UPDATED - Malaysian MH17 crash : anger grows as investigations stagnate

This article has been updated to take into account the latest developments on the issue.

UPDATES (29 July)

-EU and US agree to increase sanctions against Russia. The decision takes places while concerns raise about Russia’s potential intervention in Ukraine. They should start targeting whole sectors, and no longer individual enterprises, in energy and arms trade notably. Nevertheless, the impact of the sanctions may be limited. Indeed, previous ones have only increased Vladimir Putin’s credibility in the eyes of Russian citizens. The new level of sanctions should stop the financing of Russian public banks in Europe and prevent Europeans from buying assets or investing in these companies.

-Russia sentenced to pay $50 billion in Yukos case. The Hague’s Permanent Arbitration Court sentenced Russia to pay the historically high amount of USD 50 billion to oil company Yukos shareholders on Monday 28 July. This sum represents a compensation for the breaking up and nationalisation of the company in 2005. Most of its assets had been transferred to majority state-owned Rosneft, one of the companies that have been targeted by the United States’ latest sanctions against Russia. The ruling may have big consequences on Russia’s economic stability while the country is on the verge of recession.

-The US accuses Russia of bombing Ukraine. US Secretary of State officials have published several satellite photos to prove that Russia has been bombing Ukrainian territory. They show craters, which may be the result of Russian missile firing.

-Ukrainian army discovers first mass grave in Sloviansk. After regaining control of several towns in Eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian army exhumed four bodies from a mass grave in Sloviansk. They may have been killed by separatists in early June.   

UPDATES (28 July)

-Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk resigned after two parties, UDAR and Svoboda left the ruling coalition on Thursday 24 July. This decision underlines the current political instability of the country, and legislative elections should take place in the weeks to come. No parliamentary elections have taken place since President Poroshenko replaced the former President Yanukovych in February.
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-On Sunday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte declared that "Getting the military upper hand for an international mission in this area is … not realistic”. This declaration put an end to previous plans aiming at deploying a joint Australian and Dutch armed force to secure the crash site. They feared the conflict may eventually involve the deployed officers as heavy fighting resumed near the city of Donetsk. Local authorities said five civilians  had died and fifteen had been injured in the last 24 hours fights, despite the agreement signed between Ukrainian separatists and the Malaysian government on Sunday. More forensic experts as well as policemen should be sent instead of military personnel.

UPDATES (24 July)

-Ukrainian rebels confirms possession of BUK missile. Alexander Khodakovsky, commander of the Vostok Battalion recognised in an interview for Reuters that rebels dispose of BUK missile systems. The United States have been suspecting them of using such missiles to bring down the MH 17 airplane. The self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk had so far denied possessing such weapons. He further added that “[the BUK missile was] probably sent it back in order to remove proof of its presence." A Pentagon’s spokeswoman, Eileen Lainez said that these revelations confirmed that "Russian-backed separatists have received arms, training and support from Russia."

-National mourning day in the Netherlands. 40 bodies arrived yesterday afternoon on the Eindhoven airbase, in presence of King Willem-Alexander, Queen Máxima and Prime Minister Mark Rutte, before being moved to the military base of Hilversum. They were transported by a convoy of 40 hearses, saluted on their way by hundreds of Dutch people, gathered along the 65-mile route convoy’s journey to throw flowers. At 4:07 PM, a minute of silence was observed across the country in tribute to the 193 Dutch victims of the MH 17 crash. Some commentators have recently criticised the Dutch government for not being tough enough on Russia, as commercial interests prevail over diplomatic sanctions. About 200 victims bodies are expected to arrive in the Netherlands by the end of the week.

-Two fighters shot down by rebels. The two Ukrainian planes were shot down by separatists near the Russian border, not far from the MH 17 crash site. The area currently undergoes large military actions as government troops are trying to cut off the flow of both fighters and supplies from Russia.

- Australia ready to send forces to secure crash site. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared this morning that fifty federal policemen would be sent to Ukraine in order to secure the MH 17 crash site. He added that as long as men “with a vested interest in the outcome of any investigation” remain present onsite, investigations would not be fruitful. Australia, who lost 27 citizens in the crash, will be accompanied by the Netherlands in their efforts to secure the crash site.

UPDATES (July 23)

- Victims of plane crash are to arrive in the Netherlands this afternoon. They will be brought to the military base of Hilversum for identification. The Netherlands have taken the lead in the investigation and forensic efforts, after Ukrainian authorities gave them the right to do so.

-EU toughens sanctions on Russia. New sanctions have been decided during the EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on 22 July. They  should touch in priority Russian President Vladimir Putin’s  inner circle, and plans an arms embargo and financial restrictions on businesses. Their implementation is however not immediate and will depend on Moscow’s attitude regarding Ukrainian separatists in the days to come. The UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond declared that : "[he] would expect to see that process now moving forward at pace unless the Russians deliver on all the demands [the EU] has made."

-US intelligence officials declare Malaysian plane was downed by error. Relying on photos, social media and voiceprint analysis, US officials made case that the plane was most probably shot down “by error”. The added that there is "solid case it was an SA-11 fired from Eastern Ukraine under conditions created by Russia."

-UK criticizes France for building assault ships to Russia. The contract signed in 2011 between Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Nicolas Sarkozy planed the construction of two Mistral-class helicopter assault ships to Russia, against €1,2bn. Although the sanctions decided yesterday include an arms embargo, their non-retroactive aspect would not go against this contract. UK Prime Minister David Cameron declared such a contract would be “unthinkable” in the current international situation. French President Francois Hollande answered by saying that the first ship, which is almost ready, would be delivered in October, and the delivery of the second would depend on the Russian attitude in the coming weeks.

- Black boxes have been transmitted to the UK-based International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on Wednesday morning.

UPDATES (22 July)

- The UN Security Council passed on Monday 21 July an unanimous resolution, condemning in the “strongest terms” the downing of the Malaysian Airlines MH 17. It allows de deployment of a United Nations civil aviation agency mission to investigate the tragedy and asked for unfettered access to the crash site by armed groups. Moscow also voted the improved resolution, after the terms  “shooting down” were changed to “downing” the plane.

Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans emphasized on the necessity to bring the bodies of his fellow citizens home : “This is the political game that is being played with human remains and it’s despicable”. “We are a nation united in our wish to bring our loved ones back home and also our wish to investigate what happened and then hold those responsible accountable,” he added. 

- The black boxes of the flight were handed over by separatists to Malaysian experts a few hours after the Security Council passed its resolution. Alexander Borodai, the self proclaimed Prime Minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, eventually handed the devices to Malaysian Colonel Mohamed Sakri who thanked "his excellency Mr Borodai” during an unexpected night ceremony. The latter reaffirmed that pro-Russia rebels had nothing to do with the crash, contrary to the Kiev government who had "both the technical ability and the motive" to bring down the MH 17 plane, he said.

- Later on Monday, the refrigerated trains that carried the bodies of the victims in the train station of Torez, a city controlled by the rebels, eventually moved towards Donetsk and to the Ukrainian government-controlled city of Kharkov. From there, the bodies should be sent back to the Netherlands in a Dutch plane that arrived in the morning of Tuesday 22 July. The repatriation of the bodies should give respite to the victim’s relatives after days of expectations.

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298 people died on Thursday 17 July in the crash of Malaysian Airlines MH 17 passenger plane flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, in the unstable region of Donetsk in Ukraine. While uncertainties remain as for how the plane was effectively attacked, 272 bodies had already been found this morning and loaded on two refrigerated railroad cars. The tragedy has raised a lot of international reactions and anger as the area was controlled by pro-Russian separatists suspected of launching a missile that hit the plane and later taking evidence away from the crash scene. Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged the warring parties to ensure an international investigation can take place in the Donetsk region, while the United Nations Security Council is issuing a resolution.

Catastrophe management pointed out

The UN Security Council will hold a meeting on Monday 21 July, four days after the plane crash. Its resolution draft "expresses grave concern at reports of insufficient and limited access to the crash site." It asks for unrestricted access to the site for the investigating authorities and for militias to refrain from any damaging actions, since vital clues may already have been lost in the days that followed the tragedy. Management of the catastrophe by separatists has provoked international anger and reactions have been numerous especially on behalf of the two countries most affected. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the blocking of the site "totally disgusting" while a Malaysian Minister declared on Twitter that "Pro-Russian terrorists have not handled #MH17 victims with dignity. Putin promised the PM of Malaysia Najib Razak he would help. He hasn't." In parallel, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott had strong words for Russia, declaring that the event involved a “Russian-controlled territory, Russian-backed rebels, quite likely a Russian-supplied weapon. Russia can’t wash its hands of this.” The plane clash represents a national catastrophe for the Netherlands, who lost 193 of its citizens, along 43 Malaysians, 27 Australians notably.

An OSCE mission has been dispatched in the area on Saturday 19 of July, composed above all of monitors and only a few aviation experts and investigators. Its deputy chief, Alexander Hug deplored not being able "to count [the bodies] as that would be too difficult in the situation", a situation where armed rebels barred access to the crash site in the first days following the crash and currently tightly control the investigators´ work in the field. Nonetheless, Ukrainian Prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk  and around 30 international experts, among which a majority of Dutch nationals, started examining the bodies of victims the morning of the 21st of July.

Putin calls for negotiations

In this regard, Moscow´s stance was long-awaited. Marginalized on the international scene since the US and the European Union have furthered their economic sanctions on July 16, the Kremlin was accused of being indirectly involved in the catastrophe. The United States Secretary of State John Kerry accused on Sunday Moscow of providing pro-Russian separatists with the missiles that hit the plane and supporting the rebels that have contested Kiev´s authority on the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. A tape released by the Ukrainian security services on Saturday recorded rebels dealing with the destruction of the plane and the need for them to find the black boxes following orders from Moscow. It was later denounced as  false by Russian experts, reported the Russian official media ITAR TASS. Today, Vladimir Putin called the event a tragedy and asked for parties involved to sit down at the negotiations table to stop the bloodshed. He underlined that “all the people responsible for the situation in the region should raise their responsibility both before their own people and the peoples of the countries representatives of which have fallen victim to this catastrophe.” “No one has any right to use this tragedy for any selfish politicised interests”, Putin said. “We need to do everything we can to provide security for international experts, who are working at the site of the accident”, he added. The Russian President has also said that Russia will do everything it takes to turn this conflict in Eastern Ukraine from a military one into the phase of peaceful negotiations.  He eventually replaced the event in its wider context by asking for a solution to the crisis in Ukraine through a  peaceful and diplomatic negotiating process.

The Australian Financial Review declared that Moscow would agree to the UN Security Council resolution’s final version if it does not involve Russia as responsible. In this regard, the Russian Ambassador to Australia Vladimir Morozov stated that the "resolution is supported by Russia ... so long as it does not blame somebody." This announcement was confirmed by Russia´s Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin today, who highlighted that Russia would support an impartial international investigation led by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Prime Minister of self-proclaimed Republic of Donetsk Alexander Borodai had previously declared that the plane´s black boxes would only be given to ICAO experts, while Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko favoured a UN-backed mission to investigate the plane crash.

In the current context of civil war in Ukraine, each camp has been blaming the other and military operations have resumed this morning in the city of Donetsk. Politics and mutual distrust render investigations complex for international observers. Vladimir Putin´s latest declarations put under pressure the rebels, while the victims´ bodies have not yet been returned to their mourning families. The Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte repeated during his press conference this morning that "Russia must use her influence on the separatists to improve the situation on the ground." If it does not, "all political, economic and financial options will be on the table against those who are directly or indirectly responsible for that."


Sources : The Guardian I, Ria Novosti, ITAR TASS I, ITAR TASS II, Le Monde I, Le Monde II, Les Echos, The Guardian II, The New York Times.

Photo : Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

Author : Laura Gounon

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