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Buk Missile Found Responsible for MH17 Crash, but Who Launched It?

A new report has confirmed that a Buk missile was responsible for the crash of MH17 in Ukraine in 2014. Who launched it, though, remains a mystery.

Grabovka, UKRAINE - JULY 18: A man looks at debris from an Air Malaysia plane crash on July 18, 2014 in Grabovka, Ukraine. Air Malaysia flight MH17 travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur has crashed on the Ukraine/Russia border near the town of Shaktersk. The Boeing 777 was carrying 280 passengers and 15 crew members. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
Grabovka, UKRAINE - JULY 18: A man looks at debris from an Air Malaysia plane crash on July 18, 2014 in Grabovka, Ukraine. Air Malaysia flight MH17 travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur has crashed on the Ukraine/Russia border near the town of Shaktersk. The Boeing 777 was carrying 280 passengers and 15 crew members. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***

On Tuesday, almost 15 months after Malaysian Airlines passenger jet MH17 crashed in Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board, the Dutch Safety Board released a report blaming a Russian-made Buk missile for the disaster.

The report’s findings confirmed claims already made by military experts since the crash: that a missile launched from Russian-backed, rebel-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine was responsible for shooting down the plane.

According to the report, a 9N314M-model warhead hit the left-hand side of the cockpit, forcing the front part of the jet to break off from the rest of the plane. That particular warhead fit to a 9M38M1 missile launched by the Buk system and was identified by fragments it left both on the plane and on the ground.

In a statement released by White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price, Washington backed the report’s findings Tuesday, calling it “an important milestone in the effort to hold accountable those responsible for the shoot-down of the aircraft and the killing of those aboard.”

What the report failed to answer is who exactly fired that missile, which the safety board said is the responsibility of a separate criminal investigation. That probe is also headed by Dutch authorities but is not expected to be completed this year. The Netherlands is responsible for both investigations because the jet took off from Amsterdam on its way to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and 196 of the victims on board were Dutch.

Although the safety board does not have the right to apportion blame, and both Russian and Ukrainian militaries reportedly had those missiles in their arsenals at the time of the crash, the report did identify an area of 320 square kilometers from which the missile must have been launched. According to Ukraine’s National Security Council, the entire area was reportedly under the control of separatists at the time of the plane’s crash.

The White House saw Tuesday’s report as proof of its earlier judgment of the reason for the 2014 crash.

“Our assessment is unchanged,” Price wrote. “MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile fired from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine.” The report included an animated simulation of the attack, featured below.

In an attempt to rebuke the report’s findings, Russian state media on Tuesday published video simulations created by Russian Buk producer Almaz-Antey, which contests the Dutch version of the story.

But Nick de Larrinaga, Europe editor for Jane’s Defence Weekly, a global military magazine, said Tuesday that the safety board’s findings lined up with earlier analyses and the Russian reports “should be discounted as disinformation and propaganda aimed at drawing attention away from the Dutch report.”

“It is worth remembering that Russia has a long history of disinformation over its involvement in Ukraine, initially the country denied its troops had invaded Crimea — something Russia now acknowledges was the case,” de Larrinaga said.

Yet Sergei Ryabkov, Moscow’s deputy foreign minister, said the “attempt to make a biased conclusion, in essence to carry out a political order, is obvious.”

Although Tuesday’s report does not offer a tremendous amount of new information, it did offer some consolation to families who were anxious to know if victims of the crash suffered in the estimated 90 seconds it took for the plane to hit the ground. The three crew members in the cockpit at the time of the crash are thought to have been killed instantly, but officials said it is impossible to know whether other passengers may have remained conscious until the plane hit the ground.

The board also said the plane, one of 160 passenger jets to fly through eastern Ukrainian airspace that day, should never have been there to begin with. It was shot down at the height of tensions between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces, but Ukrainian officials, who could have restricted the airspace, failed to identify a possible threat to civilian aircraft.

“Our investigation showed that all parties regarded the conflict in eastern part of Ukraine from a military perspective,” Tjibbe Joustra, the safety board’s chairman, said Tuesday. “Nobody gave any thought of a possible threat to civil aviation.”

Photo credit: Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images

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