It is highly likely that a missile blew Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 from the sky over rebel-held eastern Ukraine, Dutch experts conclude in a report published today, September 9, 2014.
Speculation has been rife since the airliner was shot down killing all 298 passengers and crew on board as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, writes Professor Stefan Hedlund.
The report says numerous objects ‘pierced the plane at high velocity’ - which experts say is consistent with the plane being struck by shrapnel from a missile.
The government in Kiev was quick to blame pro-Russian separatists. Governments in the West backed this line of thinking, and a version of events was established which became the mainstay of the case against the Kremlin for being in charge of the rebellion in eastern Ukraine.
That story has four components.
- First: that the plane was flying at a level where it could only be reached by an advanced surface-to-air missile. No shoulder-held weapons could achieve that.
- Second: that plenty of footage has been posted on social media showing a BUK missile battery moving in the area from where the missile must have been fired, from Russia into Ukraine and then back to Russia again.
- Third: that intercepted telephone calls between separatist leaders indicate that the intention was to shoot down a Ukrainian Air Force Antonov aircraft which was flying in the area. When reports indicated that the wreckage was from a civilian airliner, there was shock.
- Fourth: it must have been skilled people from the Russian military who operated the missile battery.
The official Russian version has been very different. Plenty of evidence has been presented to suggest foul play from the Ukrainian side. Russian generals have shown flight tracking data to suggest that the airliner was trailed by a Ukrainian Air Force fighter jet, which may have fired the missile.
Others have suggested that the BUK battery was operated by the Ukrainian military and was under orders to shoot down what they thought was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plane, which did pass through the area at roughly the same time.
This conspiracy theory, suggesting an assassination attempt, has been backed by allegations that the airliner was ordered by Ukrainian air traffic control to change course, bringing it into the sights of the BUK battery.
There have been even more outlandish theories, including that the airliner was filled with dead bodies from the previously missing Malaysian airliner which went down in the Pacific.
Given the impact the tragedy had on perceptions of guilt for the Ukrainian crisis as a whole, it has been imperative that the official investigation carried out by the Dutch would provide evidence which would be as incontrovertible as possible. This preliminary report goes a long way towards that goal.
The main conclusion is that the airliner was hit by multiple ‘high-energy objects from outside the aircraft’. This can only be interpreted as a missile strike, corroborating that the BUK theory has been correct.
No evidence of any tampering with the black boxes has been found, quelling fears that the days spent seeking access to the crash site, which remained a war zone, would have been used to distort evidence.
The flight data recordings show no unusual movements, technical or human error. There is no mention of any MIG being sighted. And there is no record of changes in altitude.
The Kremlin’s only remaining line of defence is that the deed was by the Ukrainian military. Although seriously lacking in credibility, it is likely to stick to that story. Mr Putin has passed beyond the line where being caught lying matters.
So, perhaps the findings of the Dutch experts will not matter that much after all.