Malaysia Airlines Tragedy – The Ukrainian Border Dispute and Obama’s Lackluster Response

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The world was left shaken and shocked by reports of a downed Malaysia Airlines flight on Thursday, a crash that left 298 people dead and had many experts making immediate comparisons to the missing Malaysia Airlines flight that captured international attention four months ago. As more information rolled in, however, it became increasingly clear that the scenarios could not have been more different.

Though Russian and Ukrainian officials both point the finger at the other, it is now believed by the U.S. and international investigators that the Boeing 777 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile in flight space over Eastern Ukraine, roughly 35 miles from the Russian border. We are a long way from having all the facts, but most of the preliminary evidence seems to point to Russian-backed separatists in the region as the culprits behind the devastating attack.

The Ukraine-Russia Dispute
Though Flight 17’s route from Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam is a common one, the plane’s chosen flight path took it over a deeply troubled area in Eastern Ukraine. So much so that many international airlines have taken to avoiding the area completely, instead choosing alternative routes to the north and south. Separatists have shot down several Ukrainian military transport planes over the last few months, and some investigators believe that Flight 17 was little more than a case of mistaken identity.

If that is the nature of the tragedy, it paints a picture not unlike a bystander being killed by a stray bullet in the middle of a gang war. Unfortunately, the carnage here has been a long time coming. Tensions between the two countries have been high since February, when widescale protests forced President Viktor Yanukovych out of office. Following that shift, Russian forces annexed Crimea, sparking pro-Russian separatists in the surrounding regions. The rebellion has been persistent and violent, but it is the influx of Russian weapons and military equipment across the border and into the hands of the rebels that may have given rise to Thursday’s tragedy.

Noting the potential for conflicting air traffic control instructions in the region, the FAA issued a ban on U.S. flight in the area south of Flight 17’s crash three months prior. The FAA in April also cited the possibility of “potential misidentification” of civilian aircraft as a reason for issuing the prohibition.

White House Response
President Barack Obama was criticized mercilessly in the aftermath of the tragedy, putting politics before his role as America’s leader, a role he has embraced time and again in his six years in office.

“President’s schedule unchanged,” Tweeted Jonathan Karl Thursday, “he’s now at the Charcoal Pit near Wilmington where he ordered the ‘Pit Special’ – burger & fries.”

The president made some brief remarks about the incident, telling the press that “it looks like it may be a terrible tragedy.” This choice of words raised the ire of both supporters and detractors, many of whom also took issue with Obama’s decision to push ahead with a pre-planned Delaware speech regarding roads and infrastructure.