EU Referendum

Ukraine: clarity and mystery in equal measure


000a MH17-028 Cockpit 001.jpg

The data from the MH17 flight recorders have been successfully downloaded by British experts and, while the information is still being evaluated, Reuters is conveying from a premature news conference in Kiev the claims of Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine's Security Council.

Says Lysenko, analysis of the data show that the aircraft was destroyed by shrapnel coming from a "rocket blast" and went down because of "massive explosive decompression", thus indicating that a BUK surface-to-air missile may have been the weapon which brought the aircraft down.

A photograph of a segment of the fuselage – seemingly including some of the port framing from the cockpit windows (see above) – shows shrapnel penetration compatible with the aircraft having being downed by an anti-aircraft missile, the flight recorder data apparently corroborating physical evidence.

One might, incidentally, aver that the captain may have taken the full force of the blast, with the possibility that he died instantaneously, as it ripped through the cockpit wall.

All of this now builds a picture and, given that the US is also claiming to have satellite data which confirm a missile strike (although the actual data have not yet been released), there are potentially three sources which point towards a missile attack.

Add a photograph showing a dissipating smoke trail from the alleged launch site, and the sightings of a BUK missile launcher in the vicinity on the day of the shooting, and the balance of probability goes towards a missile strike.

This will not, of course, weaken the resolve of the many conspiracy theorists who are determined to show the aircraft was brought down by a bomb, or air-to-air missile. In the years to come, we can expect to see dedicated advocates come up with ever more extreme variations which will concede nothing to reality.

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Nothing of the recent information, of course, helps us determine the immediate origins of the BUK launcher, although the French magazine Paris Match has managed to come up with another photograph of the famous white low loader, this time tracking down the owner by dint of telephoning the number on the side of the truck. 

The owner of the truck company, Stroy-Bud Montage, claims the low loader was stolen "earlier this month", although the date is not specified. The location of the Paris Match photograph, however, has been traced by Ukraine at War to a lay-by on the outskirts of Donetsk – marked (1) on the satellite map (below - click to enlarge). 

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Interestingly, this is not very far from the truck depot where it was supposedly stolen and en route to a location in Donetsk where it was spotted on 17 July (but not photographed). Thence it was driven on the low loader along the H21 highway where it was seen travelling eastwards outside Zuhres – marked (2).

From there, it was seen in Torez, first on the low loader (3) and then after the launcher  had been offloaded (4). The launcher was then seen driving along the road under its own power (5) to a spot close to Snizhne, where the missile was launched (6).

From there, the Russian border is only about 15 miles almost due south, along an unclassified, but metalled road, easily traversable by a tracked vehicle to the border crossing at Marynivki, which is big enough to have its own customs post on the Ukrainian side.

Instead of taking this direct route, though, the launcher is apparently re-united with the low loader, whence it is identified in a suburb of Luhansk (7), at the intersection of Korolenko St. and Nechuya-Levitsky Blvd. So far unexplained, the low loader and the BUK were travelling in the direction opposite to that which they had supposedly come, and were not on any direct route to the border.

According to the Ukrainian Security Service, however, the picture labelled as (7) is near Krasnodon (marked 8), the rig close to the Ukraine-Russian border and shortly to cross over (with one other) apparently at 2am, despite the shot showing daylight conditions.

By coincidence, though, Krasnodon is very close to Izvarino where the Ukrainian An-26 flying at 6,500 metres was downed on 14 July, allegedly by an SA-11 missile, possibly from the same launcher that destroyed MH17.

That then is where it stands. On the one hand the indications that MH17 was downed by an SA-11 now firmer than ever but, on the other, the immediate origins of the launcher even less clear.

According to some narratives, the launcher manages to travel from the Russian border to Donetsk completely unobserved. It then pops up in Donetsk on a "stolen" low loader, only a few miles from the Ukraine base from which, earlier, one or more launchers were claimed to have been captured.

Then, on its trip from Donetsk to Snizhne, the launcher is constantly observed, its presence recorded on video or still camera a further five times. It is then filmed once more, in a suburb of Luhansk.

This is apparently after MH17 has been shot down, but without any corroborative evidence which would identify the date and time of filming, the detail can only be surmise. The SBU, who apparently released the film, have lied about the location and the time, so they could just as well be lying about the date.

After that, though, the launcher drops out of sight, 30 miles from the Russian border, and has not been seen again. Discount the Luhansk footage and the launcher has not been seen since it appearance near Snizhne, while no pictures of any other launchers, tracker unit or command module have been seen.

In evidential terms, therefore, it seems we are no closer to pinning down whether the federal Russian government assisted the separatists in obtaining the BUK M1, or took any part in the shooting down of MH17.

Of course, one cannot say that Putin and is government are innocent, but that isn't the point. No one, not even the Americans, have come up with any robust evidence that will support a claim that the Russian government, directly – or even indirectly – helped the separatists take possession of a BUK M1 launcher.

It is thus positively bizarre that the EU tomorrow is set to impose sanctions on Russia, alongside the United States.

It has come to a pretty state that sanctions can now be imposed on an important nation, with significant diplomatic and economic implications, without first furnishing any convincing evidence. This is not the way things are supposed to work.