The body of evidence that Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 is overwhelming. To start, separatist leaders bragged about shooting down an aircraft, then retracted their claims when they realized it was a passenger plane and not a military transport.
Buk missile systems, the main suspect in the incident, were documented in three locations near the crash site. AP journalists and a Ukrainian journalist saw the Buk on July 17, 2014, the day MH17 was shot down. In recent days journalists have descended upon the area around the MH17 crash site and have confirmed that the photographs and videos showing Buks in the vicinity were taken where they say they were taken -- residents also say they saw the vehicles.
The Ukrainian government released audio of intercepted phone calls in which the separatists admit that they are receiving weapons from the Russian military -- including Buks with Russian crews -- and that they accidentally shot down the aircraft. One separatist leader, in his rush to distance himself from the killing of nearly 300 civilians, accidentally admitted that the audio is real, but taken out of context. Since then, a video has definitively been geolocated that shows a Buk on its way from the crash site heading back toward Russia.
VICE News coverage on the ground in Ukraine. Watch it here.
Evidence continues to pour in, and each piece of the puzzle appears to fit. Beyond this, though, there is likely a wealth of information that could be obtained by a thorough investigation of the crash site and the comprehensive interviewing of residents of the towns where the missiles were spotted. However, journalists who have traveled to Torez, Snezhnoye, and other nearby towns say that the accused murderers are controlling access to the murder scene and are tampering with the evidence. Witnesses are afraid to speak or give their names for fear of retribution.
The accused murderers are holding much of Ukraine hostage, and since MH17 was shot down, the Ukrainian government has become more determined than ever to free the country from the grip of separatists. This week, a freelance reporter for RT traveled to Sloviansk, a town where he'd previously found locals sympathetic to the rebels when the rebels were in charge. But the Ukrainian military since retook the town, and the reporter found that despite his best efforts to put words into the mouths of residents, they were not nearly as pro-Russia or pro-rebel as he remembered.
The reality is that separatism never had popular support. But the separatists are now better equipped than ever, and they're committed to using civilians as human shields. Hundreds of Ukrainian civilians are dead, a country is engulfed in war, and 298 civilians have been shot out of the sky.
And it’s all Russia’s fault. All of it.
There is evidence that more than half of rebel fighters are actually Russian citizens who came to Ukraine -- with weaponry that looks suspiciously like that of the Russian military -- just to fight. More than 60 percent of the rebels killed in a May 26, 2014 raid on an airport were "tourists" from Russia, where their bodies were eventually shipped. The Russian state-controlled media drove a narrative that eastern Ukraine was in the midst of an existential struggle against the West in an attempt to drum up local support. And while initially the Kremlin went to great lengths to hide its significant role in eastern Ukraine’s "rebellion," the separatists have since begun to lose ground and Russian President Vladimir Putin has become even more desperate -- and outright reckless -- in his attempt to militarily prop up the separatists.
Exclusive footage of the MH17 aftermath. Watch it here.
If it weren’t for MH17, the Ukraine headline of the week would be the fact that my team at The Interpreter actually proved that Russia was shelling Ukraine with GRAD rockets. The Buks that shot down MH17 either came from Russia or would have needed a highly trained team of specialists (with matching launch key-cards), a crew that could have been trained only in the Russian military. Wednesday, [23Jul2014] separatists shot down two more Ukrainian military jets, so there are plenty more Russian anti-aircraft missiles still in rebel hands.
The veil has been dropped. Russia is driving this conflict, feeding the flames by providing the rebels with tanks, anti-aircraft missiles, fighters, and perhaps most importantly, cover in the international community.
This crisis exists because Russia wants it to exist. It’s time for the international community to realize that Putin is not a reliable partner in solving it.
James Miller is managing editor of The Interpreter. Follow him on Twitter: @MillerMENA