I was initially skeptical that the Donetsk People’s Republic separatists could pull off this shootdown, speculating it was the act of trigger-happy, that is negligent and mistaken, Ukrainian or Russian air defense crews. Now it appears there is some evidence that a single SA-17 launcher, which apparently has organic tracking ability in the form of its “TELAR” vehicles, may have shot down the airliner. The inability to determine it was a civilian airliner likely was related to the crew’s inexperience with this sophisticated weapon system, coupled with some confusion over the extent of civilian air traffic over the area owing to the closing of the Donetsk airport.
There is a lot of overheated rhetoric regarding this incident. It is not terrorism. Terrorism requires intent. If I run over an old lady because she darts in front of my car, it’s not terrorism or even a crime, it’s just a tragic accident. It might result from my negligence or not. But that doesn’t make it terrorism, any more than errant US bombs that killed Iraqis were “terrorism.” In wars we call this collateral damage. Maybe it is good we are all reminded what this looks like up close.
It’s worth noting who else has done this sort of thing over the years. America shot down an Iranian airliner in 1988 from the USS Vincennes. Israel did in the 70s against a Libyan airliner. France may have shot down an Italian airliner in this matter in 1980.
Let’s consider some first principles. America has no business in getting involved in a Ukrainian civil war over control of Eastern Ukraine. Russia may or may not be supporting the rebels, but this to has nothing to do with us. Ukraine is understandably concerned to preserve its territorial integrity, but its current regime is the outcome of a violent coup, where the coup leaders quickly scrapped an agreement they reached earlier this year and found thugs from Pravy Sektor and other groups in charge.
Russia, wishing to be a respected as a civilized world power would be well served to permit neutral observers to investigate the crash. Candor about events would help its standing, even if its intelligence services or others had some tangential responsibility for this tragic event. Perhaps Russia had more to do with the manning and training of this SAM crew, but, judging by the results, it appears just as likely they over-confidently thought they could figure it out from reading the manuals and the like. In any case, this is a sad situation, but it would become a ridiculous situation if this event somehow became widely thought to be a terrorist incident and cause for additional counterproductive Western opposition to Russia.