Monday 21 October 2019

Scepticism greets Russian ‘evidence’ that MH17 was shot down by Ukrainian forces

Photo: NBAAI via Dutch Safety Board

Russia has claimed to have found evidence disputing the conclusion of the Joint Investigation Team into flight MH17 that the plane was brought down by pro-Russian separatist fighters in Ukraine.

At a press conference in Moscow on Monday, spokesmen for the defence ministry said the Buk missile which struck the civilian plane was made in Russia in 1986, but had ended up in Ukrainian military’s hands after the break-up of the Soviet Union.

The Dutch public prosecution service responded with a strongly worded statement which accused Russia of withholding information or providing false details, in contravention of UN Security Council resolution 2166.

‘From the start of the investigation until today, the JIT has always carefully analyzed and processed the information provided by the Russian Federation,’ the statement said. ‘In doing so, the JIT has found that information from the Russian Ministry of Defense previously presented to the public and provided to the JIT was factually inaccurate on several points.’

All 298 people on board flight MH17 died when it was brought down over eastern Ukraine on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in July 2014. The passengers included 196 Dutch nationals.

Secret evidence

The Russian defence ministry said it had passed evidence in secret to the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) which is looking into the disaster. But the prosecution service said the Russians had failed to provide key information about the serial numbers found on recovered missile parts.

The JIT found that the missile was transported by the 53rd brigade of the Russian army in Kursk to Ukrainian rebels in Donetsk and fired from separatist-held territory. In May the Netherlands announced it was holding Russia responsible for its role in the disaster. It is not believed that the civilian airliner was targeted deliberately.

Eliot Higgins, who runs independent research group Bellingcat, pointed out on Twitter that satellite images show the convoy taking the Buk missile from Kursk to Donetsk.

Two weeks before the tragedy the Donetsk People’s Republic, which was allied with Russia, reported it had seized control of an air defence base with anti-aircraft Buk missiles.

Alternative theories

Monday’s press conference is the latest in a series of alternative explanations for the shooting down of flight MH17 by the Kremlin, which denies any responsibility for the disaster. Previous versions have claimed that the aircraft was shot down by a fighter jet, that it was blown up by a missile intended for President Putin’s private jet, and that the plane had been filled with dead bodies and then shot down on purpose to cover up another unnamed atrocity. The last theory bears an uncanny resemblance to the plot of the first episode of the second season of the BBC mystery drama Sherlock, which was first broadcast in 2012.

The latest counter-offensive coincides with the revelation last week that two Russian spies had been detained last week in The Hague in connection with an alleged plot to infiltrate the Spiez laboratory in Switzerland, which is used by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The NRC and Swiss paper TagesAnzeiger reported that at the time of the botched raid the lab was analysing data related to the poison gas attacks by the Syrian regime as well as the nerve agent attack on Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury last March.

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