The evidence is mounting both that the rebels were responsible. Said rebels almost certainly needed to have Russian training. The only exception to the latter is if the rebels turn out to have personnel who previously obtained the requisite training in the Russian or Ukrainian armies. That is possible but not terribly likely.
The tragedy is bad for the Russians, obviously. The trap has not closed around the Ukrainians. In fact, by making the insurgency seem like a danger to more than the Kiev government, it has offered a way out of the trap.
But the way out is not clear. One of three audiences will need to palpably react to the news.
- The Russian public. I do not have much hope of this.
- European publics ... and the governments they elect. The problem here is that the only way for European governments to show their displeasure is via economic sanctions. On balance, I think such sanctions would be good, but I am far from certain that they will affect Russian behavior. In fact, unless the sanctions allow President Putin a face-saving way out, they almost certainly will not affect his behavior. (I do not think that he plans to save the rebels guns-blazing, although he has and likely will continue to send them materiel.)
- The eastern Ukrainian public. Here the Ukrainians need to be very skilled. The goal is to convince the public that the rebels are bandits and incompetent and thus not to be supported. The good thing is that they do in fact seem to be bandits and incompetent. (The Little Green Men of Crimean fame they are not.) The bad thing is that local populations have often thrown their support behind incompetent bandits when oppressive foreign governments were the alternative. Luckily, this is a continuum ... the worse the rebels make themselves out to be, the less saintly the Ukrainian government has to be to gain local trust.
In other words, this shoot-down has given Kiev a huge boost in the internal propaganda war that it must win if it wants to permanently deprive Moscow of leverage. But a huge boost is still just a boost. It is the Ukrainian government’s battle to lose.