Shootdown of plane in Ukraine demands full, unfettered probe

“Really grotesque.” That’s how U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry aptly describes Russia’s demeanor in the aftermath of Thursday’s shootdown of a Malaysian commercial jetliner, killing 298 innocent civilians. Many reasonable observers, however, quickly would add such adjectives as deceptive, ruthless and inhumane.

The shootdown has further heated an already boiling showdown between Russia and the West, the scope of which has not been witnessed since the height of the Cold War in the 1960s and ’70s. In response, all peace-loving nations of the world should unite to ensure an impartial investigation of the disaster, a tightening of sanctions against Russia, tough punishment for those found responsible and a viable route toward long-term stability for the Ukraine, Western Europe and the United States.

Although no official culpability has been assigned just yet in the air calamity, all circumstantial evidence available on the ground of the grisly ruins and in the electronic realm of social media point to at least Russian acquiescence to this clear violation of international law and at most direct Russian involvement in it.

In an interview on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Kerry made a convincing case for Russia’s responsibility. Among other points, the secretary of state noted that Russians supplied the missile used in the attack, trained the extremist rebels who likely fired the weaponry and have done precious little to stop the militants from interfering in the critical first few days of recovery and evidence gathering at the site.

In fact, eyewitness accounts and social-media posts describe extremist rebels in drunken stupors clumsily removing bodies and tampering with remnants of the crash near the village of Hrabove in eastern Ukraine that they control, Kerry said.

Such grotesque incivility must be countered with a full-scale civil investigation before evidence at the crash scene is further corrupted. The U.N. Security Council has called for a “full, thorough and independent international investigation” into the downing of the plane and “appropriate accountability” for those responsible. No time should be wasted toward achieving those ends.


In addition, until Russian President Vladimir Putin demonstrates in his words and actions a sincere willingness to cooperate fully in the probe of the downed jetliner and to end his nation’s aggressive role in the deadly and ongoing Ukrainian conflict, tougher sanctions against his nation should be imposed.

Even before Thursday’s disaster, the United States did just that. On Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced expanded U.S. punitive sanctions targeting two key Russian banks, two energy companies, Ukraine separatists and defense companies. To tighten the noose of those sanctions even more firmly, ministers of the European Union political and security bloc should ratchet up the severity of their own sanctions at their emergency meeting on the crisis Tuesday in Brussels.

Clearly, harsh rhetoric has proved insufficient to stop Russia from egging on the separatists with missiles and heavy military armaments and to end the quagmire that it initiated with its military incursion into the sovereign state of Ukraine earlier this year.

That aggression, coupled with the many unanswered questions surrounding the tragic downing of the Malaysian passenger plane, rightly make Russia the target of international scorn and scrutiny.

“The eyes of the world are on eastern Ukraine and we are going to make sure that the truth is out,” Obama asserted Friday. Toward that end, an unfettered, independent and impartial investigation of the shootdown must be launched posthaste.

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