Malaysia Airlines MH17 Shootdown
A Malaysia Airlines jetliner flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed 17 July 2014 in eastern Ukraine, and Ukrainian government officials said pro-Russian insurgents had shot down the plane. The Boeing 777 carrying 298 people went down in a rural part of the Donetsk region, not far from the Russian border, where the Russian-backed fighters had battled Ukraine governement troops in what increasingly resembled all-out war. Ukraine's Foreign Ministry, citing military officials, said Anton Herashchenko, a top aide to Ukraine's interior minister, said the airliner was flying at around 33,000 feet when it was hit by a surface-to-air missile, known as a Buk [SA-11].
A post on the social media website VKontakte [ the Russian-language Facebook], purportedly from the militant leader, Strelkov [Igor Girkin] stated that “In the vicinity of Torez we just downed an AN-26 plane, it’s lying somewhere behind the Progress Mine. We warned them – don’t fly “in our sky”."
A Ukrainian An-26 transport plane shot down 14 July 2014 was flying at an altitude of more than 6,000 meters. The aircraft is just one of at least three Ukrainian planes and two helicopters shot down since the end of May; at least some were downed with surface-to-air missiles. According to one report, rebels had downed at least 10 aircraft, including five Mi-24 Hinds, two Mi-8 helicopters, one An-2, and one An-30. A Ukrainian Il-76 troop transport plane was downed on 14 June 14, killing all 49 crew and troops aboard. Pro-Russian rebels claimed responsibility for shooting down two additional Ukrainian Su-25 fighters on July 16.
On 29 June 2014, Russia's official news agency, ITAR-TASS, reported that People's Republic of Donetsk (DNR) rebels took a Buk system under their control. "Quantity and condition complexes caught in possession of militias remains unknown." The report did not specify whether the system was obtained from the Russian or Ukrainian militaries, only that the rebels had seized control of the weapons system. The "Vesti" news program, on the Rossiya-1 television channel, reported on June 29 that the separatist militants captured the Buk system and would use it to "defend the skies over Donetsk." These reports were almost certainly preemptive disinformation, as there is nothing else external to the rebels’ own propaganda to support this claim.
Speaking during an emergency UN Security Council meeting 18 July 2014, the US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said the missile system was likely operated from a "separatist-held location in eastern Ukraine." She noted that it was unlikely that the separatists could operate the system without assistance from knowledgeable personnel. She said technical assistance from Russia cannot be ruled out.
Three Buk missile systems made their way from eastern Ukraine across the border into Russia on Friday, July 18, according to Ukrainian officials, including one lacking the missile they believe brought down a Malaysia Airlines jet the day before.“Three missile launchers trespassed the Ukraine border on July 18,” Vitaly Nayda, Ukraine’s counterintelligence chief, told reporters in Kiev on July 19 afternoon.
Six buses with Russian specialists servicing anti-aircraft systems of the separatists left Lugansk for Krasnodon on 19 July, a Ukrinform reporter learned this from Dmytro Snehiriov, the leader of the Prava Sprava organization. "After the crash of the Malaysian passenger jet, Russia decided to withdraw all of its missile and electronic engineering experts. Today a column of six buses under the protection of armed militants moved from Lugansk to the south-east, towards the border with Russia. The crossing is planned to be made bypassing the checkpoints near the village of Velyky Sukhodil in Krasnodon district," Snehiriov said. Here there is a possibility that the Ukrainian services are continuing information warfare and planting rumors.
Ukraine's counterintelligence chief Vitaly Nada said 19 July 2014 that separatist rebels did not have the training to operate a high-tech BUK-1 missile launcher. "To operate BUK-1 you need to have a military education and to be well-trained. We know for sure that the team was Russian, there were Russian citizens operating BUK-1, and they came from the territory of the Russian federation together with the missile launcher," he said.
Kyiv Post reported 19 July 2014 that "NATO Supreme Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove said back on June 30 at a Pentagon news conference that Russia had been providing air defense training to Russian separatists on its territory that focused on "vehicle-borne" surface-to-air missiles, reads a statement posted on the NATO Web site." Such a statement is not immediately in evidence at the NATO website, and this claim seems to be another information warfare nugget.
Rebels shot down a Ukrainian Air Force Ilyushin-76 in eastern Ukraine on 14 June 2014, and an An-26 aircraft was shot down in eastern Ukraine on June 30. On 30 June 2014, Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, US European Command Commander and North Atlantic Treaty Organization Supreme Allied Commander, said in a press briefing at the Pentagon that "We have not seen any of the air defense vehicles across the border yet, but we've seen them training in the western part of Russia, et cetera. ... We don't know whether the first two shoot downs were MANPADS or vehicle-borne missiles... We have not seen training of MANPADS, but we have seen vehicle-borne capability being trained." Note that there is no mention here of training separatists.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said 20 July 2014 the United States intercepted conversations about the transfer to separatists of the Russian radar-guided SA-11 missile system it blames for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17. "It's pretty clear that this is a system that was transferred from Russia,'' Kerry said in an interview on CNN. US officials said American intelligence reports indicated Russia had moved multiple SA-11 antiaircraft systems over the border with other military equipment. "There's [an] enormous amount of evidence, even more evidence [than] I just documented, that points to the involvement of Russia in providing these systems, training the people on them," Kerry said on CBS. The Russian Defense Ministry said that neither the Buk missile defense system, nor any other military equipment, has crossed the Russian border into Ukraine. According to the Russian side, the Ukrainian military has deployed several Buk batteries, with at least 27 launchers, capable of bringing down high-flying jets, in the Donetsk Region.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said 21 July 2014 the EU would impose further sanctions on Russia if it were proved that Russia was directly or indirectly responsible for bringing the plane down. His words cast doubt over whether the disaster would prove to be a turning point for international pressure to resolve the crisis in Ukraine.
The Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed within the operating zone of the Ukrainian army’s self-propelled, medium-range surface-to-air Buk missile systems, the Russian military said 21 July 2014. "The flight scheme indicates that the plane’s route and possible point of destruction fall into the operational range of Buk air defense systems deployed by the Ukrainian armed forces,” Lt. Gen. Andrei Kartapolov, the head of the Main Operations Directorate of the HQ of Russia’s military forces, said during a media conference in Moscow.
An Ukrainian combat jet was detected in close approach to the Malaysian passenger plane shortly before it crashed in eastern Ukraine killing all 298 people on board, the Russian military said. “An altitude gain was detected for a Ukrainian combat jet, supposedly a Su-25, flying at a distance of 3-5 kilometers [1.8-3.1 miles] from the Boeing,” Lt. Gen. Andrei Kartapolov, the head of the Main Operations Directorate of the HQ of Russia’s military forces, told the media conference in Moscow. The Su-25 (NATO reporting name Frogfoot) ground attack aircraft can hit a target at a distance of five kilometers (3.1 miles) as it’s equipped with air-to-air missiles, the head of the Main Operations Directorate said.
The daily "Komsomolskaya pravda" ran a commentary titled “Who fired the Buk?” by military commentator Viktor Baranets. He wrote that in June the rebels captured a Ukrainian Buk installation but that it was in poor condition and also was incomplete. An editorial in the daily "Nezavisimaya gazeta" titled “The Downed ‘Boeing’: Just The Facts” noted that when separatists claimed to have seized a Buk system from the Ukraine military, for example, Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Vitaliy Yarema said this had not happened.
Dutch investigators said September 09, 2014 that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 likely broke up mid-air over eastern Ukraine after being hit by numerous "high-energy objects." The Dutch Safety Board's report found no signs that either technical problems or pilot error caused the crash nearly two months ago of Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board. The pro-Russian rebels argued that they did not have the military equipment that could bring down a passenger aircraft.
On 23 November 2014 the train carrying the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines plane (MH17) left eastern Ukrainian town of Torez, where it crashed in the Donetsk region on July 17, for the city of Kharkov. From there it headed to the Netherlands. The wreckage is being carried in 11 open carriages and one closed wagon (for smaller fragments).The staff from the Netherlands Security Council, Dutch police officers, OSCE experts and six members of the self-defense forces escorted the train.
The Dutch Safety Board confirmed October 13, 2015 that a Russian-made missile brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014, placing blame on governments and airlines, and saying no one gave any thought to the risk of flying commercial airliners over eastern Ukraine where a conflict between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces was raging.
Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin laid the blame on the MH17 crash squarely on Moscow, accusing Russia of being a "state sponsor of terrorism." “Now we have [a] fully unbiased and transparent report of what has happened. ... In the sense of clearly proving that Russia is a state sponsor of terrorism, because bringing such highly sophisticated, extremely dangerous anti-air missile systems into Donbas (in eastern Ukraine) ... could be -- and should be -- treated as acts of terrorism and a war crime," Klimkin said.
Russia's state-run missile manufacturer, Almaz-Antey, said that its own investigation indicates that the Buk missile was fired from the town of Zaroshenske, which it said was under control of the Ukrainian government at the time of the accident. Almaz-Antey head Yan Novikov also said Russian experts have concluded that the missile believed to have brought down the plane was an older Russian-made model, which is no longer used by the Russian military.
By February 2016 a team of investigative journalists had evidence showing that the missile that shot down a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine in July 2014 belonged to a Russian battalion that had recently deployed to the region. Investigators from the website Bellingcat.com claim to have put together a mass of evidence pinpointing the origins of a specific Russian-made missile launcher - firing a so-called ‘BUK’ missile - that it claims was used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. The launcher was from a military base close to Kursk, the home of the 2nd Battalion of Russia’s 53rd Air Defense Brigade.
The Dutch-led international criminal investigation's conclusion 24 May 2018 that a missile from the Russian military downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over Ukraine in 2014 has brought fresh scrutiny to a Russian brigade identified as the source of the weapon. The Joint Investigative Team (JIT) announced that it was convinced the Buk missile that brought down MH17, killing all 298 people on board, came from Russia's 53rd Antiaircraft Missile Brigade, based in the southern city of Kursk. The open-source investigation collective Bellingcat had previously identified that brigade as the source of the BUK missile launcher that the JIT said was used to shoot the plane down on July 17, 2014, over territory in eastern Ukraine controlled by Russia-backed separatists fighting Kyiv's forces. Much of the evidence cited by the JIT was previously identified in earlier Bellingcat reports.
Using satellite imagery and a photograph posted on social media, the JIT notes that Buk systems were located in a parking lot on the base of the 53rd brigade in Kursk. Using social-media videos, photographs published online, and geolocation techniques, the investigation concludes that six Buk systems were part of a larger military convoy that left the base on June 23, 2014.
The evidence conclusively proves the missile came from a specific Russian military brigade, was brought into sovereign Ukrainian territory from Russia, was fired from Russia-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine, and was then returned to Russian territory.
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