16:16 08.10.2015

MH17 downed by Russia-brought Buk surface-to-air missile – journalist's investigation

5 min read
MH17 downed by Russia-brought Buk surface-to-air missile – journalist's investigation

A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was downed by a Buk missile launcher on July 2014 which originated from Russia, Bellingcat open source investigations website has reported.

"… it can be concluded that on July 17, 2014 a Buk missile launcher, originating from the 53rd Brigade near Kursk, Russia, travelled from Donetsk to Snizhne. It was then unloaded and drove under its own power to a field south of Snizhne, where at approximately 4:20 p.m. it launched a surface-to-air missile that hit Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as it flew over Ukraine. On the morning of July 18, the Buk missile launcher was driven from Luhansk, Ukraine, across the border to Russia," reads the report which summarizes open source investigations into the downing of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) on July 17, 2014 in Ukraine.

According to the report, "alternative scenarios presented by the Russian Ministry of Defense and Almaz-Antey are at best deeply flawed, and at worst show a deliberate attempt to mislead using fabricated evidence."

Thus, in the Russian Defense Ministry's July 21 press conference, they claimed that the video had actually been filmed in a government-controlled area.

For example, media circulated a video supposedly showing a Buk system being moved from Ukraine to Russia.

"This is clearly a fabrication. This video was made in the town of Chervonoarmiysk, as evidenced by the billboard you see in the background. Chervonoarmiysk has been controlled by the Ukrainian military since May 11. To support this claim, they provided an image of the billboard visible in the video along with what they claimed the line of text read. However, it was possible to establish the true location the video was filmed using open source investigation techniques, which confirmed the billboard's exact location in separatist-controlled Luhansk. This location was visited by a Luhansk local who took photographs of the area which both helped confirm the location, and what was written on the billboard," reads the document.

According to the investigators, it is clear that not only was the location claimed by the Russian Ministry of Defense incorrect, but the billboard's text is very different from the text the Russian Ministry of Defense claimed was on the billboard.

Another disproof image was presented by the Russian Ministry of Defense during the press conference, claiming that MH17 had significantly diverted from its course:

The preliminary Dutch Safety Board report answered the questions that the Russian Ministry of Defense asked, showing that MH17 had been on an entirely different course than that was claimed by the Russian Ministry of Defense and had not changed course in the way described in the Russian Ministry of Defense's imagery.

Russia also presented sets of satellite imagery showing three different locations, including two military bases and a field outside the town of Zaroschenske. At one military base, the 1428, it was claimed that images from July 14 and July 17 showed that a Buk missile launcher had moved from the base on July 17.

However, according to the report, comparisons of an image from the satellite company Digital Globe of the same location on July 17 show a number of clear discrepancies. For example, large areas of vegetation visible in the July 14 Ministry of Defense images were absent from the July 17 Digital Globe image.

On June 2, 2015 Russian arms manufacturer Almaz-Antey presented evidence claiming to show the specific type of missile used to shoot down MH17 in Ukraine. They were quoted as stating:

"If a surface-to-air missile system was used [to hit the plane], it could only have been a 9M38M1 missile of the BUK-M1 system. Production of BUK-M1 missiles was discontinued in 1999, at the same time Russia passed all such missiles that were left to international clients. The clear implication was that the Buk missile used to shoot down MH17 could have not come from Russia. The most obvious visual difference between the 9M38M1 missile, and the newer 9M317 is the length of the fins, with the 9M38M1 having longer fins, as visible below."

Despite these longer fins being visible on Buk missiles loaded onto launchers at Russia's Victory Day Parade in Chita,[52] the Almaz-Antey's head, Yan Novikov claimed "that only the newer BUK-M2 systems with 9M317 missiles take part in modern parades," adding, "even an untrained eye can tell the two apart."

Despite this claim, internet users came across numerous images of what seemed to be 9M38M1 missiles in military service.

Almaz-Antey also claimed that, based on their research, the launch site of the missile that shot down Flight MH17 was near the town of Zaroschenske, 20 km west of the proposed launch site near Snizhne. Interestingly, the area highlighted as the possible launch area by Almaz-Antey includes an area the Russian Ministry of Defense included in their debunked satellite imagery, highlighted in red below.

Analysis of satellite imagery and battlefield reports indicates this area was under the control of separatist forces on July 17, 2014.

The report is based on the published materials of Bellingcat and others who used open source information to uncover facts about the events of July 17 and the origin of the Buk missile launcher.