To ensure that the truth behind this tragic incident can be quickly determined, all parties involved in the conflict and other nations that have a stake in the matter, including Russia, should positively cooperate with an international investigation team.
The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines passenger plane over eastern Ukraine last week.
The resolution called on all states to cooperate fully with efforts to ensure that those responsible for this incident will be held to account. It demanded that pro-Russian militant groups that control the area where the plane came down immediately provide international investigators “safe, secure, full and unrestricted access to the site” and “refrain from any actions that may compromise the integrity of the crash site”.
In the days after the airliner was shot down, armed rebels brazenly interfered with investigators’ efforts to examine the crash site and removed bodies of the victims. Some of their actions appeared to constitute tampering with evidence, such as their quick retrieval of the black boxes that contain flight data and records of communications between the flight crew and others.
The Security Council’s adoption of a legally binding resolution demanding the correction of these actions is significant. The militants accepted the resolution and have handed over two black boxes to Malaysian authorities. They have also relented on their initial refusal to hand over the victims’ bodies. Although this has come far too late, they are steps in the right direction.
Ukraine and the United States have criticised the Russian military’s involvement in this incident, including its providing of surface-to-air missiles to the pro-Russian militants. Their accusations are backed by evidence, including satellite images of the missile launch and intercepted conversations and communications between the militants after the plane was shot down.
As the main supporter of the rebels, Russia has an important role to play in the investigation.
Moscow supported the resolution in an apparent bid to avoid becoming internationally isolated at a time when Britain, France and Germany are considering tightening sanctions on Russia as anti-Russia sentiment grows in Europe, where most of the passengers on Flight MH17 came from.However, there is no guarantee efforts to unravel the truth will progress smoothly. Russia continues to say one thing while it does another. Although Moscow has indicated its willingness to cooperate with the investigation, it still denies involvement in the incident. It has lambasted Ukraine for permitting civilian aircraft to fly through airspace over a conflict zone as “criminal”, and also has been trying to shift the blame for the downing of the Malaysia Airlines plane. We think Russian President Vladimir Putin has a responsibility to exercise the influence he wields over the armed groups and supply whatever information he possesses to ensure the international investigation team can get to the bottom of what really happened.
The investigation will clarify whether the claims made by Washington and Moscow have reason on their side. The International Civil Aviation Organisation and nations caught up in this incident must ensure that a fair, transparent investigation can be conducted.
The Security Council resolution also demanded that all military activities immediately cease in the area surrounding the crash site. Using this opportunity, the Ukrainian military and the pro-Russian armed groups should work towards an immediate ceasefire.