49 Ukrainian service personnel dead after pro-Russian separatists down military plane

While the tenuous gains made in Iraq over the course of seven years of war are undone in a matter of days, and the American political press readies arguments for why a new development surrounding the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative political groups is not that much of a development at all, it’s easy to forget the unfolding crisis in Eastern Europe. In fact, it would take an egregious escalation of the situation in Ukraine to refocus the nation’s attention on the former Soviet Republicans.

Unfortunately, Moscow has facilitated just such an escalation.

“Pro-Russian separatists shot down an army transport plane in east Ukraine on Saturday,” Reuters reported on Saturday, “killing 49 servicemen and dealing a blow to a military campaign to defeat the rebels and hold the country together.”

President Petro Poroshenko promised an “adequate” response after the plane was hit by an anti-aircraft missile as it came in to land at the airport outside the city of Luhansk, a centre of the rebellion against central rule that began in April.

This development comes just hours after the State Department claimed that Russia moved three T-64 tanks, a variety of other military vehicles, and heavy weaponry including surface-to-air missile launchers across the Ukrainian border to bolster pro-Russian separatist forces.

The downing of a Ukrainian Ilyushin-76 military-transport aircraft marks the most serious escalation of the low-intensity Russian-Ukrainian war since the start of open conflict in February. At least 115 Ukrainian service personnel have died in the conflict so far.

This attack was followed up with an ambush by pro-Russian gunman on a Ukrainian military convoy in the port city of Mariupol. In addition Ukrainian State Guard revealed on Saturday that an explosive device was discovered overnight near the Presidential Administration in downtown Kiev. Some are calling this discovery the foiling of an assassination plot on the newly elected Ukrainian president.

“It was a container with five grenades and a kilogram of metal nuts,” an anonymous source told Reuters reporters. “It was a really powerful device.”

It may be merely coincidence that this rapid escalation of tensions in Europe comes at the same time as the implosion of the fragile post-war Iraqi state. Given the proficiency Russia has demonstrated in manipulating the news cycle since the start of the Ukrainian conflict, however, that seems unlikely.