MH17: possible scenarios - none end well
The rebels are suspect number one, but there are other scenarios in the shooting down of Malaysia Airline Flight MH17 above eastern Ukraine that will fuel conspiracies in the conflict. None end well.
Hardline rebels might be trying to force Russian leader Vladimir Putin's hand. The rebels recently declared the "Manifesto of Novorossiya", covering the breakaway region of south-east Ukraine but got little public backing from Moscow. The Kremlin was seen to have cooled on the Ukraine conflict in the face of Western economic sanctions. Perversely, this attack could bolster Russian support for the rebels if only to rein them in tighter. But it would be a huge gamble - and that alone seems to suggest it is improbable.
The Ukraine government has suffered humiliating losses. Rebels shot down a Ukraine military transport last month, killing more than 40 soldiers and the government has promised revenge. The flight to Malaysia might have been mistaken for a Russian aircraft. There is tragic precedent. A US navy ship in the Persian Gulf in 1988 claimed to have mistook Iran Air Flight 655 for a fighter jet and shot it down. The former Soviet Union also destroyed Korean Air Lines Flight 007 in 1983 after the jet was said to have wandered into restricted airspace. But again, the cost of the cover-up to Ukraine in terms of reputation and support makes this scenario unlikely.
Could Russia itself have deliberately precipitated a crisis? The takeover of Crimea in March was preceded by a series of underhand actions, where Russian commandos posed as Ukraine dissidents and seized control of key military installations. Putin is a ruthless character, no doubt, but it is one thing to send agent provocateurs across the border in a neighbourhood quarrel, quite another to deliberately target a commercial airliner with citizens from around the world. Chalk this up as impossible.
The rebel fighters were quick to brag about bringing down the plane - then just as quick to claim they had no involvement once it became clear it was a civilian jet. This appears most likely to be an awful case of mistaken identity. For 298 people, the consequences have been deadly. But the ramifications may cost many more lives yet.
Sydney Morning Herald