(CNN) — Amid the chaos and the grief, the politics and the finger pointing, we are no closer to answering some key questions about the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. The crash, which killed all 298 aboard, has turned a volatile Ukrainian region into a global problem.
Here are eight questions we don’t yet have the answers to.
1. Who shot down the plane?
Only a full investigation can settle that. This much we know: Flight MH17 was shot down using a surface-to-air missile in Ukrainian territory that’s controlled by pro-Russian rebels.
Ukraine’s government says it has “compelling evidence” that a Russian-supplied battery, manned by Russian operatives, fired the missile. The United States has also pointed the finger at the Russian-trained rebels.
A man covers his face with a rag as members of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Dutch National Forensic Investigations Team inspect bodies in a refrigerated train near the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine on Monday, July 21. The United States says a surface-to-air missile took down the Boeing 777 on Thursday, July 17, as it was flying from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, killing all 298 people aboard. Ukrainian officials have accused pro-Russian rebels of downing the jet, but Russia blames Ukraine’s recent military operations against the rebels.
Emergency workers carry a victim’s body in a bag at the crash site on July 21. Search teams have recovered more than 270 bodies, officials say.
A piece of the Boeing 777 lies in the grass in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region on July 21.
An armed pro-Russia rebel stands guard next to a refrigerated train loaded with bodies in Torez, Ukraine, on Sunday, July 20.
Ukrainian State Emergency Service employees sort through debris on July 20 as they work to locate the deceased.
A woman covers her mouth with a piece of fabric July 20 to ward off smells from railway cars that reportedly contain passengers’ bodies.
Toys and flowers sit on the charred fuselage of the jet as a memorial on July 20.
People search a wheat field for remains in the area of the crash site on July 20.
A woman walks among charred debris at the crash site on Sunday, July 20.
Emergency workers load the body of a victim onto a truck at the crash site on Saturday, July 19.
Emergency workers carry the body of a victim at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine on Saturday, July 19.
A large piece of the main cabin is under guard at the crash site on July 19.
Victims’ bodies are placed by the side of the road on July 19 as recovery efforts continue at the crash site. International officials lament the lack of a secured perimeter.
A man looks through the debris at the crash site on July 19.
An envelope bearing the Malaysia Airlines logo at the crash site on July 19.
Armed rebels walk past large pieces of the Boeing 777 on July 19.
Ukrainian rescue workers walk through a wheat field with a stretcher as they collect the bodies of victims on July 19.
A woman looks at wreckage at the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site on July 19.
Pro-Russian fighters stand guard as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe delegation arrives at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine on Friday, July 18.
A woman walks through the debris field on July 18.
Pro-Russia rebels stand guard at the crash site.
Wreckage from Flight 17 lies in a field in Shaktarsk, Urkaine on July 18. International inspectors are headed to the crash site to search for the plane’s flight data recorders.
A man covers a body with a plastic sheet near the crash site July 18. The passengers and crew hailed from all over the world, including Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Germany and Canada.
A diver searches for the jet’s flight data recorders on July 18.
Coal miners search the crash site.
Wreckage from the Boeing 777 lies on the ground July 18 in rebel-held eastern Ukraine.
People search for bodies of passengers on July 18.
A woman walks past a body covered with a plastic sheet near the crash site July 18. The diversity of the victims’ nationalities has turned the crash into a global tragedy.
Belongings of passengers lie in the grass on July 18.
People inspect the crash site on Thursday, July 17.
People walk amid the debris at the site of the crash.
Debris smoulders in a field near the Russian border.
Fire engines arrive at the crash site.
A man stands next to wreckage.
Debris from the crashed jet lies in a field in Ukraine.
Family members of those aboard Flight 17 leave Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam, Netherlands.
A large piece of the plane lies on the ground.
Luggage from the flight sits in a field at the crash site.
A couple walks to the location at Schiphol Airport near Amsterdam where more information will be given regarding the flight.
Flight arrivals are listed at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia.
Debris from the Boeing 777, pictured on July 17.
A man inspects debris from the plane.
Wreckage from the plane is seen on July 17.
A man talks with security at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on July 17.
Wreckage burns in Ukraine.
A man stands next to the wreckage of the airliner that crashed July 17 in Ukraine.
People inspect a piece of wreckage believed to be from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine. This image was posted to Twitter.
People inspect a piece of wreckage believed to be from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. This image was posted to Twitter.
A piece of wreckage believed to be from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. This image was posted to Twitter.
A piece of wreckage believed to be from MH17. This image was posted to Twitter.
An airsickness bag believed to be from MH17. This image was posted to Twitter.
A piece of wreckage believed to be from MH17. This image was posted to Twitter.
Malaysia Airlines jet crashes in Ukraine
Gunfire near MH17 crash site
Access to MH17 crash site limited
Brother of MH17 victim won’t place blame
“We have a video showing a launcher moving back through a particular area there, out into Russia, with at least one missing missile on it,” Secretary of State John Kerry said on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday.
But Russia has denied any involvement. So have the rebels, who accuse the Ukrainians of downing the plane — without offering proof.
2. Why would anyone target a passenger plane?
If indeed the rebels are behind the attack, they may have mistaken the plane for a Ukrainian military craft. In the past few months, the rebels have used surface-to-air missiles to bring down more than a dozen planes, including two transport aircraft, the U.S. Embassy in Kiev said.
Shortly after the crash, Igor Strelkov, the self-proclaimed defense minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, claimed on social media that the rebels had shot down a military transport plane. Those posts were later deleted once it turned out the plane was a civilian aircraft.
“It has the earmarks of a mistaken identification of an aircraft that they may have believed was Ukrainian,” Arizona Sen. John McCain told MSNBC.
3. Why was the plane flying over a war zone?
Most airlines follow rules set by national civil aviation authorities and take the most direct route available, said Mary Schiavo, a former inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The Malaysia Airlines flight left Amsterdam for Kuala Lumpur. It flew over eastern Ukraine, which is a common route for international carriers.
Last week, Eurocontrol, the agency responsible for coordinating European airspace, said Ukrainian authorities had closed airspace in the region below 32,000 feet, but it was open at the level Flight 17 was flying (33,000 feet).
“There’s a lot of questions to be asked in a lot of different places,” CNN aviation analyst Miles O’Brien said. “Why didn’t government officials close off that airspace completely? 32,000 feet, that’s a completely arbitrary number.”
4. When will international investigators get access to the crash site?
No one knows.
A U.N. Security Council meeting ended early Monday morning, with Australia introducing a resolution that called for a swift international investigation.
“There’s no doubt that at the moment the site is under the control of the Russian-backed rebels. And given the almost certain culpability of the Russian-backed rebels in the downing of the aircraft, having those people in control of the site is a little like leaving criminals in control of a crime scene,” Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Monday.
But Russia, which has veto power as permanent member of the council, wants a modified resolution — one that leaves out Ukraine from any investigation.
Scattered evidence of MH17 catastrophe
The passengers and crew aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 came from around the world and held a wide range of hopes and dreams. While the identities of the 298 people aboard have not been release by the airline, CNN has been able to confirm some of them via family, friends and social media.
Karlijn Keijzer, 25, was a champion rower from Amsterdam who showed much passion and leadership in the United States as a member of the team at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana.
A 77-year-old teacher and Roman Catholic nun, Sister Philomene Tiernan, was on the flight, according to Australia’s Kincoppal – Rose Bay School of the Sacred Heart. The school principal described Tiernan as “wonderfully wise and compassionate.”
On Friday, President Barack Obama told reporters that an American, Quinn Lucas Schansman, was aboard. His Facebook page said he was a student at International Business School Hogeschool van Amsterdam.
The World Health Organization was able to confirm to CNN that their employee Glenneth Thomas was on board and heading to the International AIDS Conference scheduled to begin this weekend in Melbourne, Australia.
Shazana Salleh, a Malaysian national, was one of 15 crew members aboard.
Prominent Dutch scientist Joep Lange was a pioneer in HIV research and a former president of the International AIDS Society, which organizes the International AIDS Conference.
Jacqueline van Tongeren, partner of HIV researcher Joep Lange, was on the flight with him.
Medical student Andrei Anghel, 24, boarded Flight 17 on his way to vacation in Bali.
Darryl Dwight Gunawan, 20, was traveling home to the Philippines after a summer vacation with his family. His mother, Irene Gunawan, 54, and sister Sheryl Shania Gunawan, 15, were also aboard.
John Paulissen, his wife Yuli Hastini and their two children, Martin Arjuna and Sri were all aboard the flight.
Tessa van der Sande, an Amnesty International employee, was on the flight.
Angeline Premila Rajandaran was a flight attendant, one of the 15 crew on board.
A lover of French literature, Adi Soetjipto, 73, was returning home to Jakarta, Indonesia, after her annual visit to her mother in the Netherlands, nephew Joss Wibisono said.
Nick Norris and his three grandchildren, Otis, 8, Evie,10 and Mo, 12, were all aboard the flight.
Pim de Kuijer was also on his way to the International AIDS Conference.
Husband and wife Albert and Maree Rizk were among the passengers on board.
Musician Cor Schilfder was on vacation with girlfriend NeeltjeTol, a florist.
Shun Poh Fan and wife Jenny Loh were restaraunt owners in the Netherlands.
Fatima Dycynski was an engineer and the founder and CEO of Xoterra Space.
Arjen and Yvonne Ryder
Flight attendant Sanjid Singh Sandu swapped flights at the last moment on Thursday and boarded MH17 in Amsterdam so he could get home early, his parents told CNN.
Photos: Malaysia Flight 17 victims remembered
A doll lies on the ground at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 near the village of Hrabove in eastern Ukraine on Saturday, July 19. The United States has said the Boeing 777 was brought down by a surface-to-air missile. All 298 people aboard were killed, yet so much of what they left behind is scattered relatively intact in this vast debris field in rural Ukraine.
A single shoe is seen among the debris and wreckage on July 19. Concern is growing that the site has not been sealed off as it should have been and that vital evidence is being tampered with.
Pieces of a wristwatch lie on a plastic cover at the crash site.
A toy monkey.
Books, bags, a tourist T-shirt. Ukraine’s government said it had received information of looting of valuables and money, and urged relatives to cancel the victims’ credit cards. But a CNN crew at the scene on July 19 said it did not see any signs of looting.
Passports were scattered across the large farm field.
Playing cards and euros are scattered.
A travel guide and toiletries.
An empty suitcase is cordoned off near the plane’s impact site on July 17.
Luggage, July 18.
MH17: What they left behind
Confusion, hostility at MH17 crash site
5. Where are the so-called black boxes?
The rebels say they have recovered something, but can’t be certain those are the flight data and cockpit voice recorders.
“These are some technical objects. We cannot say for sure these are black boxes,” rebel leader Alex Borodai told CNN.
Finding the devices is crucial; they will offer vital clues to the plane’s last moments.
What happens to the black boxes is also unclear.
In audio intercepts released by the Ukrainian government, a rebel leader is heard saying that Moscow is very interested in the black boxes and urges his followers to look for them urgently. (CNN can’t vouch for the authenticity of the audio).
6. Have all the victims’ bodies been recovered?
There’s no way to tell.
Rebels are keeping most of the bodies in two refrigerated train cars about 10 miles away from the site. And while international observers confirmed they saw “dozens and dozens” of bodies in the train, there was no way to verify the total.
Who were the victims?
7. What will happen to the remains?
That, too, is mired in politics. No one yet knows when they will be identified or where they will end up.
Alex Borodai, the rebel leader, says he’d rather hand over the remains to relatives — but only after “experts” examine them. He says he fears if the remains are turned over to Ukraine, the government would use them as evidence to blame his fighters for shooting down the plane.
“I want the bodies,” Selena Fredriksz sobbed at a memorial at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on Sunday. Her son, 23-year-old Bryce, was one of the passengers on the plane. “They can have anything, but the bodies have to come back. Take their iPhones, take their money, take everything.”
8. How will Russia respond?
If an investigation concludes the plane was shot down by rebels using a Russian-supplied missile — or, worse still, by Russians themselves — President Vladimir Putin will have two choices. And neither, says Professor Daniel Treisman, works to his advantage.
Putin could reject the conclusions and stand by the rebels. If he does so, he risks becoming an international pariah. The West might also hit Russia with even tougher economic sanctions, enough to cripple its economy and send it into a recession.
Or, Putin could sever ties with the rebels. But that could present problems too.
“A relentless barrage of propaganda has convinced many Russians that their co-ethnics in Donetsk and Luhansk are being massacred by troops commanded by a fascist regime in Kiev,” said Treisman, who teaches political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, and who authored the book, “The Return: Russia’s Journey from Gorbachev to Medvedev.”
“For Putin to bow to international pressure and abandon his former charges would look like cowardice.”
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