(CNSNews.com) – Two weeks after the world was horrified by the deaths of almost 300 people, killed when a Russian-made missile shot down a Boeing 777 over eastern Ukraine, Russia continues to shrug off accusations of at least indirect responsibility, while pointing a finger at the Ukraine government.
The U.S. and European Union (E.U.) have ratcheted up sanctions against Moscow, but President Vladimir Putin has responded as sanguinely to them as he did to earlier ones, imposed after he annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region last March.
A U.S. intelligence assessment says Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down on July 17 by pro-Russian separatists, likely using a SA-11 surface-to-air missile system and – according U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power – possibly with Russian “technical assistance.”
The Kremlin, however, continues to accuse Kiev.
Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, accused the Ukraine government of trying to “destroy evidence” that implicates it in the crash.
“We fear that the authorities in Kiev are pushed by a desire to destroy evidence, which points to their role in the Malaysian Airlines disaster,” Churkin told the U.N. Security Council in New York on Wednesday.
He said Ukraine’s military campaign against the separatists was violating a Security Council resolution, adopted on July 21, that calls for investigators to have unrestricted access to the site in order to conduct an impartial probe.
Churkin characterized Russia, by contrast, as cooperating fully with the investigation.
“We have handed over to international organizations, including the United Nations and the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] our monitoring data of the [crash] area,” he said. “We expect that others will act just as practically and constructively, instead of the spreading of unsubstantiated accusations and insinuations.”
The separatists, who have been supported by Russia for months, continue to clash with Ukrainian forces trying to defeat them, preventing international investigators from carrying out a proper probe of the crash.
Fierce fighting prevented an OSCE mission and Dutch and Australian police and forensic specialists to travel to the site of the wreckage for most of this week. (The Netherlands had 195 nationals onboard the Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur flight, while 27 Australians died.)
Investigators were finally able to reach the crash site on Thursday, but even if allowed unfettered and safe access from now on, they are dealing with evidence which the separatists – the key suspects in the mass killing – had two weeks to trample, remove and contaminate.
The U.S. and E.U. this week imposed additional sanctions on Russia, in the case of the U.S. expanding measures targeting sectors of its economy, including three major banks and a defense firm.
The E.U., whose economic relationship with Russia dwarfs that of the U.S., imposed an arms embargo and banned the sale of some sensitive dual-use technology. The arms embargo, however, only applies to future sales, a decision designed to allow France to go ahead with an already-negotiated $1.7 billion deal to sell Mistral-class carriers to the Russians.
American Enterprise Institute scholar Leon Aron argued Thursday that the sanctions imposed on Russia “should not be oversold to the Western public.”
“These sanctions are not going to sway Vladimir Putin in the short or perhaps even in the medium term,” he wrote. “Retreat from Ukraine is not an option given the centrality of the Ukraine war to the legitimacy of the Russian regime, Putin’s plans for a presidency-for-life, and the very effective monopolistic propaganda campaign.
“Instead, expect bluster and ‘doubling-down’ in Putin’s proxy war in southeast Ukraine, including more ‘volunteers’ and heavy combat equipment from Russia,” Aron predicted.