MH17 – Thoughts upon the closing of the story

After fifteen months of hard and extremely thorough work, the Dutch Safety Board (Onderzoeksraad) has today released their final report on the downing of MH17. The report is clear; it was a Buk missile sporting a 9N314M warhead that exploded close to the left side and in front of the cockpit. The warhead was identified based on the small pre-formed fragments it sprays out upon detonation, the force of which was enough to sever the cockpit from the rest of the plane.

A few days after the downing I wrote my first blog post on the issue, named The Buk and MH17, in which I went through some of the pictures, tweets, and images that had been drifting around on the internet. I’d like to stress that I have never been in any kind of a professional or military setting where I have encountered any air defence system more advanced than the NSV heavy machine gun (or “Itko”, as it is known here in Finland). As such, the post only represented what was available to an ordinary non-air force/air defence guy, spending half a day looking around on the internet.

Almost all conclusions presented in the post are corroborated by the report.

This does not come as a surprise. Throughout the year, more and more details have surfaced, not least from the Bellingcat group, which have painted a very clear picture of the movements of the Buk TELAR from Russia to Ukraine, via the fateful day it shot down the passenger jet, and back to Russia.

The answer from Russia has been a hailstorm of disinformation, some of which apparently have been serious attempts at creating an “alternative truth”, as well as some which are little more than an attempt at flooding the market with conspiracy theories to drown the truth. The (in)famous “Shot down by a Su-25” is an example of the former, with the “It was an Israeli Python-missile” being an example of the latter. All of these have been easily debunked, and in the end the Russian version of the events have all the time crept closer to the true story. What a year ago seemed like the most likely chain of events has slowly moved into a position where it is the only alternative left. Today, the official Russian version is that it indeed was a Buk that brought down the MH17, but with a missile so old it can’t come from Russian stocks. This version of the events was discredited by the Dutch Safety Board being able to prove which warhead was used in the attack (besides the question whether the solid-propellant rocket engine of a 30+ year old missile would function at all).

As noted in the report (as well as touched upon in my blog post), the Ukrainian authorities are not without indirect blame, as they failed to close the airspace despite the downing of aircrafts at such an altitude that a medium- or long-range air defence system had to be present in the area.

Some have criticised the investigation for taking too long to recover the wreckage, for wasting too much time until the final report, and for only stating the obvious. I do not feel this to be the case. As said, the general picture was rather clear from the outset, however, that is not the way official accident investigations are handled. By the very nature of their mission, they have to look into every detail, match tiny shrapnel found on the accident site, run a whole range of analyses, find and interview assorted experts, and most importantly they can’t take any shortcuts, ever, no matter how obvious something seems. The report has been able to provide solid evidence, based on a range of evidence unavailable to the general public and OSINT analysts. The case is now, officially, closed.

It is now clear that Russia was the force behind the attack. I personally believe the crew thought they targeted a Ukrainian Air Force plane. However, this does not exonerate them from responsibility.

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