Update: Despite an initial report from Reuters, there's now a dispute over how many Americans may have been aboard Flight 17. President Obama says there was at least one.
It's difficult to overstate just what the shooting down of a passenger plane full of innocent people means for the conflict in Ukraine -- and really the world. U.S. intelligence is now confirming what's already been widely reported this afternoon: that a surface-to-air missile fired from the general area where pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces have been fighting for months knocked a Malaysia Airlines jet out of the sky, killing everyone on board.
The separatists are denying that they were the ones who launched the missile, saying that they don't have the military capability to shoot down a plane flying at 33,000 feet. But not only is that very likely not the case, there's a good chance the high-end weaponry they do have was provided by Putin's Russia. Putin himself is blaming the Ukrainians.
Just yesterday President Obama announced new sanctions against Russia in response to the country's ongoing support of the separatists. But Putin had shrugged off the pressure put on him by Obama and the world up to that point so it was always unlikely any new pressure was going to stunt his resolve.
The question now, though, is whether this new development will force Russia's hand. The Ukraine and the separatists' quiet little war just dragged Europe, the U.S. and really the rest of the globe into it. Something will have to be done in response. 295 people who had nothing to do with this conflict -- 23 of whom were American -- are now dead after being shot out of the sky. That shouldn't be allowed to go unanswered by the United States or the world. The problem is, what do you do?
It's not surprising at all that the hawks here at home are already beating a familiar drum, talking about how there should be "hell to pay," if it's proven that the pro-Russian forces did this. They're also wasting no time in beating up on President Obama, bemoaning his supposed weakness with respect to Russia and Ukraine -- weakness to which this tragedy can be directly traced, they imply. So while the situation itself is horrific, the local politics will be, predictably, ugly in their own right.
At the center of all of this, though, is the terror those 295 innocent people must have experienced in their final moments -- and the fact that they were forced to endure those final moments at all when they never should've been in danger. They were on their way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. They weren't supposed to die in a field in eastern Ukraine -- in a war they had nothing to do with.
What may be the exact moment of impact on the ground:
VERY GRAPHIC Russian television video of the crash area:
President Obama's initial comments on the crash of the flight: