Will Russia pay a price for the plane shot down in Ukraine?

The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine was a tragedy of breathtaking scope, claiming almost 300 innocent lives. But beyond the human cost, analysts say, the attack will likely have far-reaching consequences for the ongoing struggle in that region between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian government.

"This is a game changer in terms of the geopolitical dimensions of this conflict. This is no longer just an issue for the Ukraine, or the East, or Crimea, or Russia," explained CBS News Senior National Security Analyst Juan Zarate. "Dutch citizens, over 140 killed, AIDS researchers headed to a conference in Australia, Asians who were on the flight as well. This is now an international problem."

Though authorities have not yet concluded who launched the surface-to-air missile that destroyed the plane, the broader blame has fallen mostly on Russia, which has provided heavy weaponry, including surface-to-air missiles, to separatists fighting in Ukraine.

"They have been arming the rebels. They've been training them. And clearly they had something to do with, at a minimum, enabling these separatists in what they've been doing," Zarate explained. "The separatists have been taking down transport planes for the Ukrainians, helicopters and fighter jets up until now. They now hit a civilian aircraft, and so...Russia has to be held to account."

The "best case scenario," Zarate said, is that Russia did not have any direct involvement in launching the missile, though it would still shoulder the blame for arming the separatists and sowing chaos in the region.

The "worst-case scenario," he added, is that "Russia was actually complicit and they may have committed an act of war by taking down a civilian aircraft. And so along that spectrum, you have variations and the facts will take us where they take us, but the reality is Russia's right in the middle of that."

President Obama on Friday said the attack should be a "wake-up call for Europe and the world that there are consequences to an escalating conflict in eastern Ukraine, that it is not going to be localized, it is not going to be contained."

The president shied away from directly blaming Russia for the attack, saying he doesn't want to get ahead of the investigation, but he said Russia has been playing with fire by strengthening separatist groups in Ukraine.

"We know that [the separatists] are heavily armed and that they are trained, and we know that that's not an accident, that it's happening because of Russian support," he explained.

America and, to a lesser extent, Europe both levied sanctions against Russia for its seizure of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine earlier this year and its encouragement of rebel groups in eastern Ukraine. But the destruction of the Malaysia Airlines plane, Zarate said, should compel the United States and Europe to take that punishment a step further.

"Now's the moment to say 'Enough's enough,'" Zarate said. "Now's the moment to continue to press with more economic sanctions, I think this is where Europe begins to consider more seriously actions against Russian companies, banks... the Europeans have to get morally outraged and involved."

Zarate also said the event should prompt the U.S. to send more aid, including weaponry, to the Ukrainian military to aid their fight against the Russian-backed militias.

"Do you arm and perhaps even train the Ukrainian military to help decisively in the East?" he asked. "If the Russians aren't going to stop, something has to stop this."

  • Jake Miller

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