Tag Archives: Malaysian Airlines

Flight MH17 tragedy in Ukraine – new evidence

New evidence presented at Russian Ministry of Defence press conference, 17 September 2018.

In July 2014 the Malaysian Airline Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine. All 283 passengers and 15 crew died. A Dutch-led international Joint Investigation Team (JIT) has been investigating the tragedy with the aim of determining criminal blame.

Update: Facebook took it upon themselves to censor my timeline and remove the Facebook post of my article. It seems their fact-checkers at the Atlantic Council have judged this information as “not following community standards”

Bit of a lesson there.

 

The JIT produced a preliminary report in 2016 (see But will it stand up in court?) and updated this with new evidence at a press conference last May 24. At the conference they revealed the serial number of the missile which shot down the plane and made a general appeal for people who might have information on this to come forward. At a Press Conference this week the Ministry of Defence (MOD) of the Russian Federation has responded with information from the manufacturer’s log books about this specific missile.

This appears to be the most concrete evidence to date which could be used to lay credible blame for the tragedy.

The JIT reveals serial numbers of the missile and appeals to the public for information about it.

While the JIT May 24 statement laid the blame on the Russian Federation, their evidence was rather subjective – relying on subjective interpretation of markings on vehicles in videos available online. “Open source” evidence. In contrast, the Russian MOD was specific and taken from archived information from the missile manufacturer.

In a way, this is rather unique because this information was understandably classified. Presumably, Russian officials have been active in the period between May and September locating the log books, interviewing relevant staff members from the time of production and going through the bureaucratic procedures required to declassify the material.

The new evidence

The video of the Russian MOD press conference above summarises three pieces of evidence the Russians have made available:

1: The most convincing evidence is the date of manufacture of the specific missile (December 1986) and its transport to the military unit where it was deployed. The records show it was deployed to a unit based near Lvov in the then Ukrainian Socialist Republic. It had never been returned to Russian territory.

I think that evidence is solid. The MOD spokesperson said the information has been passed onto the JIT and if they ask to inspect the archives they will be invited to Moscow to do so. He also made the point that the Russian side has asked the JIT to request the log books of the Ukrainian military unit which has been in possession of that missile and reveal its movements and location during July 2014.

2: Analysis of the video material the JIT had relied on to support their conclusion that the missile came from the Russian 53rd Anti Aircraft Missile Brigade based near Kursk in the Russian Federation. That video material had initially been compiled by Bellingcat, a suspect internet group now allied with NATO. The JIT conclusion relied on subjective tracking of markings on a BUK unit and its transporter and claimed to track it through its journey.

JIT open source video evidence supporting their conclusion that the BUK unit came from Russia

Russian experts have analysed these videos and shown problems with lighting and perspective indicating they have been faked. Something as simple as placing an image of a BUK unit into an existing video.

Their analysis seems credible, but obviously, this is the sort of thing which could be debated between experts in a court.

3: A recording of a telephone conversation made in 21016 where Ukrainian Armed Forces Col. Ruslan Grinchak refers to the tragedy in a way that implied it was caused by the Ukrainian armed forces. This person was in charge of airspace over the Donetsk region at the time of the tragedy.

This evidence relies on interpretation so is less convincing by itself.

Conclusion

The new evidence resulting from the discovery of the missile serial numbers by the JIT looks conclusive. As Russian Lieutenant General Nikolai Parshin told reporters the archives show:

“the missile was assembled on December 24, 1986, and delivered by rail to the military unit number 20/152, officially named the 223rd Air Defense Missile Brigade. It was deployed to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic’s Ternopol Region, which was part of the Subcarpathian Military District.”

Unless archive evidence in the possession of the Ukrainian armed forces can show that the missile was subsequently exported back to the Russian Federation there seems no doubt that Flight MH17 was shot down by a Ukrainian missile.

However, much more has to be done to apportion blame. There is still the possibility that this particular BUK unit was in the hands of the separatist forces in the Donetsk or Lugansk regions (although Dutch Intelligence reports at the time indicated any BUK units in the hands of separatists were not functioning -see Flight MH17 in Ukraine – what do intelligence services know?).

What is clear is that the ball is now back in the hands of the JIT, and more specifically, the Ukrainian armed forces. The JIT should now demand archived information on the locations, servicing and possession of this specific missile in the period between 2086 and July 2014.

Of course, as in other aspects of this investigation, the Ukrainian side may claim that records do not exist or have been destroyed. I do not think that is good enough and such lack of cooperation has already damaged the reputation and reliability of the JIT. Ukraine, as possibly one of the suspects, should never have been given membership of the JIT where it can influence the investigation and exert veto power over the dissemination of findings.

Perhaps reporters should now be asking the Ukrainian military to go away and find this specific missile and hold their own press conference where they can expose the serial number of the one they have in their possession.

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MH17: Final technical report


dutch-safety-board-report-on-mh17-crash-english-1-638

The final technical report from the Dutch safety Board on the crash of Malaysian flight MH17 in Eastern Ukraine has just been released. You can download your copy here or go to the Final report page which also provides links to the appendices. (Warning – I don’t think this URL is permanent).

Having discussed the previous preliminary report here, and got into a debate on responsibility for the crash, I feel the need to make at least some comment on the final report. My comments will be brief – I have so far not read the complete document. The report is 280 pages long, and there are extra, important, appendices (I think about 26 in total) which are also quite lengthy. Very few people will invest the time to get their head around all these.

So, my observations:

1: Its very technical

Well – it could be worse. The report itself does leave the details to appendices – and doesn’t give even appendices for some of the evidence. This video of a recent press conference by the Russian Arms manufacturer gives an idea if the complexity of the issue (made worse in this case by having to rely on an oral English translation). Skip through to the middle if you want to avoid the formal introductions.

2: Blame

This technical investigation did not have the task of apportioning blame – that is the subject of a later report (probably next year) from the criminal investigation group. However, the Ukrainian Government does get the obvious blame for allowing commercial flights  over a war zone – moreover a zone where planes were regularly being shot down. The lessons about this are probably the most important, and of most interest to potential airline passengers. The report makes some recommendations on this

3: The most likely scenario involves a surface-to-air missile

While the report is definitive about this it effectively relies on two assumptions:

  • Most of the likely air-to-air missiles stationed in the area do not contain the “pre-formed elements” (shrapnel) of the shapes found in the crash debris and the bodies of the flight crew.
  • There were no other aircraft in the area at the time. I couldn’t find any mention of the Russian primary radar data released soon after the crash which did suggest two other aircraft were present (these would not necessarily have shown up on the secondary air-traffic control radar if they were military). This was referred to in the preliminary report (see MH17 – Preliminary report leaves most conspiracy theories intact).

So, I don’t think the air-air missile scenario is definitely excluded but the surface-to-air missile scenario seems most likely and that is what was tested in computer simulations.

4: A Buk missile with a specific warhead was most likely used.

This was based on the recovery of “preformed elements” from bodies of the crew and the aircraft debris. Bow-tie, and square elements were found. The 9N314M warhead contains such elements.

Interestingly the missiles on the Buk-1 system (used by the Ukrainian armed forces use this warhead, but not the missiles on the Buk-2 system (used by the Russian federation armed forces).

The manufacture of the Buk systems, Almaz-Antey, claim the preformed elements found show an even earlier warhead was used, rather than the 9N314M. These warheads are no longer used in the Russian Federation as they are past their use-by date. But the manufacturer had reported servicing the older Buk systems own by Ukraine in the last 10 years.

5: Aircraft damage used to find possible missile trajectory

Simulation modelling was used to find the likely missile trajectory and launch region. The modelling was done by two Dutch groups (NLR & TNO), a forensic group in the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice and the Almaz-Antey company (the manufacturer). While all groups produced similar results  using the NLR/TNO data the Almaz-Antey group found a different missile orientation and locality on detonation using their own collected data.

This difference is immaterial for the purposes of this report but will be important for the criminal investigation.

Incidentally, Almaz-Antey have tested their computer simulations using field experiments involving detonation of a missile near typical material used in construction of the plane and, more recently, the front section of a decommissioned plane very similar to the Boeing. They reported in the press conference in the above video that the experiments vindicated their simulation results. However, the last experiment came too late to influence the Dutch safety Board Report.

Conclusion

No one expected identification of the forces responsible for shooting down flight MH17 in this report – and this is not the task of the Dutch Safety Board. More information apportioning blame should appear in the report from the Criminal investigation Team next year.

The report drew some conclusions about how authorities and airlines should handle the problem of flights over areas of conflict. Hopefully, this will make airline travel safer in future.

In my mind, a scenario involving an air-to-air missile was not completely ruled out (and perhaps the report should have been more qualified about this). However, a surface-to-air missile appears most likely.

So, two of the scenarios (involving attack aircraft) I suggested in my article on the preliminary report, MH17 – Preliminary report leaves most conspiracy theories intact, are most likely ruled out. The remaining scenario I mentioned was that the plane was downed by a surface-to-air missile launched by armed forces of the Kiev government, the Russian Federation or the opposition pro-autonomy militias.

The old warhead suggests that armed forces of the Russian federation were not involved and most probably rules out the social media story of a Russian Buk system being brought in specifically for the attack and then quickly removed.

I think this leaves either the armed forces of the Kiev government (Ukrainian army) or the Donetsk and Luhansk regions fighting for autonomy. The Ukrainian army is known to have weapons of this sort while both Kiev and the rebels claimed the rebels did not.

However, there is evidence that the rebels had either captured one or more Buk systems, or had obtained them via defection of military from the Ukrainian army (on the other hand reports from both the rebels and the Ukrainian side have claimed that at least one captured system was not operational).

So, still too early to claim we know who shot down MH17.

But, of course, that won’t stop the politically motivated blame game that has been going on in the international media (and promoted by some governments) ever since the plane hit the ground.

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MH17 tragedy: 1 year on

Emergencies Ministry members walk at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash, MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. The Malaysian airliner Flight MH-17 was brought down over eastern Ukraine on Thursday, killing all 295 people aboard and sharply raising the stakes in a conflict between Kiev and pro-Moscow rebels in which Russia and the West back opposing sides.    REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev (UKRAINE - Tags: TRANSPORT DISASTER POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) - RTR3Z3QS

Ukrainian Emergencies Ministry members walk at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash, MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. Credit: REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

At the first anniversary of the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines MH17 the international community is none the wiser about who shot it down and the weapon used. But the one thing we do know is the blame game continues.

The only official report we have from investigators to date was released last September (see MH17 – Preliminary report leaves most conspiracy theories intact). The final report will probably be released in October (see Investigations into MH17 crash expected to go on until year-end, says Najib).

But a draft of this final report is now in the hands of interested governments. This has resulted in speculation about its contents and stories which claim to be based on leaks. However, the Dutch investigators, have denied – or at least refused to confirm – the circulating stories.

As expected in the current geopolitical climate, the “blame Putin” propagandists are very active, although the stories seem to blame the “separatists” in eastern Ukraine, rather than the Russian Federation itself. For example, this from CNN:

“Dutch accident investigators say that evidence points to pro-Russian rebels as being responsible for shooting down MH-17, according to a source who has seen the report.

“According to the source”, the report says it was a Buk missile — a Russian surface-to-air missile — that was used, launched from a village in Russian rebel controlled territory.”

I am always suspicious of “according to a source” stories – they have so often proved to be no more than the reporter’s imagination.

Other reports do not point the finger but say the investigators now have a clear idea of what missile was used. A recent presentation from technical experts in the firm Almaz-Antey which manufactures missiles of the sort which may have been used shows what can be gleaned from the shrapnel fragments in the wreckage and the pattern of damage on the fuselage. Both in identifying the specific missile used (and, therefore, its possible owners) and its trajectory and launch site. This presentation is very technical and quite long but very interesting.

Although this presentation was aimed mainly at getting European sanctions on the company lifted by legal action, the material was also supplied to the Dutch Safety Board which is the official investigator of the causes of this tragedy.

Almaz-Antey’s conclusion is that, if a BUK missile was used, it was an older model no longer manufactured in the Russian Federation. The Ukrainian armed forces does have these  missile systems (see MH17 crash: ‘Old Buk missile used’ – Russian firm). Mind you, that does not prove who fired the missile because the armed forces in the Donbass region may have possessed one or more such systems captured from the Ukrainian armed forces. And may have trained Ukrainian operators who had defected to the rebels.

So, at this stage the real causes of this tragedy are still unknown. It looks like we will know something more definite in October. But the geopolitical propaganda struggle continues.

I suspect the rumours and unconfirmed stories attributing blame to the eastern Ukrainian rebels are nothing more than propaganda – precipitated by the fact of the anniversary of the tragedy.

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Dirty politics over MH17?

I have followed events in Ukraine for a year now and learned very early on never to be surprised. There have been so many seemingly outrageous things happen. On the one hand this has kept the Ukrainian events in the news. On the other it probably serves as a warning. There is just so much corruption in that country that anything seems possible.

Since August there have been rumours of an agreement between Ukraine, Australia, the Netherlands and Belgium about revealing information from the MH17 investigations. Specifically an agreement on nondisclosure – that the results of the investigation will be published once completed only if a consensus agreement of all parties that have signed the agreement prevails.

While the source for this was apparently a statement made under the auspices of the office of the Prosecutor General Yuri Boychenko. I haven’t seen anything more official than that

Until recently when I came across this letter which appears to be a response to a Freedom of Information request in Australia.

Doc-Aus

This confirms the existence of a nondisclosure agreement and that worries me for 3 reasons:

  1. I had hoped that assurances made at the UN Security Council meetings that the investigations of the MH17 tragedy would be transparent were genuine. This agreement seems to contradict the assurances and is particularly concerning as the current Ukraine government, or elements within it, is a possible suspect for criminal actions leading to the crash.
  2. The non-disclosure agreement itself is classified! What the hell could be in the agreement which makes it a state secret in Australia, Ukraine, Belgium and the Netherlands?
  3. Malaysia, whose airline owned the crashed plane and whose citizens comprised a significant number of the victims has been excluded.

Yes, I know nondisclosure before a report is normal and reasonable. Even sensible because of the rumour mongering and political maneuvering around such events – particularly this event. But why make the nondisclosure agreement itself a state secret? What could they have to hide?

And why exclude Malaysia? I have picked up excuses relating to the existence of a death penalty in Malaysia – but how should that effect this agreement?

Malaysia is often described as cooperating in the investigation, or as a member of the investigation team. But they have formerly been excluded from this agreement – and possibly others.

I can’t help feeling this has more to do with the fact that Malaysia has got off-side with the Kiev government because it was prepared to negotiate with the authorities in the crash area. That contact enabled early progress in recovery of the black boxes and bodies. The OSCE observers also were able to give early help because of their contacts with these authorities. In contrast, the Dutch investigation and recovery teams have been extremely tardy because of their unwillingness for direct contact. And their apparent subservience to the wishes of the Kiev government who have discouraged this contact.

trucks

Trucks carrying the wreckage of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 arrive from the Ukraine at Gilze-Rijen military base, Netherlands, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014. Photo credit: Peter Dejong/AP

Many wild accusation have been made against Vladimir Putin, the president of the Russian Federation, over this incident. But he at least retained the moral high ground when he warned governments and politicians not to use this tragedy for political purposes.

I think that warning was humane and important. Those using this tragedy for political purposes are showing the worst form of disrespect for the almost 300 innocent victims.

But won’t the governments and investigators who conspire to withhold information or findings also be showing the same disrespect?

Update

Malaysia-acceptedMalaysia annnounced last week, 4 months after the above agreement was signed, it has been accepted as a full member of the MH17 joint investigation team (see MH17: Malaysia to help identify perpetrators: Liow.

I cannot find any indication that this means it has signed the secret non-disclosure agreement or not.

 

wreckage-protocol

 

Also, the Dutch investigation team did eventually get around to negotiating with the local authorities in the crash area – and this lead to rapid decisions (on November 20) on collection and removal of the wreckage to the Netherlands.

This could have happened so much more quickly.

 

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Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 – what really happened?

Three months after the loss of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine the world is no wiser about what, and who, caused this crash. Well, we have the preliminary report but this only confirmed the bleeding obvious (“the aircraft was penetrated by a large number of high-energy objects from outside the aircraft”) and did nothing to either support, or undermine, the various theories circulating about this tragedy (see MH17 – Preliminary report leaves most conspiracy theories intact).

This new documentary probably won’t decide viewers one way or the other either. But it at least presents more evidence, more objectively, than our media usually presents and does not force a predetermined political agenda down the viewer’s throat.

If nothing else, it keeps the issue alive. We should not forget this tragedy and we should identify its causes and perpetrators. It’s not as if we are short of evidence – just short of the political will required to allow its collection and fearless presentation.

MH-17: THE UNTOLD STORY

22 OCTOBER 2014

From the documentary makers – RTD Films.

Three months after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was violently brought down from the skies over Ukraine, there are still no definitive answers to what caused the tragedy. Civil conflict in the area prevented international experts from conducting a full and thorough investigation. The wreckage should have been collected and scrupulously re-assembled to identify all the damage, but this standard investigative procedure was never carried out. Until that’s done, evidence can only be gleaned from pictures of the debris, the flight recorders or black boxes and eye-witnesses’ testimonies.  This may be enough to help build a picture of what really happened to the aircraft, whether a rocket fired from the ground or gunfire from a military jet.

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