MH 17: Conflicted air space

International relations hang in the balance of recent probes into culpability for the MH 17 travesty

Hardnews Bureau Delhi 

Moscow: It’s been a year since the Malaysian Airlines MH 17 Boeing 777 aircraft was brought down by what the Netherland Safety Board termed “multiple high-intensity objects” over war-torn Ukraine. This description of a “high-intensity object” veils a missile used to attack a civilian aircraft flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 283 passengers on board. The debris of the aircraft was spread over those parts of Eastern Ukraine that are witnessing intense conflict between rebels and government forces. Due to this reason, while there is clarity about the weapon of attack, there is raging controversy about who fired the missile that took away the lives of innocent people. Was it Russians, Ukrainians or the rebels? While all the countries or entities that are in the arc of suspicion may know who fired it, but this long hiatus between the accident and an objective disclosure of the truth is allowing US and other NATO countries to make Russia look like an unrestrained villain. If the recent probe by Russia’s leading arms manufacturer, Almaz Antey, is trustworthy, then three facts are indubitable: (1) if the aircraft was brought down by a surface to air missile, then it had to be a BUK missile; (2) the missile was fired from a Ukrainian territory and thirdly, BUK missile of this vintage is no longer used by Russia.

Should the Dutch report to be presented later this year support Almaz Antey’s findings, it will clearly establish that US and NATO countries are running a vilification campaign against Russia by trying to establish President Putin and his country as irresponsible and predatory. However, if Russia is found guilty in the Dutch probe, then NATO-US will have a strong case, which may lead to the de-legitimization of Moscow as a responsible world power. Such an exposure would not only damage Russia’s neighborhood policy, but also jeopardize its significant presence in Syria and the rest of the Middle East.

In other words, much rides on identifying the source of the missile. As stated, Almaz Antey’s authoritative probe proves that a Russian-made missile no longer in use by the Russian army was the cause of the blast. This presentation also sank a theory that had been going around that maybe an air-to-air missile from SU 25 aircraft was used. The Almaz Antey presentation used the visuals from the Dutch Safety Board investigation to arrive to its own conclusions. Antey was subjected to sanctions by the European Union, and its presentation also intended to prove that it had nothing to do with the July 17 demise of MH 17. According to Mikhail Maleyshevsky advisor to Antey’s chief designer, “If a surface-to-air missile destroyed MH 17, it had to be a BUK, specifically an older 9M38-M1 type rocket armed with a 9N314M1 warhead”. According to Maleyshevsky, “Neither the older 9M38 or newer 9M317 releases shrapnel that cause the kinds of damage patterns seen on the wreckage of the MH17”. CEO of Almaz Antey, Yan Novikov, further explained that when production of the 9M38-M1 ceased in 1999, Russia hawked its stockpiles on the foreign market. Ukraine bought many.

This contention has been disputed by many MH 17 conspiracy theory websites, which claim that Russia had the missile system in use long after it claims to have ceased. There is photographic evidence to show that the 9M38-M1 was present at a 2008 parade. Websites like Bellingcat are furiously posting material to dispute the presentation made by Antey, but are unable to question the rigor with which the analysis has been done. Such efforts are particularly bereft when it comes to how to analyse damage to the aircraft to ascertain launch location.

The detailed presentation hinged on its analysis of the apparent vectors of the BUK missile’s shrapnel. Company experts, whose data was declassified by the government, were not only able to identify the epicenter of the warhead’s detonation relative to the plane, but the trajectory of shards, Malyshevsky said.

Such information enabled the “company to rule out a head-on impact from the missile, as alleged by prominent theories in the West, who claimed the missile was fired from the separatist town of Snizhne on the Russian border—directly in the
plane’s path”.

Since the shrapnel traveled down the length of the plane, it had to come from the side—in the direction of Zaroschenskoe Township, under the control of Ukraine.

This is a crucial fact. Detractors of Russia have long stated that the aircraft was brought down from a territory under Moscow’s control. This evidence endeavors to reconfirm an earlier statement by the Russian Defense Ministry, that the BUK missiles were fired from Ukrainian territory. Ukrainian authorities have predictably claimed that, at the time of the incident, Zaroscheskoe was rogue.

Antey’s presentation is far more authoritative than any earlier probes, and similar exertions will be required to demolish it. Its explication of the BUK missile and how it impacts an object could only be countered by another missile manufacturer. Antey has also offered to recreate the incident if anyone questions the veracity of their research.

Until the truth comes out, NATO and the US will work to discredit Russia’s policy in Ukraine, claiming the country cannibalizes its neighbours.

Malaysia, which has suffered in this crossfire, hopes enquiries will help in restoring much of its lost credibility. The MH 17 incident exacerbated distrust garnered by the disappearance of MH 370 in March, 2014. The international commission headed by the Dutch Safety Board is slated to submit its report in October this year; the commission already submitted its preliminary report to Malaysia, Russia and a few more countries. Russia, New York Times claims, is unhappy, though there is no evidence yet as to why, since procedures thus far have been kept airtight.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JULY 2015