I’d like to begin this piece with a disclaimer. Although I have a keen interest in the MH17 plane crash, having written about it a few times in the past, I have no particular dog in this fight, other than a hope that the truth of what really happened will be established beyond reasonable doubt. If the plane was shot down on purpose, I hope that those who ordered it and perpetrated it will face justice after a free and fair trial. If the plane was shot down by accident, I hope this becomes known and steps taken to ensure that such a thing can never happen again.
That being said, there are a couple of points that I want to make in regard to the recent Joint Investigation Team (JIT) report, which was presented on Wednesday 28th September. The first point is straightforward, whilst the second will take a little more explanation.
So to the first point. Imagine that you hear of the death of a man in your area, and you then find out that the police are treating it is a potential murder. You then discover that there are two men who could possibly have committed the crime. If you are interested in truth and justice, your hope would be that the police will thoroughly investigate the evidence and, having done so, come to an impartial judgement as to which man to charge with murder on the basis of what they have discovered.
But what would your reaction be if you heard that one of the suspects was actually carrying out the investigation? If you have any understanding and commitment to justice, you would be horrified and likely treat its findings with extreme scepticism.
Well, this is essentially what the JIT is – an investigation team into a possible crime, which includes one of the possible crime suspects on its committee. However, this is not the half of it. In addition to forming a part of the investigation team, this particular suspect – Ukraine – has signed a non-disclosure agreement with the other JIT members, meaning that they have the complete right of veto over what information is and isn’t made public.
And when you also throw into the mix that much of the information presented in the report came from an organisation that was recently accused of running secret torture centres – the Ukrainian SBU – well if your alarm bells aren’t yet ringing than you probably need to make sure you still have a pulse. Simply put, this is not how proper justice works, and no person interested in truth and justice in this particular case can possibly treat the findings of the JIT with credibility.
Now to the second point. In their report, the JIT presented the following scenario of how the secessionists managed to get their hands on a BUK missile system (or at least one part of it), and what happened once they did:
“The system was transported from Russian territory into eastern Ukraine and was later transported on a white Volvo truck with a low-boy trailer. The truck was escorted by several other vehicles and by armed men in uniform. The final destination of the BUK-system was on farmland near Pervomaiskyi. Evidence that supports this includes multiple witnesses who saw and photographed the condensation trail of the BUK missile and its movement through the air. Other witnesses were able to link the trail to the BUK-TELAR which they had seen earlier on 17 July 2014.”
Others, such as Robert Parry here, have questioned the credibility of the evidence presented (much of which seems to have been drawn from the internet and from witnesses whose identities were not revealed), but it is not my intention to do so here. What I am most interested in is the motive presented, a particular claim made, and the logical conclusions that spring from this.
So here is the sequence that the JIT report says took place:
- The secessionists wanted a BUK missile system to be delivered to them in order to shoot down Ukrainian military aircraft in the area
- Their request was granted (though at what level we are not told), and a system was subsequently delivered to them on July 17th
- It was driven to the village of Snezhnoe, before going onto farmland near Pervomaiskyi
- There it was used to shoot down MH17, before returning back over the border that same night
So the motive for the transfer of the weapon was what? Well, to shoot down Ukrainian military aircraft.
Now, one of the theories that has been doing the rounds since the crash is that MH17 was shot down by a Ukrainian military plane – possibly an SU-25, or a MIG-29. However, according to the Ukrainian Government, there were no Ukrainian military planes flying that day. This claim has been backed up by the JIT report, which states the following:
“The scenario that flight MH17 was shot down by a military aircraft was explored and discounted on the basis of radar data, witness testimonies and forensic research. The JIT has obtained sufficient radar data, both from Russia and Ukraine, which – when viewed in conjunction – provide a full picture of the airspace over eastern Ukraine. This shows that at the time of the crash, no other airplanes were in the vicinity that could have shot down flight MH17. The Russian Federation mentioned last week that they have found ‘new’ primary radar images. Based on those images the Russian Federation concludes also that there was no second airplane that could have shot down MH17.” (my emphasis)
Actually the Russian Federation went further, claiming in their presentation on Monday 26th September that the only other aircraft in the vicinity were two other civilian airliners. This concurs with the Ukrainian claim that they had no military aircraft flying that day.
So far we have the motive – to shoot down Ukrainian military aircraft – and the specific claim – that there were no Ukrainian military aircraft in the vicinity. Now do you start to see the elephant slowly emerging in the room?
Remember the motive. It was allegedly to bring a BUK missile system into the area of Donetsk, and to use it to shoot down Ukrainian military aircraft. But according to the JIT investigation, along with both the Ukrainian and Russian Ministries of Defence, there were none in the area to shoot down at the time of the tragedy. In other words, according to the JIT report, you are being asked to believe that the following scenario took place:
- The secessionists asked for a BUK missile system to be delivered to them in order to shoot down Ukrainian military aircraft
- A BUK system (or at least part of it) was delivered to them on July 17th and transferred to farmland near Pervomaiskyi
- However, at that time there were no Ukrainian military aircraft in the vicinity, and – according to the Ukrainian Government – none flying that day
- Even so, the secessionists used the system, which they had had brought over the border in order to shoot down Ukrainian military aircraft, instead to shoot down a civilian airliner, flying at 33,000 ft.
What this does is to rule out two scenarios.
The first is the idea that it was a deliberate shoot down. If the motive was to have a BUK in order to shoot down Ukrainian military aircraft, as the JIT case states, then it cannot have been the case that the secessionists deliberately targeted a civilian airliner.
But the report also rules out a second scenario, which is that the secessionists downed the civilian airliner when trying to bring down a Ukrainian military aircraft. Remember, there were no Ukrainian military aircraft in the area, according to the JIT report, along with the Ukrainian and Russian Ministries of Defence. Had there been one or two of these in the area, a plausible scenario might have been that they tried to shoot down one of these planes, but ended up shooting down “the wrong plane” instead. And in fact this has been the assumption that many who blamed the incident on the secessionists have claimed. But since there were no such planes in the area, they can’t have been trying to bring them down, can they?
Which leaves us with only one further scenario, that the secessionists believed MH17 itself to be a Ukrainian military plane. But how plausible is it that a Boeing 767, flying at 33,000 feet, at a speed of 900kph could be mistaken for a military plane? At the speed it was traveling at, and the direction it was flying in, it would have crossed the border into the Russian Federation in less than 10 minutes. Is it credible that a plane flying at that speed, and at that height, and that close to the border could possibly be mistaken for a Ukrainian military jet? For instance, it is often claimed, based on audio intercepts, that they thought they had brought down an Antonov An-26. But when you consider that the An-26 has a service ceiling of just 24,600ft and a maximum speed of 540kph, you should begin to see how implausible this scenario is.
Of course there is one more wildly outlandish possibility, which is that they brought the BUK to the field near Pervomaiskyi to shoot down Ukrainian military planes, but as there were none in the area that day they decided to use it to shoot down a civilian plane instead! But not even the most crazy conspiracy theorist would believe that to be the case.
So the crux of the matter is as follows. The JIT report gives us a scenario whereby the secessionists asked for a BUK missile system to be brought into their area, specifically for the purposes of shooting down Ukrainian military aircraft, and that they fired a missile at a time that there were no military aircraft around. This therefore rules out:
- The possibility that they deliberately downed a civilian airliner
- The possibility that they were trying to hit a Ukrainian aircraft since there wasn’t one to hit
- But leaves us with the absurdly improbable scenario that the secessionists mistook a plane flying at 900kph, at 33,000 feet, and 8 minutes from crossing into Russian territory, as a Ukrainian military aircraft
Does that not strike you as being somewhat far-fetched? Are there no other scenarios worth investigating?