malaysia airlines MH17 Ukraine
Parts of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 jet carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur are seen near the town of Shaktarsk.AFP

The world is reeling after a civilian airliner was shot out of the sky by what US intelligence officials say was a sophisticated surface-to-air missile fired by pro-Russian rebels.

A sombre crowd of mourners, bearing wreaths and messages, gathered outside the Dutch embassy following the news that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crashed in the Donetsk hamlet of Grabovo in eastern Ukraine, killing the 298 passengers and crew on board.

On route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, the Boeing 777 was reported missing on Thursday afternoon in a Tweet. Shortly afterwards, photographs emerged of charred wreckage scattered across the rural landscape.

The two sides in Ukraine's civil conflict have accused each other of shooting down the jet, but one united theme is that the worldwide dimension of the tragedy might focus attention on Ukraine's problems.

Will the crash incite more ground violence?

Speaking to IBTimes UK, Dr Domitilla Sagramoso, a lecturer in security and development at King's College London, explained how the incident might incite more violence on the ground in Ukraine.

Sagramoso said that, in the immediate future, there would likely be a lull in the violence in the Ukraine region to allow for a full investigation to take place: "I think it is very difficult to know what will happen next. But there will be so much pressure on the separatists, whether they are responsible or not, to allow people to move in and gather the necessary evidence for an investigation."

"It will very much depend on what the evidence shows, if there is evidence that pro-Russia is to blame – it is important to find out if Russia did provide the missile or not," she said, adding that if strong evidence blaming pro-Russian rebels is found, it will put further pressure on Russia to arm the rebels and reach an agreement with Kiev.

What about the blame shifting?

Ultimately, the response to the incident will depend on whether a resolution is met regarding responsibility – which will entirely depend on what the investigation into the crash unearths.

Although Putin has called for a ceasefire, Moscow and Kiev are continuing to pass the blame onto one another. An earlier Kremlin statement said the Russian president believed the "state over whose territory this event occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy". Meanwhile the Ukraine's foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, said there was no chance the missile was of Ukrainian military origin.

According to western-based defence and intelligence specialists, Russian separatist groups have been accused of covering up all links to the Buk missile battery suspected to have been used to shoot down the plane.

"If the pro-Russian fighters are found to responsible for the attack, they may try to argue that there were spies on the plane, to try to get rid of responsibility."

Although the area where the jet crashed had a no-fly zone in place up to 32,000ft, the airliner was flying at 33,000ft - above the limit.

Alex Braithwaite, a lecturer in international relations at University College London, told IBTimes UK that, if it is confirmed that Russian-supplied surface-to-air missiles were used by pro-separatists, there will be enormous pressure on Putin and his government to clamp down on non-state violence against the Ukrainian government.

"At the same time, though, Putin will likely resist any one-sided demands," Braithwaite added. "He and Medvedev showed over Georgia, back in the last decade, and Syria, in this, that international demands do not always persuade their hand. Accordingly, any ceasefire will also depend upon European governments applying pressure on Kiev not to take advantage of the situation."

What about the US sanctions?

The day before the crash, the Obama administration had imposed a slate of new sanctions on the Russian economy to punish it for its support for separatist rebels. Although it is still unclear exactly who was behind the apparent ground-launched missile that destroyed MH17, the tragedy could be a turning point for the Ukraine crisis, if it convinces reluctant Europeans to get behind the tighter "sectoral" sanctions.

The EU's reticence over tougher sanctions reflects concerns among its member state about trace and industrial ties with Moscow, and the heavy reliance on Russian energy. But with more than half of the nearly-300 people killed in MH17 plane crash being Dutch citizens - and over a dozen more from other European nations - this could change.

"Yes, it is possible," Sagramoso said. "But the thing is, when we talk about sanctions in Europe, we need to be aware that they will have repercussions on the European economy too because of the dependency on energy from Russia."

"This has been one of the main reasons why Europe has previously been cautious. If you are ready to move ahead further with sanctions, you have to be aware that it will have a negative impact eventually," Sagramoso added.

Is this a turning point in how Russia proceeds in a civil war they once claimed to have no control over?

Whatever the final result of the investigation, Russia is likely to face a major political and media campaign reminiscent of the 1983 shooting of the Korean Airlines 747 off Sakhalin Island, which brought with it the most dangerous period of the Cold War after the Cuban missile crisis.

"If it is confirmed that this was an accident and not a planned attack to escalate violence with a broader audience, then I think Russia will claim that it should be dealt with as an unfortunate incident but one over which they can be considered to have had little control," Braithwaite said.

"Turning a blind eye to responsibility over weapons sold - or donated - is something that the Russian government has been very skilful at doing," he said, adding that the same could be said of the UK, US, France, and other large arms suppliers over the years, although in different contexts.

"Ultimately, I think that this will result in a change in the Russian position only if the European governments that have victims in the tragedy are leading in applying pressure," he explained.

"I would anticipate greater Russian resistance if this becomes part of the larger cooling of relations with the US. Republican calls for justice, which we are starting to hear in the US, might end up hardening rather than softening Putin's position."