The Russian Defense Ministry may have finally unveiled the “smoking gun” able to solve the mystery surrounding Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, shot down on July 17, 2014 over the Donetsk Oblast, a province in eastern Ukraine.
The MH17 crash killed 283 passengers from 10 different countries and 15 crew members. A Joint Investigation Team (JIT) from Malaysia, the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine – but not Russia – seemed to reach a controversial verdict: Moscow did it.
Well, not really, according to a detailed presentation by Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov and Lt. Gen. Nikolai Parshin, head of the Main Missile and Artillery Directorate.
The “breakthrough” seems to have come from a JIT briefing last May, which produced fragments of the engine and nozzle of the 9M38 missile, launched by a Buk missile system, which downed MH17. According to Parshin: “Once we had the nozzle and engine numbers, we were able to find out the missile’s number.”
So now we know, via declassified files, that the engine of the missile 9D131 allegedly had the serial number 8869032. And a “passport” for the nozzle cluster 9D13105000 carried the number 8-30-113. The actual missile number was 886847349, they said.
The Defense Ministry established that numbers for the components of the 9M38 missile and the number of units noted in the technical documentation stored at the Dolgoprudny Research and Production Enterprise, outside Moscow, are the same.
So, they were able to establish that the missile was made in Dolgoprudny in 1986 and that it was delivered by rail on December 29, 1986 to military unit 20152 deployed to Ukraine – and never returned to Russia.
According to Parshin, this Ukrainian military unit is now called the 223rd anti-aircraft defense regiment of the Ukrainian armed forces, was renamed by a decree from the Ukraine presidential office.
“Currently, this unit is located in the city of Stryi in the Lviv region, [and] they still have the Buk systems. It is noteworthy that units of the 223 regiment have, since 2014, repeatedly been involved in the so-called anti-terror operation in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions.”
All documents for the Buk missile system are still stored in Dolgoprudny, and the JIT will be able to examine them. Moscow has already sent the new information to the Netherlands.
Meanwhile, Russian Investigative Committee spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko also challenged video footage used by Bellingcat, a UK-based citizen journalist group, allegedly proving that a self-propelled firing system of the Russian 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade was involved in the downing of MH17.
A political football of immense proportions
There’s more – and it does not look good for Kiev. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Konashenkov said: “We have an audio recording of telephone conversations of Ukrainian servicemen made in 2016. An analysis of its content confirms earlier made conclusions about the direct involvement of the Ukrainian side in the crash of the Malaysian Boeing.”
The voice on the intercepted audio allegedly comes from Ukrainian Armed Forces Col. Ruslan Grinchak, in Odessa, during an exercise called Rubezh-2016. Grinchak was part of a brigade responsible for radar control. His unit actually tracked the MH17 flight in 2014.
Discussing the risk of flying through restricted airspace, Grinchak says that unless restrictions are followed “We’ll f***ing f**k up another Malaysian Boeing.“ What he said was actually published by Ukrainian media outlets.
Konashenkov stressed that Kiev provided no radar data whatsoever to Dutch investigators. He also said that all documents from the Ukrainian unit which received the Buk missile back in 1986 should be more than relevant for the investigation. Or Kiev could simply say they have been destroyed.
The ball is now in the JIT court. Moscow has always insisted, in detail, that the investigation has been biased from the start. It never obtained any key evidence from Kiev, relied on sources such as Bellingcat, and totally ignored evidence provided by Russia.
This is a political football of immense proportions – at the heart of the Maidan coup and subsequent, relentless demonization of Russia. But in terms of the human tragedy, the thing that really matters is to establish incontrovertible MH17 facts.
In a statement, the Joint Investigation Team seems to admit as much: “The JIT has taken note of the information that has been publicly presented by the authorities of the Russian Federation for the first time today … The JIT will meticulously study the materials presented today as soon as the Russian Federation makes the relevant documents available to the JIT as requested in May 2018 and required by UNSC resolution 2166.”
So, will Kiev agree to investigate itself?
New information ‘to be assessed’
Meanwhile, the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team said on Monday it had requested information on serial numbers on missile components in May 2018, AFP reported.
“The JIT will carefully study the information brought out by the Russian Federation” once the documents are made available, it said in a statement. It added that some information previously provided publicly by Russia such as the alleged presence of a Ukrainian jet near the airliner on radar images “was actually incorrect”.
Also on Monday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a decree not to extend an official friendship agreement with Russia.