by Eric van de Beek
Launch site allegedly within a 36-kilometers radius of the last position of flight MH17
Malaysian flight MH17 was downed by a Buk missile delivered from Russia and fired from territory controlled by rebels in eastern Ukraine. This narrative was propagated from day one by the Ukrainian secret service SBU. Most people take it for a fact now. But the MH17 trial has just started and the court is still far from reaching a verdict.
Was it really a Buk that hit Malaysian flight MH17 on July 17, 2014? A Russian Buk? As we've seen in article series Russian ghost Buk haunts MH17 court until now no conclusive evidence was presented for these claims, in particular not for the alleged involvement of the rebels or Russia in the downing of MH17. And even if it were proven a Buk had taken down MH17, it might as well have been a Ukrainian Buk. The Ukrainian armed forces have a total of 96 9M38M1 Buk missiles at their disposal, the lawyers of the accused Oleg Pulatov noted at the June 23 court session. Buk manufacturer Almaz Antey delivers this type of missile standard equipped with a 9N314M warhead. According to the Dutch Public Prosecution Service MH17 was hit by exactly this type of warhead.
Ukrainian Buk-Telars all around
Positions of Ukrainian Buk-Telars, according to MIVD. Those in red: not-operational
The Dutch Military Intelligence Service MIVD reported many Ukrainian Buk installations were present in the area when MH17 was downed, but none of them was stationed at shooting range. In the above picture that was presented by the prosecution on June 9 seven Ukrainian installations are depicted. For some reason they left out one. In the report of the MIVD there were eight Ukrainian BUK-Telars stationed in the area. The prosecution did not explain why this particular installation was not depicted.
There were Russian Buk systems present too, but all of them were seen at the Russian side of the border. Nevertheless the prosecution thinks a Buk installation delivered from Russia downed MH17. The western intelligence simply overlooked it because it moved very quickly, the prosecution argued. It crossed the border in the morning of July 17th, 2014, shot down MH17 in the afternoon - and then was immediately brought back to Russia.
The evidence the prosecution presented for this transport consists mainly of tapped phone conversations and images that were provided by the Ukrainian Secret Service SBU and subsequently were promoted by the open source investigators of Bellingcat. There are many serious problems with this track-a-trail narrative, as has been convincingly demonstrated by citizen journalists Hector Reban, Michael Kobs , Max van der Werff and others.
There certainly may have been a Russian Buk installation present in the rebels' territory, or even more than one. And maybe the rebels had captured one or more installations from the Ukrainian
armed forces. But this does not rule out the possibility MH17 was downed by a Buk or another type of missile fired by the Ukrainian military. If a Russian Buk TELAR installation could have moved
in a way that it was overlooked by western intelligence, then the same goes for the Ukrainian installations.
The alleged launch location
The prosecution located the crime scene at the piece of farmland circled in red. Still from video JIT
The Dutch prosecution service located the crime scene at a piece of farmland near the village of Pervomaiyskyi, south of the city of Snizhne, in rebel-controlled territory. From there the fatal
Buk missile would have been launched. How did the prosecution arrive a this conclusion?
The notorious smoke plume photo
Photo of condensation trail shared on Twitter three hours after the crash
At the court session of June 9 prosecutor Thijs Berger said that "from the start" investigators had "secured various open-source materials that pointed to this location as the launch site". He then kicked of with a lecture about a photo of a condensation trail that was shared on Twitter three hours after the crash by pro-Kiev infowarrior Vladimir Djukov. "This photo immediately led to public discussion about whether this photo showed a missile launch and where the condensation trail came from," Berger said. "On the basis of the landmarks shown in the photo, various parties, including the research collective Bellingcat, analysed where the trail could have originated. All these parties came to the same conclusion: a location south of Snizhne."
Berger then said that the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) had tracked down the photographer; that the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) had examined his camera and memory card; and that the
Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute KNMI had examined whether the clouds shown on the photos of the condensation trail were consistent with the cloud patterns shown in satellite images.
"The NFI does not have any indication that this photo was manipulated," the JIT had declared in its press presentation of September 28, 2016. But Berger did not go into that. He limited himself to sharing the
expert opinion of the KNMI. The meteorological institute - unsurprisingly - had concluded the condensation trail "was not a cloud that had formed in a natural way" or "a trail left by a
high-flying aircraft" and that it "was moving in an upward direction".
SBU promotes smoke plume photo
Still from BBC report Olga Ivshina July 21, 2014
Could the smoke plume on the photo be something else than a condensation trail from a Buk launch? Shortly after the crash, on July 21, BBC journalist Olga Ivshina arrived in the area where the photo was taken, on the outskirts of the city of Torez. Quite to her surprise in the distance she saw a white smoke plume coming from a mountain. Since she knew there was coal mining activity in the area with chimneys and steaming locomotives - and that there was heavy fighting going on around the mountain (the strategic height of Saur-Mohyla) she assumed the smoke plume could have originated from there. And so she decided the photo of the condensation trail didn't prove anything. "It neither proved that there was Buk; it also didn't prove that there wasn't a Buk," she told a police officer of JIT, when interviewed by him on April 9, 2015. "There may be different explanations for that smoke".
From the story of Ivshina it shows the photo was promoted by the Ukrainian secret service SBU from day one. Like other journalists who went to the crash site in the rebel-controlled eastern part of Ukraine Ivshina travelled via Kiev to get an accreditation from the Ukrainian authorities. There she was welcomed at a press conference of the SBU where the smoke plume photo was presented as evidence MH17 was downed with a Buk missile.
How did Ivshina locate the area where the photo was taken? Strangely enough the police officer of JIT didn't ask her, and so she didn't tell him. But probably the SBU had told her where to look.
The Ukrainian authorities had reconnaissance volunteers working for them. They monitored their surroundings in the war zone and handed over the visual material they captured of what was going on.
The smoke plume photo was mentioned as a product of this group. Furthermore the photographer Pavel Aleynikov
stated in an interview with a Dutch journalist, Olaf Koens, that he had given his photos to "a friend"
(Vladimir Djukov alias @WowihaY), who instantly had passed them to the SBU. And so the SBU knew where the smoke plume photo was taken: from the apartment of Aleynikov, in a housing estate on the
outskirts of Torez. As soon as July 17 they started helping journalists and open source investigators to find the residential building. An official of the Ukrainian Ministry of the Interior,
Anton Gerashchenko, even went as far as to write down the address of Aleynikov in a July 17 Facebook posting .
View from photographer's balcony in Torez at supposed launch area. Still from report BBC
Green arrow = direction of view photographer. Image provided by Dutch Public Prosecution Service
Anonymous blogger directs journalists
Although Ivshina had concluded the smoke plume on the photo could have been something else than a condensation trail of a Buk, the next day she nevertheless went out to see if she could find traces of a missile launch. At first she didn't know where to look. But then a Russian blogger told her an English speaking blogger had geolocated the origin of the plume. Was it someone from Bellingcat? She didn't remember, she told the JIT when they asked her about it. But for sure the person behind the blog ukraine@war was the first who designated the piece of farmland in Pervomaiyskyi as the launch location of the fatal missile. On July 22, a day after the anonymous blogger had published his article, Ivshina arrived at the location. She then found other journalists had been there just before her. These were Daily Telegraph reporter Roland Oliphant and Mashable’s Christopher Miller. Oliphant reported on July 22 they had visited "the locations" that were suggested by "a blogger" who "claimed to have narrowed the possible launch site to a small area to the south east of Snizhnoye based on a photograph of the missile's smoke trail released by Ukraine's Security Service." Miller recorded a video of Oliphant standing at the alleged crime scene.
It was ukraine@war blog that had led the two journalists to the piece of farmland in Pervomaiyskyi, Miller wrote in his report of the events, five years later.
The blog ukraine@war still exists. Its name was changed into putin@war, but then became inactive. The administrator used the pseudonyms DJP3tros and Peter Martin. On Twitter he went by the name of @DajeyPetros.
Who's the person behind the blog and the Twitter-account? A spook working for the SBU or western intelligence? Or just someone who happens to hate Putin and likes geolocating? In his "about" section he compares Putin's Russia with Hitler's Nazi Germany and says he prefers to stay anonymous because he doesn't want to find his car blown up one day.
This is the first part of a three part series about the location from where MH17 was shot. In part two we will take a close look at the notorious scorched grass photo, the track marks in the agricultural field and the examination of the soil samples that was stopped on the orders of JIT.