interrupted by gunfights despite the fact that we have agreed that there should be a ceasefire," said Alexander Hug, an official from the OSCE mission to Ukraine.
The army is also trying to take control of two main roads in eastern Ukraine, which the government in Kiev believes to be vital supply lines from Russia for rebel forces in Donetsk.
In the past 24 hours there has been heavy artillery fire at the city of Horlivka, where several civilians were killed.
In Donetsk at least three people died in shelling, the municipal authorities say. And there are reports of civilian casualties in the shelling of Luhansk, which is also held by the rebels.
The US has produced what it calls satellite evidence that rockets have been fired at Ukrainian forces from Russian soil.
Russia denies that any of its forces are helping the rebels.
Images from US state department purporting to show evidence of Russian firing across the border into Ukraine, 26 July 2014 The US state department says these images show where multiple rocket launchers have been used to fire from Russia into Ukraine
 

Ukraine: MH17 Downed by ‘Massive Explosive Decompression’









Firefighters arrive at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 near the village of Hrabove, Ukraine, on July 17, 2014.
Firefighters arrive at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 near the village of Hrabove, Ukraine, on July 17, 2014. Dmitry Lovetsky—AP

As U.N. human-rights chief suggests downing of the plane may be a "war crime"









Ukrainian authorities said Monday that black-box data from the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 revealed shrapnel from a missile caused “massive explosive decompression” onboard, as the U.N. human-rights chief said the aircraft’s shooting down “may amount to a war crime.”
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that “this violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime. It is imperative that a prompt, thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation be conducted into this event.”
All 298 people aboard MH17 died when the passenger jet fell from the sky in eastern Ukraine on July 17 after being struck by a missile believed by the U.S. to have been fired from territory under the control of pro-Russian separatists.
Ukrainian authorities pointed to “massive explosive decompression” from missile shrapnel as the cause of the crash on Monday, the Wall Street Journal reports, though European officials analyzing the on-flight recordings have not confirmed the conclusion. Explosive decompression happens when the air inside an aircraft depressurizes at an extremely fast rate, with results similar to a bomb detonation.
Clashes in Ukraine, meanwhile, continue to block outside authorities from conducting a proper investigation. At the crash site, however, Dutch and Australian authorities were blocked from recovering bodies and gathering forensic evidence for the third day in a row Monday because of continuous fighting in the area.
Clashes between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists have killed an estimated 1,129 people and wounded 3,442 since mid-April, according to a U.N. analysis of casualties.
“I would like to stress to all those involved in the conflict, including foreign fighters, that every effort will be made to ensure that anyone committing serious violations of international law including war crimes will be brought to justice, no matter who they are,” said Pillay. “I urge all sides to bring to an end the rule of the gun and restore respect for the rule of law and human rights.”








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A woman cries during a religious service held by villagers in memory of the victims at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine, July 22, 2014. (Vadim Ghirda—AP)














Rebels claim Kiev now controls part of MH17 site


AFP


Shakhtarsk (Ukraine) (AFP) - Ukraine's army on Monday seized control of part of the vast site where Malaysian airliner MH17 crashed, insurgents said, as the United Nations announced the downing of the plane could constitute a war crime.
After explosions and fighting blocked a new attempt by Dutch and Australian police to access the east Ukraine crash site, Kiev confirmed that its troops had now entered a string of towns around the scene, including Shakhtarsk, 10 kilometres (six miles) away.
The unarmed international mission was forced to turn back for the second day running before reaching the site, where the remains of some of the 298 victims still lie since the July 17 disaster.
Dutch investigators leading the probe said it was now likely that some of these remains may never be recovered.
"I would love to give a guarantee that all the remains will come back, and all possessions, but... I believe the chances are not very good that we will get it all," Dutch police chief Gerard Bouman told parliament in The Hague.
More than 1,100 people have been killed in the fighting engulfing east Ukraine over the past three months, the United Nations said, a toll that does not include the plane crash victims.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the "horrendous shooting down" of the Malaysian passenger jet in what was then rebel-held territory on July 17, and demanded a "thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation".
"This violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime," she said.
The Red Cross has said Ukraine is now in civil war -- a classification that would make parties in the conflict liable to prosecution for war crimes.
Western powers, which has accused Moscow of fanning the rebellion by supplying it with weapons including the missile system allegedly used to shot down MH17, urged new sanctions against Russia.
Data from the plane's black boxes analysed as a part of a Dutch-led probe showed that the crash was caused by shrapnel from a rocket explosion, Kiev said.
But on the ground, investigators have made little headway into gathering evidence because of the intensifying fighting around the crash site.
- 'Let's go!' -
An AFP reporter in Shakhtarsk said artillery fire could be heard in the town and plumes of black smoke billowed into the sky, while a car was seen driving away with the sign "children" written in red on its front and back.
A couple was also seen leaving the town on foot with a young boy, as the woman shouted: "Let's go! Let's go!"
If Kiev manages to cement its latest gains, it could cut off access to main rebel bastion Donetsk from Russia, which stands accused by the West of funnelling arms to the insurgents.
The rebels did not specify which part of the crash site is now back under Kiev control and there is no confirmation from Ukrainian officials.
Andriy Lysenko, Ukraine's military spokesman, claimed that troops were not carrying out any fighting but that "we would occupy (the crash site) once the rebels withdraw".
Rebels signalled they were in no mood for retreat.
The top rebel military commander of the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic", Igor Strelkov, told a press conference: "We are planning to restore the connection between Shakhtarsk and Torez this evening. Our fighters are there now on the attack."
The escalating fighting has led authorities in The Netherlands -- which lost 193 citizens in the crash -- to conclude that it was unrealistic to send an armed mission to secure the site as troops risked getting dragged into the conflict.
Both sides in Ukraine's war have traded blame over who is responsible for the chaos around the site, with Kiev accusing the rebels of "destroying evidence" and the insurgents saying army shelling was devastating parts of the site where the plane wreckage is located.
Washington released new photographs to bolster its claim that Russia was now taking a direct role in the conflict by firing into Ukraine, targeting the armed forces.
Meanwhile, Russia said international monitors would visit its side of the volatile border over the next few days after accusing the United States of "hindering" their work on the ground.
- 'Both sides using heavy arms' -
Farther away from the MH17 site, fighting continued as Kiev pressed on with its offensive to retake the industrial east.
Local authorities said three civilians were killed and five injured in Donetsk, a city of one million, which has been serving as a base for international monitors and journalists who are travelling regularly to the crash site some 60 kilometres away.
The military said it is also massing troops around key rebel base Gorlivka, 45 kilometres north of Donetsk, "in preparation for liberating it", a day after fighting there claimed 13 lives.
Local authorities in the second main rebel city of Lugansk said that five civilians were killed and 15 injured due to "constant firing" over the past 24 hours.
Amid the fighting, Pillay warned that both sides were "employing heavy weaponry in built-up areas, including artillery, tanks, rockets and missiles".
"Both sides must take great care to prevent more civilians from being killed or injured," the UN high commissioner said, sounding the warning even as Kiev claimed that rebels on Monday fired unguided Grad rockets at residential buildings in Shakhtarsk. 







U.N. rights chief: MH17 downing a possible war crime


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The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine that left 298 people dead may amount to a war crime, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said Monday.
Navi Pillay, the U.N.'s top human rights official, called for a "prompt, thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation" of what what she called an "horrendous" incident.
"This violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime," she told reporters in Geneva, according to the U.N. office.
Flight 17 was downed while en route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam on July 17. U.S. and Ukrainian officials say it was shot down by a surface-to-air missile from rebel territory, most likely by mistake.
READ: The full report by the U.N. human rights office
Russia and Russian-backed separatist groups in eastern Ukraine have denied responsibility for the incident.






The bodies of most of the victims were removed from the crash site after several days of delays by separatist groups. The remains were flown to Amsterdam, where they are being identified. The largest number of victims were citizens of The Netherlands.
Attempts to send international experts to the crash site to investigate the cause of the shootdown were hampered during the weekend by continued fighting in the area between Ukrainian troops and separatists. Some bodies of the victims still remain in the fields at the huge crash area near the Russian border.
Pillay's remarks coincided with her office's release of its fourth report on the conflict in Ukraine. The latest assessment says at least 1,129 people had been killed and 3,442 wounded as of Saturday, and more than 100,000 have fled the violence since April.
The report by the U.N.'s team of 39 field monitors in Ukraine says there has been an alarming buildup of heavy weaponry in civilian areas of Donetsk and Luhansk — including artillery, tanks, rockets and missiles that are being used to inflict increasing casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure.
The report notes "egregious human rights abuses" in the two locations, which are controlled by the rebels groups.
"There have been hundreds of abductions with many victims tortured," the report says. "Increasing numbers of civilians have been killed."
Gianni Magazzeni, head of the U.N. office's branch that oversees Ukraine, said all governments must respect "the presumption of innocence of civilians."
"There is an increase in the use of heavy weaponry in areas that are basically surrounded by public buildings," he said. "All international law needs to be applied and fully respected."








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Dmitry Lovetsky / Associated Press
Pro-Russia gunmen flank a convoy of international forensic experts, police officers and security monitors in Shakhtarsk, Ukraine. The team was forced by nearby gunfire to halt 20 miles short of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site.
July 29, 2014, 1:48 a.m.
Ukrainian government forces recaptured three towns from pro-Russia separatists and were pressing toward the Malaysia Airlines crash site in eastern Ukraine where the separatists accused of downing the plane have obstructed international disaster investigators, officials said Monday.
The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, meanwhile, said at a news conference in Geneva that the shooting down of MH-17 and the deaths of all 298 people on board were being investigated for possible war-crime charges.
Pro-Russia militants who seized a dozen towns and cities in eastern Ukraine in March and April have seen the territory under their control reduced by more than half during the past few weeks and are now holed up in their embattled strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk. The separatists also control the miles-wide crash site strewn with debris and victims' remains but face an advancing government offensive emboldened by international outrage over the plane's destruction.
Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council, told journalists in Kiev on Monday that government troops had recovered control of Shakhtarsk, about 20 miles from the center of the crash site.
"Our troops entered Shakhtarsk, Torez and Lutuhyne," Lysenko said, claiming government control of towns on roads leading to the wreckage strewn among sunflower fields.
A team of more than 60 Dutch and Australian investigators attempted to reach the crash site for a second time Monday but stopped short because of fighting nearby, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe told reporters in Kiev.
The international police team is charged with securing the debris field near the village of Hrabove but has been prevented from reaching the area by fighting and militants' roadblocks since the July 17 disaster.
U.S. intelligence sources have identified the cause of the crash as a surface-to-air missile launched by a sophisticated BUK anti-aircraft system allegedly provided to the separatists by Russia.
U.S. and European Union officials have accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of arming the separatists and instigating them with his late February seizure of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and annexation of the militarily strategic region to Russia. Much of the eastern Ukraine territory occupied by the pro-Russia militants would provide a land bridge for Russia toward Crimea, which hosts Russia's naval fleet but has no border with the Russian mainland.
Putin denies responsibility for the separatists' actions, although many of those killed in battles with Ukrainian forces have been identified as Russian citizens and Russian special forces veterans openly command the militants in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
The European Union is expected to vote this week on a proposal for tough new sanctions that would target key sectors of the Russian economy, including banking, oil and defense. The U.S. has led a campaign to impose harsh penalties on the Russian economy to force the Kremlin to change its policies in Ukraine and halt alleged support for the separatists.
The Russia-allied militants located the downed plane's black boxes and held them for several days before turning them over to investigators led by the Netherlands, which lost 193 citizens in the crash. Lysenko said the Ukrainian government had been informed that an initial review of the black-box data suggested the crash was caused by shrapnel puncturing the fuselage, causing massive decompression and breakup of the Boeing 777 that had been flying at an altitude of more than 33,000 feet.
The flight from Amsterdam en route to Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, was carrying more than 100 passengers destined for an international AIDS conference in Australia, including 28 Australians.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was in Kiev on Monday to discuss Ukrainian government support for an armed Australian police force to protect the crash site and foreign investigators trying to collect evidence from the scene.
"We'll be seeking assurances that any military action doesn't compromise our humanitarian mission," Bishop told a news conference.
Bishop also said Australia hoped Russia would use its influence on the rebels to ensure access to the site so that investigators can determine responsibility for disaster.
In Geneva, a U.N. report released Monday said the eastern Ukraine conflict spurred by pro-Russian militants' land grabs four months ago has claimed the lives of 1,129 people.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the Malaysia Airlines jet crash was being investigated as a possible war crime and called for immediate and unhindered access for investigators to the crash site.
"This violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime. It is imperative that a prompt, thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation be conducted into this event," Pillay said.
She said all those responsible for the killings, detentions and rights abuses would be identified and brought to justice.
Pillay urged all sides "to bring to an end the rule of the gun and restore respect for the rule of law and human rights."
Zeitchik reported from Kiev and Williams from Los Angeles.
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