Russian separatists’ alleged downing of MH17 marks the day that “Russian foreign policy has finally [gone] off the cliff,” Tom Nichols, a professor of National Security at the U.S. Naval War College, told Al Jazeera.
All 298 people aboard the passenger plane were killed, including 28 Australians. Ukraine’s interior minister blamed pro-Russian separatists for the tragedy and accused the Russians of providing the militants with a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile system.
MH17 was flying at an altitude of over 32,000 feet. This would have placed the aircraft out of the range of shoulder-fired missile systems. A larger and more sophisticated weapon like the Buk is the only possible culprit.
“I think that there’s no question that Russia’s fingerprints are all over this, either directly or indirectly,” Nichols told Al Jazeera. “Only states can shoot down things that are at that altitude.
“This Buk anti-aircraft launcher is not something you can just stick on your shoulder. Its the size of a truck. It has to come from somewhere. It takes a lot of training, It takes several people to operate it,” Nichols said. “This takes people who know what they’re doing.”
The long-term outcome of the downing of MH17 could resemble the consequences that the Soviet Union faced after it accidentally shot down a Korean passenger jet in 1983. The Soviet Union faced an eruption of world anger from which it never fully recovered.
According to Nichols, Putin will also likely face a worldwide backlash for his support of rebel forces.
Putin “will never again be able to portray himself as a savvy, cool broker in international affairs, nor Russia as just another great power. Now, he’s just another Soviet-era thug,” Nichols wrote for The Federalist.
The Pentagon warned on July 16 that Russia was placing between 10,000 and 12,000 soldiers on the Russian-Ukrainian border. Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren also warned that Russia was providing separatists with heavy weaponry.
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