Russia Responsible for MH17 Shoot-Down

25 May 18 11 Comments

On the 17th of July in 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot down while flying over eastern Ukraine, on a scheduled flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. The aircraft was a Boeing 777-200ER, registration 9M-MRD. There were 15 crew and 283 passengers on board, making this the deadliest airliner shootdown in history. The passengers were primarily Dutch, Malaysian and Australian.

Boeing 777-2H6ER ‘9M-MRD’ Malaysian photographed in 2011 by Alan Wilson

The crash site was in Donetsk Oblast in Ukraine. Ukraine had closed the airspace above Donetsk Oblast below 26,000 feet a month before. Three days before the accident, they raised the ceiling, closing the airspace up to flight level 320 (32,000 feet). Although extreme caution was advised for areas south of the Boeing’s route that day, most airlines continued to overfly eastern Ukraine.

On the 17th of July, a few hours before Malaysia Airlines flight 17 was shot down, Russian ATC issued a NOTAM (Notice to Airman) closing Russian airspace up to FL530 (53,000 feet) over the Rostov FIR, citing the armed conflict in Ukraine. It’s a bit odd, as the NOTAM actually refers to two altitudes, FL320, matching the Ukrainian restrictions, and FL530, which is much higher. The Russian Federation declined to give an explanation for this airspace restriction when asked by investigators.

Two investigations were launched: the first into the technical cause of the crash and second as a criminal investigation.

Normally the investigation would be led by the country in which the accident occurred, so in this case by the National Bureau of Air Accidents Investigation of Ukraine. However in August 2014, Ukraine delegated the leadership of both investigations to the Dutch Safety Board, based on the fact that the flight originated in Amsterdam and that there were a large number of Dutch passengers on the flight. Malaysian and Australian teams were also dispatched to Ukraine for support.

The technical investigation released its final report on the 13th of October in 2015. The investigation found that the crash was caused by a Buk 9M38-series surface-to-air missile with a 9N314M warhead.

Dutch Safety Board: Buk surface-to-air missile system caused MH17 crash

The crash of flight MH17 on 17 July 2014 was caused by the detonation of a 9N314M-type warhead launched from the eastern part of Ukraine using a Buk missile system. So says the investigation report published by the Dutch Safety Board today. Moreover, it is clear that Ukraine already had sufficient reason to close the airspace over the eastern part of Ukraine as a precaution before 17 July 2014. None of the parties involved recognised the risk posed to overflying civil aircraft by the armed conflict in the eastern part of Ukraine.

Reconstruction of the cockpit by the Dutch Safety Board

The warhead detonated to the left and above the cockpit, blasting the aircraft with hundreds of high-energy objects (shrapnel).

The flight crew were killed instantly. The aircraft, or what remained of it, continued forward for about 8.5 kilometres before breaking up completely. Investigators collected the wreckage over 50 square km area, along with missile fragments which were identified as from a 9M38 series surface-to-air missile.

Collecting the wreckage of MH17

A reconstruction of the trajectory of the missile limited the launch location to within a 320 square km (120 sq mi) area in eastern Ukraine. Exactly where the missile was launched and by whom is of course outside of the scope of an aviation investigation; however this quickly became the focus on the criminal investigation, which is still in progress.

That investigation is led by the Netherlands Public Prosector’s Office and the Dutch National Police, along with the police and judicial authorities of Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine. This Joint Investigation Team (JIT) consists of over 200 investigators. The JIT has released a number of documents and interim reports, including confirmation that that the aircraft was shot down with a 9M38 Buk missile and the location (a field near Pervomaisky, south of Snizhne, held by pro-Russian separatists). They identified the Buk missile system used and asked for witnesses who had seen the launcher being delivered to the field.

JIT reconstruction of the Buk which fired the missile.

Yesterday, the JIT released a report with an explanatory video, proving that the Buk had been transported from Russia into Ukraine in a convoy from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Rocket Brigade in Kursk. The video is very clear and easy to follow and I highly recommend taking the time to watch it.

Tony Abbott, who was the Australian Prime Minister at the time of the crash, said that the report confirmed what he’d believed.

In the Sydney Morning Herald:

“There is now a very heavy onus on President Putin and Russia to apologise abjectly and make restitution to the families of those who have been killed.

“If Russia continues to deny responsibility it will be hard to avoid the conclusion that it has become a rogue state.”

The Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimr Putin, responded that Russia will only acknowledge the JIT conclusion for analysis if Russia is made a party in the investigation.

The Russian Ministry of Defence has already publicly rejected the report, maintaining that the missle was launched from territory held by the Ukranian Armed Forces (that is, the government of Ukraine).

No Russian missile system ever crossed into Ukraine: MoD rejects Dutch MH17 claims

“Not a single anti-aircraft missile system of the Russian Armed Forces has ever crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border,” the defense ministry said in statement.

The Russian military raised eyebrows over “the determination of the Dutch-led investigation to justifying its conclusions by solely using images from social networks that have been expertly altered with computer graphic editing tools.”

The Russian side said that it provided the international probe with “comprehensive” evidence, including field tests, which “clearly indicate the involvement of the Ukrainian Buk anti-aircraft system units” in the destruction of the plane with 283 passengers and 15 crew members onboard.

As of now, the criminal investigation is still in progress. The JIT says their investigators have identified one hundred people involved in the movement of the launcher. They are appealing for any information on the crew of the convoy, in the hopes of determining what orders were given and by whom.


  • What happened is clear beyond any doubt.
    Who was responsible will not be so easy, in fact virtually impossible to establish.
    More so since the prime suspect cannot be forced to stand trial and still maintains that they will only cooperate if they will be directly involved in the investigation.

    A suspect of a crime should not, ever, under any conditions or circumstances be part of the investigation into a crime that he is the main suspect of, be they individuals or states. Of course subject to international law.

    A major power, be it Russia, the USA or any other large country, has access to very large carpets and gigantic brooms to wipe the affair under.

    I agree: refusal to cooperate to an investigation under international law can lead to the country in question becoming a rogue state.

    Russia, in spite of all current friction, is a highly developed, cultured country. It would be little short of a disaster if the friction and suspicions that have emerged in recent years between various countries, including Russia, were to be allowed to negate all progress that has been made so far.

  • When the Chelyabinsk meteor (Octoboer 2013) made the news worldwide, the BBC et al reported that it was captured on video because so many Russian cars have dashboard cameras, so they can prove they’re not at fault in case of (frequent) accident. This prevalence is probably why there was enough video evidence to nail the launcher responsible for this crime. Putin is probably furious about this; I’m just waiting for reports that posting videos of Russian military vehicles on public highways has been outlawed.
    Russia may be developed in terms of having lots of weapons tech, but its behavior for the last couple of decades has been what they’d call _nykulturny_ — setting up a cult of personality, giving excess power to the church, encouraging paranoia among its citizens, violently repressing legitimate political opponents, even cheating at sports. It is not alone in this — other ex-Warsaw Pact nations are also regressing — but it is by far the worst; I would love to think that disaster is avoidable.

    • Everything that you state in your post regarding the ‘regression’ of Russian politics and culture is equally, and more so, true of the United States. It’s simple-minded and naif to go witch-hunting and bear baiting. You yap on about ‘Putin banning videos of military traffic’ and yet you already know that Americans are crammed into ‘free speech zones’ if they wish to protest a political rally. Just like the good old commies, eh? Your comment is specious, and unworthy. “Cult of personality” is everywhere in evidence in US society and politics. “Encouraging paranoia among its citizens” is absolutely mandatory in US media. “Violently repressing legitimate political opponents” is done with targeted killings in the USA, as it is in Russia … I see NO DIFFERENCE. Get off your high horse.

  • Chip may have a point, but oppressive regimes often originate out of fear of another oppressive regime in another country.
    The incumbent in the USA does not miss an opportunity to throw people off-guard and instill fear and distrust in people living in countries that are perceived as hostile.
    The result is that people in those countries react in essentially the same way: they rally behind the leadership that promises security, prosperity and dominance over the other.
    We see it happening all over the world and it is quite scary.
    Neither Russia nor China, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, the Palestinians, to name a few, have any good reason to trust the now so-called “Leader of the Free world”.
    Which plays right into the hand of terrorists and (emerging) dictators.
    I have been in the slums of Lagos, Nigeria like Mushin, Surulere. Those who.have been know what I am talking about. I have been in the Middle East, China and some other countries that we now regards as “regressive, scary”. I have driven through sections of a large town in the USA that the locals told me to avoid at all cost. I got out of the car and had a coffee in a local pub. Never have I been threatened even.
    The average person, anywhere, has no time for criminals or terrorists. But given the rhetoric of perceived threats by an alien power or people and everyone rallies behind the Leader, never mind how obnoxious.
    So we have to be very careful when implicating the Russian leadership of being directly involved in what must be regarded as a criminal act by terrorists.
    The footage of Russian rocket launchers is no proof in itself.
    So the screaming ad shouting is futile. The opposite side is starting to look like a similar scenario: a leader who makes decisions that affect world peace, yet continues to stir up feelings of hatred.
    I am no admirer of Putin, yet it is my honest opinion that the only way forward would be to reduce tension.
    The alternative may well be increasing acts of terrorism and small, locally held belief that the others – in this sense the West – are out to destroy them. Which will only cause more violence.
    We must not allow ourselves to be goaded, neither by leaders like Kim or Putin nor, to name him, Trump.
    We need proof first and even then, treating a country the size and importance of Russia as a pariah or rogue state is not going to solve anything.

  • I think that the person best qualified to give an assessment that is reasonably accurate and neutral would be Sylvia.
    I hope that she will be able to post some of her always excellent comments to this sad story.

    • Bear in mind that I’m living in Estonia now, so I have much more reason to be nervous of the Russians than the US. But I do wonder about the similarities between Putin and Trump, both in terms of personality and entitlement. I wouldn’t trust either to take responsibility in such a case, although it’s true that Russia has much more of a history of denying the facts until it is absolutely proven that it couldn’t be otherwise, especially when it comes to the accidental shooting of civilian aircraft (although they certainly aren’t the only ones – I’m vaguely tempted to make a collection of them).

      Does anyone believe that the shoot down was intentional? Side-stepping the question of taking responsibility, for the moment, it does seem to me that it was pretty clearly a tragic accident rather than a declaration of war. Or is this me being naive?

      • Hi Sylvia,

        Bellingcat has been doing some in-depth work on MH17, (, and from what I’ve read it seems while they were antsy and excited to use their recently procured AA launcher, they weren’t looking to shoot down an airliner.

        • ‘Bellingcat’ is an appallingly muddy field to try to excavate real facts from. They are similar to the one-man band called “The Syrian Observatory on Human Rights” run by a dedicated one-eye in Sheffield. There is very little to Bellingcat but scraping social media for bytes. Social media itself is a strongly polluted stream, and has been for some years now. Social media is not a credible source for evidence in an criminal investigation, and for very good reason. Bellingcat ? Really ? Truly, the Interwebz have rotted the mental gums of the credulous.

  • Thank you Sylvia for that clarification.
    You are quite right: There are sinister goings-on. Enemies of Putin are not safe, anywhere in the world. This morning the news mentions the sudden and violent death of another critic of Putin, Babchenko, in Kiev.
    In order to counter or at least reduce this reversal of normal behaviour: adherence to internationally acceptable standards of law and justice, the first thing should be to reassure the common people in Russia, that the West’s only interest is to maintain those standards of decency and encourage the rulers in other countries to do the same.
    Only when the citizens of countries where law an order is breaking down will believe that the countries of the West, headed by the USA, have no other motive than creating a better world for all, will there be a chance that emerging dictators will not be elected. Preferably, of course, before their grip on power has become too strong.
    So far, there is not a lot of cause for the people who live under oppressive regimes to believe that the USA is acting with good and honest intentions.
    The most scary thing is that insofar as I am concerned, Putin is far smarter than Trump.
    I doubt that Trump would stand a chance to win a chess game if he were pitching his skills against Putin.
    Was the shoot-down of the Malaysian flight intentional?
    It may be a sign of a lack of internal discipline. But this crack in the Russian armour, if it existed, has more than likely already been closed.
    We need better politicians than a bunch of rednecks who will resort to their guns as an instant knee-jerk reaction if we want to avoid a major international conflagration.

  • Recent developments and James’ comments bring into perspective what I meant: We have to be very careful when condemning the head of a foreign government on the basis of not proven, or distorted – for political reasons perhaps, evidence.
    James has information that may point to the shooting down of MH17 as a tragic accident, caused by trigger-happy fools playing with a new tool they did not yet know how to operate properly.
    Babchenko, the alleged victim of an alleged assassination by Putin showed up alive and well on a press conference.
    Russia has traditionally been secretive. That in itself is no evidence.
    Again: Do not think that I am a Putin admirer. I am not.
    I just want to keep things in their proper perspective.

    • Quote – “the West, headed by the USA, have no other motive than creating a better world for all, ”
      I don’t know where to start with this level of cognitive dissonance. You clearly still believe this ? You do not (yet) comprehend the dark river of corporate greed that is one of the main steering forces behind Western political agendas? You think ‘we the people’ is a Thing? Oh dear oh dear.
      As a citizen you are of absolutely NO importance to political agendas, except as a useful shield and a malleable tool to shape. ‘The West’ and it’s social media obsession illustrates this very well. Please do read some deeper analysis of Globalism before placing such naif belief out in public.

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