Friday, July 18, 2014

Ukraine Crisis: Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 Timeline -- the Definitive Whodunnit (UPDATED)

Buk anti-aircraft missile system said to be
photographed in the rebel-held town of
Torez, 14 km south of where Malaysia
Airlines flight MH17 crashed in Ukraine.
Who downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17? My MH17 timeline chronicles the evidence. I'll update it as new details emerge. Latest update: May 25, 2018 (all times in GMT).

JULY 16, 2014
11 p.m. (all times in GMT): A Buk anti-aircraft missile system is smuggled from Russia into Ukraine for use by Kremlin-backed gunmen fighting the government in eastern Ukraine, according to the Kyiv Post citing intelligence from Ukraine's SBU security service.

Russian-made Buk missiles can hit targets at an altitude of up to 22,000 metres and have a range of 40 kilometres, according to the Jane's defence site.

9 a.m.: Russian-backed militia in eastern Ukraine move a Buk anti-aircraft system to the area where Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down, according to phone calls between Russian-backed militia and Russian military intelligence that Ukraine's SBU security service says it intercepted.

"Where should we unload this beauty?" a militia fighter known as "Buryat" asks Serhei Petrovskyi, identified as a Russian military intelligence officer with the nom de guerre Khmuryi, in one of the calls.

"Which one? That one?" Petrovskyi replies.

"Yes, yes, yes. Buk, Buk," the fighter says.

"Is it with a crew?" Petrovskyi asks.

"Yes, with the crew."

A Russian diplomat later says these and other SBU recordings are "totally fabricated fakes."

The U.S. says in a July 20 assessment the recordings were "evaluated by Intelligence Community analysts who confirmed these were authentic conversations between known separatist leaders, based on comparing the Ukraine-released internet audio to recordings of known separatists."

Also this morning, a Buk missile system is photographed in militia-controlled Torez, a town 14 kilometres south of where MH17 went down, according to The Interpreter Mag, a site that translates Russian media stories and posted a geolocation analysis of the photo. (See the photo above.)

The Interpreter Mag also posts a YouTube video apparently taken Thursday showing a Buk system that the site says it has geolocated as being in Snizhne, 16 km southeast of the MH17 crash site.

The site says the system would have been within range to shoot down MH17.

The militia use T-72 tanks to escort the Buk missile system into the area, The New York Post said in a July 20 story citing reported accounts from Ukrainian intelligence sources.

The convoy is reportedly filmed en route and geolocated between Donetsk and Snizhne.

A Buk missile system is also photographed on a truck on the road between Donetsk and Snizhne this morning by the newspaper Paris Match. Using geolocation, the blog Ukraine@war confirms the photo was taken in a Donetsk suburb.

Locals later tell BuzzFeedThe Guardian and The Wall Street Journal they saw what they thought was a Buk launcher being driven in Torez the day MH-17 was downed.

One resident tells the The Wall Street Journal of seeing the launcher before the disaster and what looked like the same launcher again after the downing -- the second time with one of its missiles gone.

BuzzFeed also locates the spot where the smoke trail of a missile launch that day in the same vicinity was reportedly photographed.

2:10 p.m.: A Russian operator reports to a militia officer known as "Miner" that the missile system has picked up a high-altitude aircraft, the New York Post says citing a report in The Sunday Times of London.

Miner allegedly gives the order to fire, the story says.

2:15 p.m.: Air traffic control loses contact with MH17 while it is flying at an altitude of 10,000 metres above Ukraine near the town of Torez, about 40 km from the Ukraine-Russian border.

The FlightRadar24 site, which tracks air traffic, later says the signal from MH17 is lost at 2:21 p.m. at 33,000 feet (10,058 m).

2:18 p.m.: Russia's pro-Kremlin newspaper reports that the pro-Russia militia in eastern Ukraine has shot down a Ukrainian AN-26 military cargo plane near the militia-controlled town of Torez. (The time 2:18 p.m. is the time stamp given at the top of the story. The actual time of publication may have been different.)

In fact, no Ukrainian plane is shot down this day.

The report says the militia has a Buk anti-aircraft missile system in this area and had previously used it Monday to shoot down another Ukrainian military plane.

The pro-Kremlin Itar-Tass media outlet soon after also reports the militia downed a Ukrainian AN-26 near Torez.

Russia's LifeNews TV channel, which often runs stories sympathetic to the militia, also carries a report saying the militia has shot down a Ukrainian AN-26, according to this YouTube recording of the item.

2:33 p.m.: A Kremlin-backed militia member in Ukraine identified by the nickname "Major" says in an intercepted phone call that Cossack militia fighters from the Chernukhino check point in the Donetsk region have shot down a plane, according to Ukraine's SBU security service, which released what it said is a recording of the call.

"Major" tells another militant, "Greek," that a body from the plane has been found--a civilian.

Greek later tells Austria-based blogger Christo Grozev that "part of the call may have taken place... Such a call as is being shown there, it never happened... But there were calls later, where we talked about... is this a military plane, is this not a military plane... We were trying to figure it out."

Greek, however, insists the militia couldn't have shot down MH17 because it didn't have the weapons to do so at such a high altitude.

Also around this time, the social media page belonging to Igor Girkin, "defence minister" of the Russia-backed militia in Donetsk who has acknowledged he was a colonel in Russia's FSB intelligence service up to last year, boasts that militia forces have shot down a Ukrainian AN-26 military transport plane in the Torez area.

"In the Torez district, we just down shot down a plane, an AN-26. It is lying somewhere near the Progress mine. We have issued warnings not to fly in our airspace," the post on the VKontakte site says.

A video of smoke from the crash site is linked, which in fact is likely the MH17 wreckage. The post is later removed and a note is added saying Girkin doesn't write all the posts and that some are by other militia members.

2:40 p.m.: Igor "Bes" Bezler, another militia leader who has described himself as a Russian military lieutenant colonel (his nickname means "Devil" in Russian), says in an intercepted phone call to Russian military intelligence colonel Vasili Geranin that militia forces have downed a plane.

"We just shot down a plane. Miner's group. It fell past Yenakievo," Bezler tells Geranin.

Bezler later confirms the call with Geranin did occur, but he says he was discussing a different plane, according to a report July 18 on Russia's news site.

"In the recording, you can clearly hear the discussion is about a plane in Yenakievo," Bezler is quoted saying.

"The Boeing fell in Snizhne. There is 100 kilometres between them. I don't have any weapons that can hit a plane that far away."

In fact, Bezler in the recording says the plane fell "past" Yenakievo, not in the town. Also, Yenakievo is actually only 34 km west of the MH17 crash site and was on the plane's flight path.

The Interpreter Mag site says Bezler's statement is significant because it confirms the SBU recording wasn't fabricated and that the militia has close ties with Russian military intelligence.

2:52 p.m.: An Associated Press journalist reports seeing a Buk missile system in Snizhne, a town held by Russian-backed rebels 16 km southeast of where MH17 went down.

3:32 p.m.: "Major" says in another intercepted call from the crash site: "It was definitely a civilian plane."

3:42 p.m.: An unidentified militia fighter says in another intercepted call released by the SBU that there is "a sea of corpses of women and children. The Cossacks are there checking it out."

Another fighter says, "They say on TV it's an AN-26, a Ukrainian transport plane. But they say it has a Malaysia Airlines logo on it. What was it doing in Ukrainian territory?"

A man identified as Russian Cossack leader Nikolai Kositsyn says, "That means they were carrying spies. (Expletive) them. They shouldn't be (expletive) flying. There's a war going on."

Unidentified militant: "Understood."

4:32 p.m.: Ukrainian defence ministry says a Ukrainian military transport plane was flying along a similar trajectory as the downed airliner and may have been the target of the Russia-backed militia.

6:37 p.m.: Russia's Interfax media agency says the Ukrainian military shot down MH17 thinking it was a plane carrying Russian president Vladimir Putin.

6:37 p.m.: A Ukrainian interior ministry official says the nearest Ukrainian forces to the crash site near the plane's flight path are over 70 kilometres away -- well outside the 40-km range of a Buk missile system.

"There's no way our military could have shot down the passenger plane," he says.

He says local residents reported seeing Russian-backed militia driving a Buk system through the nearby town of Torez in the hours before the crash.

6:42 p.m.: Ukraine's defence ministry says no Ukrainian fighter planes were in the air at the time of the crash and that it has never used anti-aircraft rockets during the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine grounded its military planes after pro-Kremlin militia shot down a Ukrainian military cargo plane flying at 6,500 metres on July 14.

2:50 a.m.: A Buk missile system is filmed being driven on a truck through the militia-controlled town of Krasnodon 10 km from the Ukraine-Russia border, according to Ukraine's interior minister Arsen Avakov. Here is a YouTube video, which was later geolocated in the nearby militia-held city of Luhansk.

Avakov says in a Facebook post that at least one of the missiles that the Buk unit would normally carry is missing.

Krasnodon and Luhansk has been a key transit point for Russian tanks and other equipment moving from Russia into Ukraine. In this case, Ukrainian officials say the Buk was taken back to Russia to hide its involvement in the MH17 tragedy.

9 a.m.: The Russia-backed gunmen had intended to shoot down a Ukrainian military transport plane that they thought would be flying overhead based on a leak from "traitors" in the Ukrainian government, says a Facebook post by Borys Filatov, deputy head of the regional government in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine.

The Ukrainian plane didn't end up taking off, he says.

9:02 a.m.: Bizarrely, militia leader Igor Girkin says on his VKontakte social media page that some of the people whose bodies were found at the crash site appear to have died long before the plane was downed.

12:09 p.m.: Ukraine's SBU security agency detains two Russians suspected of being Buk operators at the Ukraine-Russia border in Donetsk, reports Ukraine's Unian news agency.

Both have Russian passports, and one has military documents indicating he is an artillery fire control specialist, the SBU says.

12:57 p.m.: Sara Firth, a correspondent at Russian state-owned media outlet Russia Today, resigns in protest over the channel's coverage of the MH17 disaster, which she says unfairly blamed the Ukrainian government for the crash.

"I couldn't do it any more. Every single day we're lying," she said.

4:15 p.m.: Malaysian transport minister Liow Tiong Lai said MH-17 "was following the right route," the same one that other airlines used in preceding hours, The Guardian reports.

Lai, facing questions from reporters, said there had been "no last-minute instructions" given to the pilots to change their route. Ukrainian authorities had banned planes from flying below 32,000 feet. MH-17 was at 33,000 feet when hit.

The flight plan had been okayed by Eurocontrol, which approves routes in European skies.

MH17's pilots reportedly asked to alter their initial flight path over Ukraine to avoid thunderstorms, another Guardian story says. They had asked local air traffic control to fly at 35,000 feet but were told to fly at 33,000 due to other traffic.

6:10 p.m.: A senior militia commander asks emergency workers at the crash site to ensure the MH17 plane's "black box," a device that records flight data, remains in militia hands, according to intercepted phone calls released by Ukraine's SBU security service.

"I have a request for you. It is not my request. Our friends from high above are very much interested in the fate of the black boxes. I mean people from Moscow," says Aleksander Khodakovsky, commander of the militia's Vostok battalion, in a call with an emergency worker named Andriy.

"All that you find must not come into somebody else's hands. Only yours or Strelkov's people [the nom de guerre of militia leader Igor Girkin] or Khmuryi's."

(Khmuryi is the man involved in the delivery of the Buk anti-aircraft missile to the area where MH17 was shot down, according to other calls the SBU says it recorded.)

"Try to take everything you find so it doesn't get into somebody else's hands, all those people who are coming, OSCE and so on," Khodakovsky says.

"Understood," Andriy says.

6:52 p.m.: Russia-backed militia ordered rescuers at the crash site to depart and then loaded 36 bodies of MH17 passengers onto vehicles, then drove off to the regional capital Donetsk, says the Donetsk regional government in a report on

Regional officials believe the gunmen were seeking to hide evidence from investigators, the story says.

Passengers' bodies are a critical part of a plane crash investigation, later explains Yevhen Marchuk, former head of Ukraine's SBU security agency.

7:26 p.m.: Heavily armed pro-Russia militia stopped 30 inspectors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe from getting full access to the MH17 crash site, the Guardian reports.

The inspectors left after an hour-long standoff and a warning shot fired by a militia commander, despite earlier militia claims that international inspectors would get complete access.

7:01 a.m.: Kremlin-backed militia commander Igor Girkin complains on his social media page that his forces had to stop using their anti-aircraft weapons after MH17.

He writes that Ukrainian military planes are heavily bombing some of his fighters. "The Ukrainians are taking full advantage of the 'Boeing.' Ukrainian planes are dominating the sky with absolute freedom from punishment," he says.

The post raises the question of why Girkin had to stop using AA weapons if his forces weren't involved in shooting down MH17. An indirect admission of responsibility for MH17 and/or that those systems are now back in Russia?

The militia had shot down 14 Ukrainian military planes and helicopters before MH17, said Ukraine's deputy prime minister Volodymyr Groisman Saturday. One -- an AH-26 cargo plane -- was reportedly hit at an altitude of 6,000 metres.

11:30 a.m.: An emergency worker at the crash site says 65 bodies have been removed from the area, says Christopher Miller, an editor of the Kyiv Post at the scene. It's not clear where the bodies were taken, he says.

12 p.m.: Bodies of passengers are being moved to a roadside and placed in body bags by people claiming to be fellow experts, says OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw at the scene in Kyiv Post story.

He says the OSCE team was prevented by heavily armed militia members from questioning those moving the bodies.

Militia fighters were "impolite and unprofessional" while some "even looked slightly intoxicated," Bociurkiw said in a Moscow Times story.

The U.S. embassy in Kyiv on July 22 released this
depiction of the flight path of the Buk anti-aircraft
missile it believes brought down MH17.
12:43 a.m.: U.S. secretary of state John Kerry says Russia-backed militia shot down MH17.

"We picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing, and it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar," AP quotes Kerry saying in a TV interview.

"We also know from voice identification that the separatists were bragging about shooting it down afterward," Kerry is quoted saying.

3:35 a.m.: The U.S. has determined that Russia supplied Buk anti-aircraft missile launchers to pro-Kremlin militants in Ukraine and then attempted to move at least three of the launchers back into Russia after MH17 was shot down, a U.S. official tells the Washington Post.

11:42 p.m.: MH17 "was likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine," says a U.S. assessment posted on the site of the U.S. embassy in Kyiv.

"At the time that flight MH17 dropped out of contact, we detected a surface-to-air missile (SAM) launch from a separatist-controlled area in southeastern Ukraine. We believe this missile was an SA-11," the statement says. ("SA-11" is the U.S. military code name for the Buk system.)

"Ukraine also operates SA-11 systems, but we are confident no Ukrainian air defense systems were within range of the crash. Ukrainian forces have also not fired a single surface-to-air missile during the conflict, despite often complaining about violations of their airspace by Russian military aircraft," the assessment says.

The U.S. has also "detected an increasing amount of heavy weaponry to separatist fighters crossing the border from Russia into Ukraine" in the past month, the assessment says. That included a 150-vehicle convoy last weekend with tanks, armoured personnel carriers, artillery and multiple rocket launchers.

"Russia is providing training to separatist fighters at a facility in southwest Russia, and this effort included training on air defense systems," the assessment says.

1:07 a.m.: Kremlin-backed militia fighters threaten to "shoot our heads off" if Dutch journalist Rudy Bouma, who is covering MH17, doesn't delete photos of fighters.

Bouma manages to tweet a photo of one heavily armed fighter with a Russian military patch on his uniform.
2:17 p.m.: Russian Air Force lieutenant-general Igor Makushev told a press conference in Moscow that Russian radar had detected a Ukrainian military plane -- "presumably an Su-25" -- flying three to five kilometres away from MH17 before it was shot down, Reuters reports.

Lt.-Gen Andrei Kartapolov, also speaking at the press conference, said the Su-25 "can fly at altitudes up to 10 km."

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko dismissed the claim as "irresponsible and false."

The Russian officials didn't say they had data showing the Ukrainian plane fired at MH17.

In fact, the Su-25 has a ceiling of 7 km when not carrying any external weapons or stores, according to the manufacturer Sukhoi and the site -- and an even lower ceiling of 5 km when loaded with weapons. MH17 was hit at 10 km.

The Su-25 is also a relatively slow ground attack plane with a maximum speed when unloaded of 1,010 km/h -- slower than the Boeing 777's cruising speed of 1,030 km/h.

And the Su-25 carries a small air-to-air missile very unlikely to have caused the catastrophic damage seen on the MH17 fuselage, according to an analysis by The Interpreter Mag.

Russian satellite image purportedly of a
Buk anti-aircraft missile system in
Zarashchinskoye on the day MH17 was
downed. The town, 23 km southwest of
the MH17 crash site, was deep within
territory controlled by pro-Russia
militia on the day MH17 was downed. 
Kartapolov presented what he said was a Russian radar image depicting the purported Su-25 flight path.

The image shows an object described as the Ukrainian plane "gaining height" until it intersects with MH17 at 2:20 p.m. GMT. That is in fact the moment that the signal from MH17 was lost.

The image then shows MH17 appearing to slow down, flying somewhat erratically and finally disappearing from radar at 2:24 p.m.

Kartapolov didn't present evidence to back the presumption that the mystery object was a Ukrainian Su-25. If the radar image is authentic, could the object in fact be a Buk missile launcher?

The image appears to show the object's flight path as starting at 2:19 p.m. from what would be militia-held territory just to the south of where MH17 crashed. That would be close to the same spot from where the U.S. says the Buk missile was launched that brought down the plane.

Moscow-based individuals later attempted to edit the SU-25 Wikipedia page to state that the plane has a ceiling of 10,000 metres. (In a Wikipedia forum, the edits are ascribed to "vandalism by 'Putinbots.'")

Zarashchinskoye, the town where Russia said
a satellite spotted a Buk missile system, was
deep within the zone controlled by the
Kremlin-backed militia (just south of
Shakhtarsk on the map above).
Kartapolov also said Russia has a satellite image of a Buk missile system in Zarashchinskoye, 50 km east of Donetsk and 23 km southwest of the MH17 crash site, taken hours before the plane was shot down on July 17.

He claimed this Buk system is Ukrainian. In fact, this location was deep within territory controlled by the Kremlin-backed militia, according to maps of the conflict zone published by The New York Times and the Ukrainian government.

Later this day, Russian military expert Vadim Lukashevich dismisses the idea that a Ukrainian Su-25 could have shot down MH17.

"The Su-25 is a ground-attack plane. The purpose of this machine is to work close to the ground and give direct support to troops on the battlefield," he says in an interview on Russia's RBK TV channel.

"Shooting down a plane at an altitude of 11,000 [metres] with an Su-25 -- that's not serious."

Lukashevich later called the Russian government claims "an obvious lie" in a blog post on the website of Echo Moscow, an independent radio station.

4:05 p.m.: The Financial Times publishes a photo of a piece of the MH17 plane that experts say shows shrapnel damage consistent with a surface-to-air missile strike.
A New York Times analysis of the MH17 wreckage on July 21 also concludes the shrapnel damage is consistent with a Buk missile strike.

10:01 p.m.: After 12 hours of negotiations, Kremlin-backed militia leaders handed over two MH-17 black boxes to a Malaysian delegation and agreed to release bodies from the crash site, the Kyiv Post reports.

Militia leader Alexander Borodai arrived at the negotiations with a pistol in one hand and cigarette in the other, tweets Wall Street Journal reporter Paul Sonne.

11:18 a.m.: OSCE monitors tell BBC "major pieces" of the MH17 wreckage have been "cut into" and "look different than when we first saw them." One main cone section was almost split in half, OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw says.

OSCE monitors saw uniformed men cutting the wreckage with a diesel power saw, he says.

12:17 p.m.: Kremlin-backed militia soldiers are quoted telling an Italian journalist the day MH17 went down: "We thought we had shot down a Kiev plane, our superiors told us. We thought we were looking for bailed-out Ukrainian pilots, but instead we found dead civilians."

Militia troops said they heard a "huge explosion in the sky," then 10 minutes later were ordered into trucks with their weapons and "plenty of ammunition" and sent to round up any survivors who may have parachuted out, Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera reports.

Kremlin-backed militia have been taught to use
anti-aircraft weapons at a training base in
Russia near Ukraine's eastern border,
according to U.S. intelligence officials.
They released aerial photos above that they
said show the base.
2:58 a.m.: Shrapnel damage to the MH17 wreckage is consistent with a surface-to-air missile, such as a Buk, U.S. intelligence officials are quoted saying at a briefing in Washington.

The officials said Ukrainian anti-aircraft systems were nowhere near the MH17 crash site. They also ruled out Russia's suggestion that a Ukrainian military plane could have shot down MH17 saying the shrapnel is consistent with a surface-to-air missile, not one from an aircraft.

The officials corroborated some of the Ukrainian SBU recordings of phone calls of militia members discussing MH17, citing voiceprint analysis by the National Security Agency and Central Intelligence Agency.

The officials released aerial photos of what they said is a training base in Russia near Ukraine's border where militia members have been taught to use anti-aircraft weapons.

6:39 a.m.: Sergei Neverov, deputy speaker of the Russian parliament's lower chamber, says Ukrainian billionaire Ihor Kolomoysky should be investigated for possible involvement in the MH17 shoot-down, Russia's Vesti newspaper reports.

Neverov cites Kolomoysky's ownership of several aviation companies and his financial support for Ukraine's defence efforts. "Here is the question: Does he have planes and Buk systems? I advise the leaders of the U.S. and Europe to carefully investigate this," Neverov is quoted saying.

10:19 a.m.:
Russian soldier Vadim Grigoryev posts a photo of artillery guns and spent shells with the caption, "Been shelling Ukraine all night," according to a copy of the post published by the EuroMaidan Press site. The post is later removed.

The photos are geotagged and were apparently taken in the Matveevo-Kurganskiy district of Russia's Rostov region, 20 km from the border with Ukraine, EuroMaidan Press says.

Earlier in July, videos (see also here) were posted on YouTube of rocket attacks from Russia into Ukraine that were geolocated in the Russian city of Gukovo, also near the Ukraine border.

Morning: The Buk system that hit MH17 was operating alone with its own limited radar system and not its usual support grid of sophisticated radar that could have differentiated the MH17 from a military plane, reports The Daily Beast citing three senior U.S. intelligence officials.

"The Russians gave the separatists the weapon but not the support system to use it properly," the story says.

4:43 p.m.: Ukrainian security official Andriy Lysenko says two Ukrainian Su-25 ground-attack planes were shot down near Dmytrivka, which is is 4 km from the Russian border. Preliminary information suggests they were hit by missiles fired from Russia, he says.

The planes were flying at 5,200 metres when hit, suggesting they were struck by high-powered anti-aircraft weapons, he says. Dmytrivka is 30 km southeast of the MH17 crash site.

Russia later denies shooting down the planes.

4:59 p.m.: A senior pro-Russia militia commander acknowledges the militia mistakenly shot down MH17 with a Buk missile system obtained from Russia, then "probably" hid the evidence, Reuters reports.

But he says Ukraine "provoked" militia to fire the missile by launching air strikes at the time MH17 was flying in the area.

"I knew that a Buk came from Luhansk. At the time I was told that a Buk from Luhansk was coming under the flag of the LNR," says Alexander Khodakovsky, commander of the militia's Vostok battalion. "LNR" refers to the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic militia group.

"That Buk I know about. I heard about it. I think they sent it back... They probably sent it back in order to remove proof of its presence.

"The question is this: Ukraine received timely evidence that the volunteers have this technology, through the fault of Russia. It not only did nothing to protect security, but provoked the use of this type of weapon against a plane that was flying with peaceful civilians.

"They knew that this Buk existed; that the Buk was heading for Snezhnoye," he says, referring to Snizhne, a village 16 km southeast of the MH17 crash site where the Buk was reportedly filmed and geolocated the day of the disaster.

"They knew that it would be deployed there, and provoked the use of this Buk by starting an air strike on a target they didn't need, that their planes hadn't touched for a week.

"And that day, they were intensively flying, and exactly at the moment of the shooting, at the moment the civilian plane flew overhead, they launched air strikes. Even if there was a Buk, and even if the Buk was used, Ukraine did everything to ensure that a civilian aircraft was shot down."

He says the Buk may have come from Russia and that Buk systems the militia captured from Ukrainian forces weren't operational. "Russia could have offered this Buk under some entirely local initiative," he says.

"Exact location" (red circle) where the Buk missile
was launched near the town of Snizhne that
downed MH17, according to geolocation by the
Ukraine@war blog.
Ukraine says its military planes weren't in the air at the time. It had suspended flights after the militia shot down a Ukrainian military cargo plane on July 14.

Khodakovsky later tells Russia's pro-Kremlin LifeNews agency he was misquoted. "We were speaking about different versions. One of the versions was blaming the militia. As a commander, if I had this weapon, I wouldn't have used it. None of the commanders would have used it so irrationally," he says.

"I absolutely truthfully say the militia doesn't have a Buk system and never did."

Afternoon: Using online photos and geolocation, the blog Ukraine@war says it has located the "exact" spot where the Buk missile was launched near the town of Snizhne that downed MH17.

Morning: Reuters releases audio (with English subtitles) of part of its interview with militia commander Alexander Khodakovsky, which confirms key comments attributed to him in the story.

The audio clarifies a key passage in the story in which it's not clear if Khodakovsky is saying Ukraine learned "through the fault of Russia" that the militia had a Buk system. That passage can also be read as him saying the militia received the Buk "through the fault of Russia."

The audio makes it clear that Khodakovsky said the militia got the weapon from Russia. The translation in the subtitles differs slightly from the version in the story: "Ukraine well in advance received information that the rebels, because of Russia, had this kind of weapon," Khodakovsky says.

11:02 a.m.: The U.S. says it has evidence Russia is firing artillery across the border into Ukraine.

"We have new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine, and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military positions," The Globe and Mail quotes state department spokeswoman Marie Harf saying.

The report confirms evidence of the shelling from a Russian soldier's social media post July 23 and videos on YouTube (see above).

Afternoon: Russia has backed off an earlier promise to let international observers monitor part of its border with Ukraine, the U.S. says. The promise came amid negotiations to stop the inflow of fighters and weapons into Ukraine.

6:01 p.m.: Pro-Russia gunmen chased Dutch investigators and Ukrainian emergency workers away from the MH17 crash site, officials say.

"There are still some lunatics there," Dutch police mission chief Jan Tuinder says. "It's very hard for us to get to the remains."

Russia's newly designed "Tornado" multiple-
rocket launcher has been smuggled across
the border into Ukraine, a border monitoring
group says.
8:12 p.m.: Russia's newly designed "Tornado" multiple-rocket launcher has been smuggled across the border to pro-Russia militia in Ukraine, says Dmitro Snehiriov of the group Prava Sprava, which has sources monitoring the Ukrainian border.

The powerful Tornado came into service in 2011 and can fire 160 kg of explosives 90 km.

It's significantly more powerful than the Grad multiple-rocket launchers that the militia has used until now, which can fire 25 kg of explosives 45 km.

Morning: Ukraine's SBU security agency releases what it says is a recorded phone call between militia members discussing a plane flying nearby at 2:18 p.m. GMT on July 17 -- two minutes before air traffic control lost contact with MH17.

A pro-Kremlin militia fighter nicknamed Naimanets ("Mercenary") calls militia commander Igor Bezler to say a "bird" is flying toward Bezler's position.

"Reconnaissance plane or a big one?" Bezler asks.

"I can't see behind the clouds... Too high," the fighter says.

"Understood. Report to the commanders," Bezler says.

Also this day, the SBU releases what is says is a recorded call that describes the Kremlin's close ties with militia forces.

In the call, Alexander Borodai, self-appointed prime minister of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic, complains about a lack of funds to Oleksy Chesnakov, deputy secretary of the ruling United Russia party of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Chesnakov says more funds can be made available. "If there is no flow, we'll arrange more using the same channel."

Borodai also reveals that economists connected to the Russian government devised a plan for the militia to tax local business people.

Chesnakov also appears to ask Borodai to get Igor Girkin, the militia's "defence minister," to praise Putin.

"It would be important if the 'legendary one' [Girkin] gave an interview solidly saying something like, 'I've gotten to Donetsk... I am an officer. I have a commander-in-chief. At this point, of course, I do not execute his direct orders because I am in another country, but I respect him greatly. I think he is the most outstanding leader of the present times. Owing to him, Russia has stood up from its knees, and we are all looking at him with great hope,'" Chesnakov says.

"Okay," Borodai says.

12:05 p.m.: Kremlin-backed militia leader Igor Girkin reportedly took part in the 1992 Serbian ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Bosnia, says the New York-based International Business Times citing a Bosnian media account.

Girkin fought as a volunteer with Serbian forces who massacred at least 3,000 Muslims in a 1992 attack in which Muslim men were lined up and murdered, the story says.

Women were reportedly mass raped, while others were locked in houses that were set on fire.

Girkin's social media page boasted his forces had downed a plane shortly after MH17 was shot down (see above).

6:38 p.m.: A high-placed militia fighter acknowledged that the Kremlin-backed militia accidentally shot down MH17, according to a detailed Associated Press account of the day of the disaster.

He said a unit of Russians and Ukrainians fired a Buk (aka SA-11) missile from near Shizhne that brought down the plane, thinking it was a Ukrainian military plane.

The fighter said the highest-ranking rebel with the unit was a man nicknamed Sapper, who was under the command of militia leader Igor Bezler. Bezler told AP he wasn't connected with shooting down the plane.

The story also cites Snizhne residents and AP reporters who saw a Buk system in Snizhne between noon and 1 p.m. on the day of the shoot-down.

2:34 p.m.: Data from the MH17 black box flight recorder shows the plane suffered "massive explosive decompression" from a missile explosion that sent shrapnel through the plane's fuselage, CBS reports.

11:16 a.m.: Russian citizens occupy the leading positions in the Kremlin-backed militia in eastern Ukraine, Reuters reports.

That includes Vladimir Antyufeyev, appointed July 10 as "deputy prime minister" and security chief of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic militia in eastern Ukraine.

Siberian-born Antyufeyev earned a "fearsome reputation" during 20 years as security head in Transnistria, a sliver of territory that split from Moldava with Russia's military support in 1992, the story says.

Two other Russians are the top officials in the Donetsk People's Republic: self-proclaimed prime minister Alexander Borodai and "defence minister" Igor Girkin.

2:17 p.m.: The threat of more serious Western sanctions against Russia following the MH17 downing is fuelling a power struggle within the Kremlin between hardliners and oligarchs worried about business impacts, says London's Telegraph citing accounts of German intelligence reports.

5:22 p.m.: British lawyers are preparing a multi-billion-dollar class action lawsuit in U.S. courts against Russian president Vladimir Putin and senior Russian military commanders and politicians for their alleged role in the MH17 downing, reports London's Sunday Telegraph.

"Those immediately responsible are not only the separatists who are alleged to have fired the rocket at Flight MH17, causing the death of hundreds of innocent victims, but those, be they states, individuals or other entities, who provided them with financial and material support and the means to do so," said a statement from McCue & Partners, the London law firm preparing the suit.

One of several U.S. satellite images that the U.S.
has released to show evidence of Russian artillery
fire at Ukrainian military units across the border.
5:28 p.m.: The U.S. releases satellite images it says show Russia has fired on Ukrainian military units across the border using multiple rocket launchers in recent days, The Washington Post reports.

12:46 p.m.: The downing of MH17 "may amount to a war crime," Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, is quoted saying of the downing of MH17.

4:07 p.m.: The Guardian correspondent Shaun Walker reports on his disturbing encounter with Igor Bezler, the militia commander whose unit is suspected of shooting down MH17.

Walker was granted a rare interview with Bezler. But before they had a chance to discuss MH17, Bezler started screaming and threatened to have Walker and a Russian journalist shot, Walker reports.

Bezler said his forces summarily execute captured Ukrainian National Guard volunteer soldiers. "We question them and then shoot them on the spot," Walker quotes Bezler as saying. "I will hang those f---ers from lampposts!"

While shouting "at the top of his voice," Bezler noticed the Russian journalist's dictaphone was on and that Walker was writing notes in his notebook. Walker reports that Bezler grabbed the dictaphone, ordered a fighter to throw it against a wall, then took Walker's notebook and frantically ripped out pages.

"Burn their notebooks!" Bezler barked at his subordinates. "Seize their electronics! Search everything for compromising material and then destroy it! If you find anything, execute them as spies!

"Don't think for a minute I will hesitate to have you shot," he yelled at the journalists, who were eventually released unharmed.

11:41 a.m.: Ukraine's SBU agency releases what it says are satellite photos showing Russia doctored images it released July 21 purportedly of Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile systems.

6:43 p.m.: The SBU releases what it says is an intercepted call (translated here) of Russian-backed militia commander Igor Girkin acknowledging Russian artillery involvement in the fighting in eastern Ukraine.

"Go on move out," Girkin tells another militia fighter, whom he orders to attack Ukrainian forces east of the city of Donetsk.

"You're covered from the south by Russian artillery."

5:21 p.m.: An OSCE observer mission at the Ukraine-Russia border reports witnessing "several groups of ten to twelve young men in military-style dress with backpacks" crossing from Russia into Ukraine and in the other direction.

"In some instances, some of the young men coming back from Ukraine were visibly lightly wounded and on two occasions, the OM [observer mission] observed a flag of the so-called 'Luhansk People's Republic' on some young men's clothes," the OSCE says in a statement. (The LPR is one of the Kremlin-backed militia groups in Ukraine.)

3:05 p.m.: Alexander Borodai, the former self-appointed prime minister of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic militia, reportedly told a senior Russian journalist that his Kremlin-backed militia shot down MH17, Russia's Echo Moscow radio station reports. (The Interpreter Mag website provides an English translation of parts of the interview.)

"Likely we shot down a civilian airline," Borodai is reported to have said to the head of one of Russia's main media outlets in a call approximately 40 minutes after MH17 was downed.

7:38 p.m.: A column of 23 Russian armoured personnel carriers and support vehicles crossed the border into Ukraine this night, The Guardian reports.

The vehicles had official Russian military plates and crossed along a rough dirt track through a gap in a barbed wire fence that demarcates the border, the newspaper says.

The Ukraine@war blog geolocated the Russian convoy crossing the border at the same spot where Ukrainian officials previously said a Russian Buk anti-aircraft missile launcher passed into Ukraine before MH17 was shot down and then passed back into Russia after the shoot-down.

The blog also identified some of the Russian hardware as components of a Buk anti-aircraft missile system.

9:05 p.m.: Kremlin-backed militia leader Alexandr Zacharchenko in Donetsk says in a YouTube video that his forces have received reinforcements of 1,200 soldiers who had trained in Russia for four months, along with 30 tanks and 120 other armoured military vehicles. (Echo Moscow carries this reports on the video, and the Kyiv Post reports on it here.)

6:04 a.m.: Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak said intelligence reports on the downing of MH17 are "pretty conclusive" and investigators are now collecting evidence that can be presented in court against the perpetrators of what he called an "atrocious crime," the Wall Street Journal reports.

Razak spoke at a joint press conference with Australian prime minister Tony Abbott.

5:12 p.m.: Russian soldiers were operating and escorting a Buk system in Snizhne just before MH17 was shot down, eyewitnesses told BBC's Panorama program.

The crew and escort troops spoke with a distinctive Russian accent and were "well-disciplined, unlike the rebels, and not wearing the standard Ukrainian camouflage uniform sported by government and rebel troops alike," the report said.

Also this day, Russian journalist Iggy Ostanin says a Buk system photographed near the vicinity of the MH17 shoot-down was filmed a few weeks before in Russia as part of a large military convoy.

Ostanin identifies the Buk by examining distinctive markings that are identical in all the images.

The convoy was part of the 53rd air defence brigade of the Moscow Military District. The brigade's convoy was filmed moving away from its base in Kursk toward Ukraine, Ostanin reports on the Bellingcat citizen investigative journalism site.

SEPT. 12
5:52 a.m.: MH17 was "most likely" shot down by a surface-to-air missile, Dutch prosecution service chief Fred Westerbeke, who is leading the international inquiry into the MH17 disaster, is quoted saying in an Associated Press report.

Dutch investigators have recovered 25 metal shards from baggage and bodies that could provide clues.

SEPT. 17
German fraud investigation firm Wifka offers a $30-million USD reward for information about who shot down MH17.

The money was put up by a mysterious client whose identity even Wifka doesn't know.

It's the largest bounty ever offered worldwide -- greater even that the $25 million offered for clues leading to Osama bin Laden.

OCT. 19
12:08 p.m.: Kremlin-backed gunmen used a Buk anti-aircraft missile to shoot down MH17, Germany's BND intelligence agency has concluded after a detailed analysis.

The BND rejects Russian claims that Ukrainian forces shot down the plane and says the findings are "unambiguous," German newspaper Der Spiegel reports. The agency says the missile system was captured from a Ukrainian military base.

The Interpreter Mag offers this comment on the report.

OCT. 20
3:55 p.m.: Ukrainian officials deny the German BND spy agency's suggestion that Moscow-backed gunmen captured a Buk anti-aircraft missile system at a Ukrainian military base.

They say a Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile unit was moved out of the Donetsk region well before the militants moved in. The implication is that the Buk system could only have come from Russia.

OCT. 27
2:07 p.m.: Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke, head of a team of dozens of prosecutors, forensic experts and police officers investigating MH17, tells Germany's Der Spiegel that "based on the available information, a strike by a ground-to-air missile in my eyes is still the most likely scenario."

While Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte recently criticized Putin for his lack of support for the MH17 investigation, Westerbeke says "we have no evidence that Kyiv has not been completely open with us. They give us all the information we want."

NOV. 8
The Bellingcat citizen investigative journalism site publishes a definitive analysis of open-source photos and other material establishing that Moscow-backed fighters in Ukraine obtained a Buk system from Russia and stationed it in the area where MH17 was shot down on July 17.

MARCH 5, 2015
Russian security services have tried to disrupt the Dutch investigation into the downing of MH17, even as Dutch police have become increasingly certain that the plane was shot down by a Russian-made Buk anti-aircraft missile very likely operated by Russian military personnel, the Dutch public broadcaster NOS reports.

"The research findings point in one direction. MH17 was brought down by a Buk missile that was fired from a Russian system, highly probably operated by the Russian military," NOS reports.

"The Buk system was transported shortly before the disaster from Russia to Ukraine. This is evident from various videos that have surfaced on the Internet. But Dutch investigators in Ukraine also spoke with eyewitnesses."

Complicating the criminal investigation is the whereabouts of the Russian missile crew, the story says. "The soldiers have become untraceable because they have received new identities from Russian security services in an attempt to erase all traces of Russia's involvement."

The story says Russian security services are also trying to hack into Dutch police computers.

Vladimir Babak, chief designer of the Su-25 ground attack plane, says the craft couldn't have shot down MH17 at its flight altitude of 10,000 metres, according to several reports cited by Ukrainian news site

The plane was designed for use at low to medium altitudes, Babak is reported to have said. His views contradict the Kremlin suggestion that a Ukrainian Su-25 shot down the Boeing passenger craft.

A piece of metal embedded in the hull debris of MH17 Dutch news site is a fragment from a Buk missile, reports Dutch news site RTL Nieuws. A Dutch journalist had the fragment analyzed by an independent institute.

Families of MH17 victims have sued a former Russian insurgent leader for $900 million over the downing of the passenger plane, AFP reports.

The suit claims that Igor Strelkov, a former Russian intelligence agent who spearheaded the fighting against Ukrainian forces in 2014, was acting with the "actual or apparent" authority of Russian president Vladimir Putin's government when MH17 was shot down.

A Russian-made Buk missile downed MH17, the Dutch Safety Board concludes. The impact pattern couldn't have been caused by an air-to-air missile, it said. Fragments from a Buk warhead were found in the wreckage and bodies of crew members, it found.
Exhaust debris from a Buk missile found at the
MH17 crash site.

JUNE 6, 2016
International investigators have published a photo of a large Buk missile component found at the MH17 crash site, BBC reports.

The surface-to-air missile that downed MH17 came from Russia and was fired from territory held by pro-Moscow militants, a Dutch-led investigation concludes

The missile was launched from a Buk TELAR battery, said a senior Dutch national police investigator, Wilbert Paulissen. A day after the downing, the launcher was returned to Russia. It had been smuggled into Ukraine from Russia just hours before the missile was fired.

SEPTEMBER 20, 2017
Right-wing news aggregator site The Drudge Report has linked to Russian government propaganda sites nearly 400 times since 2012, according to an analysis by media watchdog group Media Matters.

That included a story on Russia's site about MH17 suggesting Russian president Vladimir Putin's plane may have been the real target of the attack, with the implication that Ukrainian forces were behind the tragedy.

The number of links to Russian news items shot up to 79 in 2015 and 122 in 2016 as the U.S. presidential election campaign heated up, Media Matters found.

MAY 24, 2018
The Buk missile that shot down Malaysia Air flight MH17 originated from the Russian military's 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, based in Kursk, Dutch-led investigators have concluded

"All of the vehicles in the convoy carrying the missile were part of the Russian armed forces," Dutch national police official Wilbert Paulissen was quoted saying by The Washington Post.

Investigators said the Buk missile system was towed to Ukrainian territory shortly before the attack and brought back to Russia shortly after. Investigators have "legal and convincing evidence that will stand in a courtroom," Paulissen said.

A Russian official dismissed the findings, calling them "an old story," but investigators said they have evidence they will show in eventual court proceedings.

MAY 25
A mysterious man wanted in connection with the downing of flight MH17 appears to be a high-level Russian military intelligence officer, McClatchy said in a report on its joint investigation conducted with investigative websites Bellingcat in the UK and The Insider in Moscow.

The report identified the man, previously known only by his call sign Orion, as Oleg Vladimirovich Ivannikov. Orion's identity has been sought by Dutch-led investigators. 

He was reportedly captured on cellphone intercepts discussing a Buk missile with a senior Russian military officer, Nikolai Federovich Tkachev, who is reported to have used the alias Delfin.


1 comment:

tomas said...

Great description Alex, it seems to be most probable hypothesis. Hopefully the expert will still have opportunity to find evidence.