What Early Evidence Says About MH17

By Daisy Sindelar
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty | July 18, 2014

A Russian Buk-M2 rocket system is shown on display during the MAKS 2011 airshow in the town of Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, in August 2011.

International officials initially called the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 a crash. Now they’re saying the passenger jet was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. Kyiv is blaming Russia and the pro-Moscow separatists. Russia is blaming the Ukrainians. We look at the available evidence.

1) What kind of missile was it and where did it come from?

— Ukraine and Russia appear to be in agreement about one thing: the type of missile used to shoot down the plane. Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Anton Herashchenko and the Russian Defense Ministry have both said it was an SA-11 Buk missile, which is vehicle-mounted and has a range of up to 28 kilometers. Each missile carries a high-explosive warhead.

— Military analysts say MANPADS shoulder-fired missiles — which are known to be in the separatists’ arsenal and have already been used to down several Ukrainian military planes over the rebel-held area in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions — would not have the range to reach commercial aircraft like MH17, which was flying at a cruising altitude of 10,000 meters. This leaves only the Buk missile and S-300 missiles as available weapons for high-altitude targets. So far attention has focused almost exclusively on the SA-11.

— Buk missiles are Russian-made and are part of the official arsenal of both the Ukrainian and Russian militaries. The Kremlin strenuously argues that it has not armed the rebels at any point. Russian state media, however, reported as early as June 28 that separatists in eastern Ukraine claimed to have acquired their own Buk systems.

— At roughly the same time, the self-proclaimed separatist "Donetsk People’s Republic" claimed on Twitter to have a Buk missile launcher. The post was removed following the crash of Flight MH17. 

Anne Applebaum @anneapplebaum


Multiple Russian news agencies in fact gloated about separatists possession of BUK long range anti aircraft systems

http://www.vesti.ru/doc.html?id=1741703 …

4:06 PM – 17 Jul 2014

— "Ukrayinska pravda" has published photographs, taken on July 17, showing a rebel military column, including a Buk missile launcher, moving toward the Dmytrivka border checkpoint within the rebel-held area in the Donetsk region, a territory Ukraine’s military — and any possible missile-launchers of its own — would not have been able to access.

2) If everyone has the missile, who could have fired it?

— Despite having Buk missile systems at their disposal, there is no apparent reason why Ukraine would use them, as the separatists, until now, have not claimed having any military aircraft in their possession.

— Rebel commander Igor Girkin, aka Strelkov, a suspected Russian military intelligence officer, on July 17 appeared to claim responsibility for the shooting — albeit without realizing that the downed plane was not a Ukrainian cargo craft but an international passenger jet.

— At 5:50 p.m. Moscow time, shortly before reports surfaced that Flight MH17 had crashed, Girkin posted a dispatch on the VKontakte networking site saying, "In the area of Torez, we have just shot down an AN-26 airplane" — an Antonov military transport plane. The dispatch added, "We warned them — don’t fly ‘in our sky.’" ITAR-TASS and Vzglyad.ru quickly picked up the dispatch, citing not Girkin but an "eyewitness." Once the identity of the plane had been established, the VKontakte post was removed and replaced by a disclaimer saying the post erroneously claimed to be citing Girkin directly, when he in fact was only parroting eyewitness reports.

— Ukrainian officials also released audio recordings of what they said were  tapped phone conversations between pro-Russian rebels and Russian officers following the crash. In one, a rebel commander, Igor Bezler, is heard saying, "We’ve just shot down a plane." In another, a rebel says "Chernukhino guys" — a reference to Cossack militiamen based in the village of Chernukhino — was responsible for shooting down the plane. He adds, "In short, crap, it was a civilian plane," noting with palpable alarm that one of the first dead bodies at the crash site had been identified as an Indonesian student. This lends weight to arguments that the missile strike was accidental.

— In a conflict where disinformation has become the norm, neither the videos nor the Girkin post can be verified with any finality. But suspicion of rebel involvement is also bolstered by separatist claims they had shot down a Ukrainian SU-27 fighter on July 16 and a Ukrainian AN-26 two days earlier. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said one of the jets was hit by a portable surface-to-air missile, not a MANPADS.




Charting Separatists’ Use Of Increasingly Sophisticated Weaponry In Ukraine
By Frud Bezhan
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty | July 18, 2014

Just a few short months ago, separatist sentiment in eastern Ukraine was underscored by fisticuffs and the occasional appearance of small arms. As unrest rose, Kalashnikovs and Molotov cocktails entered the scene.

And in recent weeks, the separatists have deployed much more sophisticated weapons in their fight against Ukrainian forces amid rising accusations that Russia is the supplier.


Armored personnel carriers (APCs) first came into the control of separatists in April. This YouTube video shows Ukrainian troops peacefully abandoning their vehicles to rebels in the town of Kramatorsk, in eastern Ukraine.

T-64 Tanks

The U.S. State Department said in early June that Russia had sent tanks to separatists in Ukraine. It said NATO satellite photographs showed that three T-64 tanks crossed the border near the Ukrainian town of Snizhne.

The T-64 has been phased out of service in the Russian Army, though they are believed to be stored in southwest Russia. The Ukrainian Army’s arsenal includes T-64s, leaving open the possibility that separatists could commandeer them.

A column of pro-Russian militants with two Russian T-64 tanks and several APCs stand outside of Horlivka in Ukraine’s Donetsk region on June 20.

On June 30, the Ukrainian Army said it had captured a T-64 tank near Artemivsk, in the Donetsk region, it claimed was from Russian military stocks.

Portable Air-Defense Systems (MANPADS)

The rebels have used shoulder-held Man Portable Air-Defense Systems (MANPADS) since June, when they began using them to shoot down Ukrainian military aircraft.

According to one report, rebels have downed at least 10 aircraft, including five Mi-24 Hinds, two Mi-8 helicopters, one An-2, one An-30, and a Ukrainian transport plane. Pro-Russian rebels claimed responsibility for shooting down two additional Ukrainian Su-25 fighters on July 16.

The deadliest attack on record came on June 14, when pro-Russia separatists shot down a Ukrainian military transport plane, killing all 49 crew and troops aboard.

Many of the aircraft are believed to have been downed by MANPADS, although they could also have been taken out by larger and more sophisticated systems like the Buk surface-to-air missile system (see below).

GRAD Rocket Launchers

The BM-21 Grad is a Soviet-designed, truck-mounted multiple rocket launcher. It is capable of firing unguided rockets with a range of 20-45 kilometers, depending on the rockets used. Both the Ukrainian and Russian militaries use Grads.

Pro-Russian separatists on July 11 launched a volley of Russian-made Grad missiles on the border post at Zelenopillya, in Ukraine’s Luhansk region, killing 23 servicemen and wounding nearly 100 others.

A Russian BM-21 Grad multiple-launch rocket system launches rockets during military exercises in the southern Volgograd region in April

Since then there have been a number of reports of Grad rocket launchers being used by rebels in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, which lie on Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia.

Tornado Rocket Launcher

Aside from the Grad, there have been reports that a much more modern rocket-launching systems have entered the theater, the Tornado. The system, which was adopted by the Russian armed forces in 2010, has been described by one defense analyst as a "new developmental multiple-launch rocket system and artillery-support weapon."  Its range is greater than that of a Grad system.

Ukrainian authorities claimed that the Tornado system was used to launch an attack on Ukrainian forces from Russia on June 13. The attack in Zelenopillya, near the Russian border, killed 19 Ukrainian soldiers, according to the Ukrainian military.

BUK Surface-To-Air Missiles

The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) released an audio recording on July 18 in which purported separatists discuss receiving a Buk, along with a crew to operate it, from Russia.

Shortly before the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet was brought down on July 17, AP journalists reported seeing what appeared to be a Buk missile system near the rebel-held eastern town of Snizhne.

A Buk-M2 air-defense missile system takes part in the full dress rehearsal of the Victory Day Parade on Moscow’s Red Square in May

The Buk is a 1970s-era, truck-mounted, radar-guided missile system. It fires a 5.7-meter, 55-kilogram missile to an altitude of around 25,000 meters. It remains widely in use in the former Soviet republics, including in Ukraine.

On June 29, Russia’s official news agency, ITAR-TASS, reported that rebels took a Buk system under their control. The report does 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 Buk is a sophisticated missile system that requires several trained operators. The system typically comprises four vehicles: a command post vehicle, a target-acquisition radar vehicle, the missile-launch vehicle (which has its own targeting radar), and a support vehicle.



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