Aviation authorities knew this was a dangerous area prior to today’s crash. The US Federal Aviation Administration nearly three months ago had prohibited US pilots and and airlines from flying over parts of Ukraine.

With geopolitical tensions already high in the region, any sign of Ukrainian, Russian or separatist involvement in the downing of an airliner could lead to a serious escalation. Ukraine’s government, already accusing the insurgents of causing the crash, will seek to tar Russia as a disruptive force in the region, rallying international pressure to its side. Russia, on the other hand, can be expected to make the case that the tragedy is a clear sign that Ukraine’s government cannot control its own airspace, as it has after past accusations. In 2001, Ukrainian’s military accidentally shot down a Russian passenger jet over the Black Sea.

Wreckage Malaysian Airlines Ukraine
Part of the wreckage.
Image: Reuters//Maxim Zmeyev
Malaysian Airlines MH17 Ukraine wreckage
The wreckage, with night falling.
Image: AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky

The situation is reminiscent of Cold War tensions that led to the downing of Korean Airline Flight 007 by a Russian missile in 1983 while it flew from Seoul to New York City. The Soviet Union denied that it was involved in the attack, which occurred within Russian airspace, but later admitted culpability. There are also similarities to when a US navy ship shot down Iran Air 655 in 1988 while patrolling the Persian Gulf at a time of similar tension, mistakenly believing the aircraft was a threat.

The crash also marks another tragedy for Malaysian Airlines, which infamously lost track of another jet, MH-370, that disappeared somewhere over the South Pacific in March. There is still no official explanation for its disappearance, though the search for the plane and its passengers continues.

Here’s Malaysian prime minister Mohd Najib Tun Razak’s statement on Twitter:

Russian president Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to Razak in a tweet:

These journalists appear to have arrived at the location of the crash:

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