Rebels in Eastern Ukraine Shoot Missile at Military Jet, Killing 49 People

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 14 2014 12:41 PM

Rebels in Eastern Ukraine Shoot Missile at Military Jet, Killing 49 People

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Pro-Russian militants look through the debris of an IL-76 Ukrainian military transporter which was taken down by pro-Russian rebels

Photo by DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP/Getty Images

A week after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko talked about a peace plan during his inaugural address, government forces suffered the biggest death toll in a single incident during the four-month conflict. Nine crew members and 40 paratroopers were killed when pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine used a shoulder-fired missile to take down a military transport jet that was getting ready to land at an airport in the city of Luhansk, reports the New York Times. Poroshenko quickly labeled the attack an act of terrorism, and vowed an “adequate” response. The incident illustrates just how far the government is from pacifying the eastern part of the country, notes the Associated Press.

Later, the Ukrainian military launched air strikes against areas controlled by the pro-Russian separatists, reports Al Jazeera. "It's a very dangerous development here," says Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Luhansk. "Separatists in Luhansk are very much in control of the city, and they say that they are going to meet this attack with everything that they have got."

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The United States quickly emphasized its support for Kiev. "We condemn the shooting down of the Ukrainian military plane and continue to be deeply concerned about the situation in eastern Ukraine, including by the fact that militant and separatist groups have received heavy weapons from Russia, including tanks, which is a significant escalation," said White House spokeswoman Laura Lucas Magnuson.

Analysts were quick to say the large death toll could bring about a new effort to increase sanctions on Russia if there is evidence that Moscow is sending heavy weapons to the rebels, notes Reuters. A day earlier, the State Department said it believed rebels had “acquired heavy weapons and military equipment from Russia, including Russian tanks and multiple rocket launchers,” reports the Guardian. Even if the evidence isn’t clear-cut, the pressure could still increase for new sanctions because it "will refocus attention on the fact that Russia does not seem to be doing very much to moderate the insurgency (or) the cross-border resupply of separatists," an analyst tells the Associated Press.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.

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