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Home » News » MH17 – two years later, part 4.

MH17 – two years later, part 4.

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MH17 – two years later, part 4.
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This is the fourth part of the report Bellingcat “MH17 – The Open Source Investigation, Two Years Later”. First part you can see here: MH17 – two years later, the second part you can see here: MH17 – two years later, part 2, the third part you can see here: MH17 – two years later, part 3.

The Almaz-Antey Alternative

 Almaz-Antey presentation

Almaz-Antey presentation

The state-owned Russian arms company, Almaz-Antey, manufactures Buk missile systems, and was directly affected by sanctions placed on Russia. In response, this arms manufacturer has given two inconsistent presentations related to the downing, in which two different missiles types are presented as having downed MH17, and a flashy experiment in which the position of the missile was supposedly determined. On June 2, 2015 Almaz-Antey presented evidence claiming to show the specific type of missile used to shoot down MH17 in Ukraine. They were quoted as stating:

If a surface-to-air missile system was used [to hit the plane], it could only have been a 9M38M1 missile of the BUK-M1 system.

They went on to add:

Production of BUK-M1 missiles was discontinued in 1999, at the same time Russia passed all such missiles that were left to international clients.

Comparison of different surface to air anti-aircraft missiles

Comparison of different surface to air anti-aircraft missiles

The clear implication was that the Buk missile used to shoot down MH17 could have not come from Russia. The most obvious visual difference between the 9M38M1 missile, and the newer 9M317 is the length of the fins, with the 9M38M1 having longer fins, as visible above.

Despite these longer fins being visible on Buk missiles loaded onto launchers at Russia’s Victory Day Parade in Chita,  the Almaz-Antey’s head, Yan Novikov claimed “that only the newer BUK-M2 systems with 9M317 missiles take part in modern parades,” adding, “even an untrained eye can tell the two apart.” Despite this claim, internet users came across numerous images of what seemed to be 9M38M1 missiles in military service.

Reuters photographs taken on a road near Kamensk-Shakhtinsky, dated August 16, 2014, shows Russian military vehicles heading toward the town, close to the Ukrainian border.

Trucks in the photographs are carrying a number of missile crates, and their markings give a clear indication of their likely contents

These crates are marked 9M38M1, and it was also possible to identity two vehicles in the Reuters’ photographs as being part of the June 23 – 25 53rd Brigade convoy transporting Buk 3×2 to Millerovo. It is also possible to identify missiles in videos of the 53rd Brigade convoy as having the long tail fins associated with the 9M38M1 missile.

 Magnified sections of photographs taken at Kamensk-Shakhtinsky in August 2014 (Source - Reuters)

Magnified sections of photographs taken at Kamensk-Shakhtinsky in August 2014 (Source – Reuters)

These crates are marked 9M38M1, and it was also possible to identity two vehicles in the Reuters’ photographs as being part of the June 23 – 25 53rd Brigade convoy transporting Buk 3×2 to Millerovo. It is also possible to identify missiles in videos of the 53rd Brigade convoy as having the long tail fins associated with the 9M38M1 missile.

The Phantom Launch Site

Almaz-Antey's proposed launch site

Almaz-Antey’s proposed launch site

In its two press conferences, Almaz-Antey has given two different, but similar, launch locations for the Buk missile that downed MH17. Both are near the village of Zaroshchenske, and while there is no documented pro-Russian military presence in the village itself, the area south of the village was under pro-Russian control.

The Russian Defence Ministry has also pointed to the first launch site proposed by AlmazAntey, as evidenced in their fabricated satellite images showing Buk missile launchers deployed in a field just outside of the village on July 17, 2014. Before examining much of the evidence surrounding the claims of the Russian Defence Ministry and Almaz-Antey, the most direct and obvious evidence should be considered: witness accounts from the village of Zaroshchenske. While there are dozens of witness accounts, photographs, and videos of a Buk missile launcher between Donetsk and Snizhne on July 17, we do not have a single witness account – reliable or otherwise – of a Buk missile launcher or launch near Zaroshchenske on July 17. Multiple media outlets, including the

Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta,  the BBC, the Dutch television station NOS,  and the German investigative group Correct!v,  all interviewed locals in and around Zaroshchenske – not a single person mentioned seeing or hearing anything resembling a missile launch.

But many villagers have other worries. “I have cows that need to be milked every day,” says a woman who stands by the gate of her farm in a headscarf and jacket. She was also in Zaroshchens‘ke on July 17th and did not notice anything. She received an excited call from a relative in Moscow after the press conference. But no: “All nonsense, nothing happened here.” Up until now they have been spared from the war, only one rocket flew over the town at the end of July. “We ran into the basement with the children,” a resident said. The villagers gather on the street. Nobody saw anything, nobody heard anything. There was no BUK missile fired in Zaroshchens‘ke on July 17th 2014. Definitely not by the Ukrainian army because separatists control the fields around Zaroshchens‘ke.” -Correct!v

These witness accounts alone go far in diskhuilog the Russian Defence Ministry and AlmazAntey accounts. However, if one believes that the witnesses were mistaken, or just happened to miss a missile launch in their sleepy village that had been largely untouched by war, then there is additional evidence to consider.

Satellite images captured on July 16, 2014 and July 21, 2014 show no signs of any track marks from the movements of large vehicles or burn marks from missile launches at the site shown in the Russian Defence Ministry satellite imagery. In addition, satellite imagery analysis by Dr. Jeffrey Lewis using the Tungstène forensic imagery analysis software shows the Russian Defence Ministry imagery of the area close to Zaroshchenske are heavily modified, and it appears as if the Buk missile launchers features were digitally altered or added into the image.

Area within Almaz-Antey's proposed launch site compared to Russian Defence Ministry satellite imagery

Area within Almaz-Antey’s proposed launch site compared to Russian Defence Ministry satellite imagery

The James Martin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey offered an independent analysis of various images related to the MH17 case. This includes the original images of the smoke trail, photographs of the Buk taken on July 17 2014 in Donetsk, Torez, and Snizhe, and the satellite images presented by the Russian Defence Ministry. The Center uses the sophisticated imagery analysis software Tungstène to examine imagery for signs of digital alteration, with the same software used by police and security services across the world for forensic analysis. While the Buk and smoke photographs showed no signs of alteration, the Russian Defence Ministry images did

The Russian Defence Ministry satellite image of the Ukrainian A-1428 base dated July 17, 2014 showed that one or possibly both of the clouds in the image had been added or altered, with the large cloud on the left portion of the image showing particularly strong results in various analytical filters. This analysis showed significant differences in photographic noise, compression, and signs of cloning. The Center concludes “even with the low quality of the image, we can assess this image to have been so heavily manipulated that it lacks any credibility as evidence.” The second image to show significant signs of alteration was the satellite image showing two Buk missile launchers in fields close to Zaroshchens’ke. The Center’s analysis identified signs that the Buk missile launchers did not match the underlying image, suggesting they had been enhanced or added digitally from other images. The Center concludes “we can assess this image to have been so heavily manipulated that it lacks any credibility as evidence” and that “the signs of overt manipulation to this portion of the image renders it totally unreliable as evidence.”

The quality of the satellite images that Russia released is poor and appear altered. Therefore, Russia should release the originals to the Joint Investigation Team.

Furthermore, it is impossible for the Ukrainian Buk missile launcher highlighted by the Russian Defence Ministry to travel from its base near Avdiivka to the field where it was supposedly photographed by a satellite on July 17. Bellingcat conducted a crowdfunding campaign in June 2015 to purchase and publish a satellite image from Digital Globe of the Ukrainian anti-aircraft base depicted in the Russian Defence Ministry satellite images. The images, which were taken at 11:08am local time on July 17, 2014 and later uploaded to the Google Earth archives, show a Buk missile launcher parked at the base, as it had been months before, and would continue to be for months after. The Russian Defence Ministry satellite image, supposedly taken at 11:32am on the same day, show that the Buk missile launcher is gone. Therefore, according to the implied Kremlin narrative, the Buk missile launcher left sometime between 11:08am and 11:32am.

However, unless the Russian images were fabricated and/or misdated, this is not the case. Another image presented by the Russian Defence Ministry showing presumably this same Buk missile launcher in a field near Zaroshchenske was supposedly taken at 11:32am on July 17, 2014.

Russian Defence Ministry satellite images from July 17 2014 claiming to show two Buk missile launchers near Zaroshchenske

Russian Defence Ministry satellite images from July 17 2014 claiming to show two Buk missile launchers near Zaroshchenske

The Avdiivka base and the field in Zaroshchenske are 53 kilometers apart as the bird flies, not even considering the roundabout route that the Ukrainian military would need to take around separatist-held territory. Even in the absolute best conditions, without any traffic, military checkpoints, or logistical concerns of loading or unloading a large piece of military equipment, it is physically impossible for a Buk missile launcher to travel between these two points within 24 minutes. In short: the Russian Defence Ministry fabricated and purposefully misdated satellite images of the Ukrainian anti-aircraft base and a field near Zaroshchenske in an attempt to create a narrative of a particular Ukrainian Buk missile launcher being deployed shortly before the MH17 shoot down.

Diagram of proposed launch locations from the Dutch Safety Board

Diagram of proposed launch locations from the Dutch Safety Board

In addition to these clear attempts to deceive, the Dutch Safety Board’s analysis for both the 9M38M1 Buk missile, which was initially identified as the correct missile by Almaz-Antey, and 9M38 missile, which was identified by Almaz-Antey in its second press conference, point to an area near Snizhne as the correct launch site.

These launch sites are far to the east of Zaroshchenske. Additionally, even if these factors are disregarded, there is a much more fundamental fact that the Russian Defence Ministry was not aware of: the Buk missile launcher that they tried to suggest downed MH17 was not functional, and did not move an inch for months.

In sum, the overlapping counter-narratives of the Russian Defence Ministry and Almaz-Antey regarding a Ukrainian Buk and a launch site near Zaroshchenske are nonsensical when considering both direct and circumstantial evidence. From the start, the launch site itself was not controlled by Ukrainian forces on the day of the tragedy, and there are no traces of a

missile launch in either witness accounts or satellite evidence. Additionally, the Dutch Safety Board’s calculations regarding the launch site conclusively point to a location south of Snizhne, not the distant Zaroshchenske. What’s more, the primary evidence presented by the Russian Defence Ministry four days after the tragic downing was purposefully misdated and heavily edited.

All in all, there is no reliable evidence indicating that a Buk missile launcher commanded by the Ukrainian military, let alone one from the anti-aircraft base near Avdiivka highlighted by the Russian Defence Ministry, was responsible for the downing of MH17.

 

The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

On April 6, 2016 Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova made a statement about the work of Bellingcat, containing the allegation that “acting jointly with the current Ukrainian authorities, they [Bellingcat] continue to use all possible ‘fakes,’ to create quasievidence to blame Russia.”

Bellingcat contacted the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, asking for clarification of this statement, and their evidence this statement was true. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded, stating “when she mentioned a group cooperating with the current Ukrainian Authorities, Maria Zakharova did not refer to Bellingcat, but to the Joint Investigation Team investigating the MH17 tragedy in the skies over Ukraine.”

Bellingcat responded, asking the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to clarify they were in fact accusing the criminal investigation into the downing of MH17 of working with the Ukrainian authorities and using all possible fakes to create quasi-evidence. In response the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs didn’t answer the question, and instead sent a document with various attacks on Bellingcat’s work and the open source evidence.

However, it quickly became apparent that the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs had plagiarized the criticism in the document from a popular pro-khuilo blog, in some cases copying entire paragraphs from the original source while at no point indicating it had come from any other source but the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When this was highlighted in Bellingcat’s reply the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded by asking Bellingcat not to email them anymore.

Conclusion

Based on online open source investigation we believe the following events occurred:

– Between June 23-25, 2014 the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade transported vehicles within Russia to positions close to the Russian border with Ukraine. This includes Buk 332, later sighted in Ukraine on July 17 and 18, 2014

– On July 17, 2014 Buk 332 left Donetsk in the morning loaded onto a low-loader, travelling eastwards through separatist-held territory, until it reached the town of Snizhe in the early afternoon.

– After arriving in Snizhne, Buk 332 was unloaded and drove under its own power southward, out of the town

– Buk 332 arrived at a field south of Snizhne and fired a missile that resulted in the destruction of Flight MH17.

– Buk 332 was next filmed travelling east through the separatist-controlled city of Luhansk on the morning of July 18, 2014.

– On July 21, 2014 the Russian Defence Ministry presented a series of false and fake information. This presentation included lies about the flight path of MH17, about radar data, about the location of the July 18, 2014 Luhansk video, and misdated and heavily edited satellite imagery.

– Almaz-Antey presented data that was not reflected by witness statements on the ground, or any open source information.

– The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was only able to present plagiarized blog posts when asked to present their evidence on the fate of MH17.

To summarize, it is our opinion the Buk missile launcher that shot down MH17 originated in Russia, and the Russian government has lied, faked evidence, and plagiarized blog posts in attempt to place blame elsewhere.

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank all of the experts who provided commentary and analysis for this report. Additionally, we would like to thank all who have provided their insight and findings regarding the open source evidence surrounding the downing of MH17 via Twitter, CheckDesk, the Bellingcat comments page, and other sources.

This report was written and edited by the Bellingcat Investigation Team.

Posted 2 years ago
Category: News
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