The world continues to ask questions about who is responsible for the July 17 downing of Malaysia Airlines (MH) flight 017 as it was crossing the airspace over the border between Russia and the eastern region of Ukraine near the city of Donetsk. The aircraft, a U.S.-made Boeing 777, was by all accounts and data intercepts available so far, brought down by a Russian-made Buk (SA-11 Gadfly/SA-17 Grizzly) self-propelled surface-to-air-missile (SAM) battery located close to the Russian border.
Ironically, OAO Concern PVO Almaz-Antei, the defense industrial conglomerate that produces this SAM system, was one of the several Russian firms that were hit with a list of new U.S. sanctions on the day before (Wednesday) and added to the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) list.
Sources close to the Ukrainian air force command and experienced air defense specialists in Kiev have told TWS that there is overwhelming evidence that the missile which downed the aircraft was either from a SAM unit controlled by the Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine’s eastern regions or even possibly from a battery located on the territory of Russia itself.
“To begin with,” said one former air defense forces officer, “there are no Buk systems in this part of Ukraine that are controlled by the Ukrainian armed forces. Secondly, there is a datalink between the civilian air traffic management system that monitors all commercial airline and civil aviation flights that provides a full ‘air picture’ to the radar screens of the air defense command. This arrangement is specifically designed to prevent this kind of a tragic shootdown from ever happening. Whoever brought down this airliner it was not a Ukrainian armed forces unit.”
The circumstantial evidence that points to the Russian-backed separatists as being responsible that can be found online increases by the minute:
• On 29 June the separatists overran a Ukrainian military installation and captured a Buk battery, which they subsequently posted a photo of on Twitter. This more than one-month posting was deleted in a panic as soon as the Russian-backed separatists realized that they had shot down a civilian airliner instead of military cargo carrier.
• On the morning that MH017 was shot down this captured Buk system was seen in the town of Snezhnoe, which is approximately 15 mile southeast of the crash site.
• Later in the day, the same Buk battery was filmed heading to a known rebel position south of the city, which was about 20 miles southeast of the reported impact site.
• Earlier in the week the separatists shot down an Antonov An-26 Ukrainian cargo aircraft, which was flying at a high altitude and not reachable by the type of man-portable SAM systems that had been used to shoot down other Ukrainian military aircraft and helicopters. When MH017 was shot down the separatist leader, Igor Strelkov, posted on a Russian social media website that another An-26 had been downed. Once it became obvious that it was a commercial airliner that had been shot down this posting was also deleted with the same sense of panic. The two aircraft are very different from one another in size and configuration, but they could conceivably have been confused by an untrained crew.
• The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) posted recorded conversations between Ukrainian separatists and Russian military intelligence officers (GRU) operating on the territory of Ukraine in which an advance team from the separatists reports back that they have visited the aircraft crash site and that the bad news is that this was a civilian airliner and not a military aircraft. The officer that they are speaking to then shows no signs of remorse and says that the aircraft “was probably trying to drop spies [into the area]” and that they “should not have been flying over a war zone.” None of the voices on this recording belong to any Ukrainian military officers.
All of the erasing of social media postings and attempts to justify this action cannot “hide the fact that the radar tracks of the Buk battery, the talkback between the radar and the missile after it has launched and other electronic emissions are all being swept up by listening stations and other assets and you cannot erase these ‘electronic fingerprints.’ It will not take long to analyze that telemetry and identify specifically which type of missile was fired against this airliner,” said a NATO intelligence specialist who is familiar with this kind of electronic analysis.
Another technology, which the same NATO intelligence specialist states is being employed now, is the ability to analyze the trajectory of the missile which hit MH017 and then project a reverse track of the missile’s path to determine the exact launch site. This, combined with the electronic intercepts, can provide a near-incontrovertible set of evidence as to the party responsible for the deaths of the 295 persons on board this aircraft.
Although completely unscientific, to someone who has spent more than 23 years in this part of the world there is some additional damning evidence that Russia’s proxy warriors in eastern Ukraine are guilty. Namely, the highly improbable explanations that have been trotted out by Moscow to try to deflect blame instead onto Ukraine’s military.
The gold medal for the most ridiculous of these is the story put out by the Russians today that MH017 was shot down by Ukraine’s military by accident, because they were really aiming for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s presidential aircraft, which allegedly crossed flight paths with the track of the Malaysian aircraft as the Russian head of state was returning from his overseas trip.
“When the Russians start grasping at the flimsiest of straws to try and put the blame on someone else, you realize that they are in a corner and are so desperately hemmed in by circumstantial evidence that the only way out for them is to try and sell some wild conspiracy theory,” said a former U.S. intelligence analyst. To think that Ukraine would try to kill the Russian president by shooting down his aircraft is laughably nutty. It is an amateurish attempt to implement the three actions used by disinformation artists: admit nothing, deny everything and then make counter-accusations.”
A Ukrainian colleague who spoke to TWS and who served as a Soviet-era air defense officer was even more direct. “The only question left as to who shot down this aircraft is how much longer the separatists will be able to lie about it. When the data from this shoot-down is analyzed it will be impossible for those responsible to hide from this crime.”