Evidence of Separatists’ Possession of Buk System Before Downing of MH17

July 27, 2014
Photo reportedly taken from crash scene near Torez via InfoResistance.

The Russian Foreign Ministry complained today that allegations about the responsibility of the Russian-backed separatists in southeastern Ukraine for the downing of MH17 is merely taken “from social media,” AP reports.

“In other words, the Washington regime is basing its contentions on anti-Russian speculation gathered from the Internet that does not correspond to reality,” said the Ministry.

We find the “social media” very compelling, as well as the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry’s complaints during the week before the crash, but if that doesn’t suit the Russian Foreign Ministry, they should look at their own Russian state media, as well as privately-owned pro-Kremlin media where the evidence for the separatist’s Buk shooting down the Malaysian plane is pretty damning as well.

In reviewing everything we know about the downing of MH17, several Russian newspaper articles stood out for us that surprisingly contained frank admission of operation of a Buk on 14 July, and reports of its use again on 17 July when at first rebels thought they had shot down a Ukrainian cargo plane.

We know that separatists began denying they ever had any Buks immediately. The so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” news account on Twitter deleted its tweet bragging about Buks. Then Strelkov’s Dispatch group on the Russian social media site VKontakte deleted its boast of a shoot-down of a plane they thought was Ukrainian. And Major Aleksandr Khodakovsky, a former officer of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) who defected to the separatists to head the Vostok Battalion first admitted to Reuters he had heard that his fellow fighters in the “Lugansk People’s Republic” may have had a Buk come through — and then sent it back to Russia. He then quickly retracted his statement and said he was misunderstood.

But one separate set of materials with admission about the Buks remains online, untouched as of this writing, and constitute damning proof that despite their denials, the separatists did have the Buks.

They appear in the online edition of the pro-Kremlin newspaper Vzglyad in five different articles; earlier, we had pointed out the significance of one article dated 17 July referencing the shoot-down that day as coming from a source separate from the VKontakte group post. Here is an analysis of the five articles, working backwards:

1). In an article dated 17 July posted at 18:18 Moscow time (the crash occurred at 16:20 local time, an hour earlier than Moscow time), Vzglyad reported about the downing of a plane that day as follows:

“‘At about 16:00 local time an AN-26 was flying over the city. We saw how a missile flew at it, an explosion was heard, and the plane fell to the earth, leaving behind black smoke. Some pieces showered from the sky,’ RIA Novosti reported, and a video with the scene was also uploaded in confirmation of the agency’s sources.”

Vzglyad recalled the shoot-down on 14 July of two SU-25 planes and mentioned that the Ukrainian military had claimed that one of the planes was downed by a Russian war plane. Then Vzglyad added this piece of news, not removed since — a very important detail which constitutes admission by the separatists that they had a Buk to use 14 July:

“Ukrainian military claim that the losses were caused by actions by Russia. The militia refuted this information, specifying that they had shot down the plane from a ZRK ‘9K37M1’ (better known as a Buk).”

Vzglyad has two links within the sentence about the refutation (at the words “refuted” and “shot down” indicated in bold), linked to previous articles dated 14 July. The context is the separatists’ desire to emphasize that it was not Russia, but they themselves who shot down the Ukrainian planes.

2). The link to the phrase “shot down” goes to another article dated 14 July
, headlined “Militia Report What They Used to Shoot Down Ukrainian AN-26” with a subtitle “Militia reported that they shot down AN-26 from a Buk anti-aircraft system”.

“Today the ZRK 9K37M1 (better known as the Buk) capable of destroying the enemy’s AN-26 at an altitude of more than 6,000 meters was used by the militia. Several weeks ago, the seizure by the militia of these systems was reported. Now they have been repaired, outfitted with crews and put into order. These systems enable the shooting down of a plane at altitudes of more than 4,000 meters. Before the militia was helpless against the enemy’s planes flying at altitudes that neither the PZRK or the ZU could reach,” said the militia’s statements distributed through social networks.

“The Buk (GRAU index 9K37, an SA-11 Gadfly under the classification of the US Defense Department and NATO) and its modifications Buk M1 (9K37M and 9K37M1) is a self-propelled anti-aircraft missile system intended for warfare with maneuvered aerodynamic targets at small and medium altitudes (from 30 m to 14-18 km) under conditions of intensive electronic counter-measures.”

That time, the separatists shot down a Ukrainian transport plane near the town of Davydo-Nikolskoye, and then in the second attack shot down an SU-25 near Krasnodon; 4 Ukrainian crew members were killed and four were taken captive.

Three other planes were also shot down, according to Igor Bezler, a GRU colonel whose conversation intercepts 17 July have also provided relevant evidence:

“Early Monday morning [14 July], Igor Bezler, militia commander of Gorlovka in Donetsk region reported that the militia had been able to shoot down over Gorlovka two fighter planes of the Ukrainian army, one of which fell in the area of the village of Zaytseva and the other in the town of Debaltsevo.

On Saturday [12 July], the militia reported that the Kiev forces had made a missile attack on the outskirts of Gorlovka and in response a SU-25 Ukrainian fighter was destroyed. The Ukrainian forces refuted the information about the shooting down of the attack plane.

Earlier on Friday [11 July], the Lugansk militia reported that they had shot down a Ukrainian army attack plane in the area of Perevalsk.”

More research needs to be done as to what actually happened, but indisputably, the separatists possessed Buks as of 14 July, and used them to shoot down Ukrainian airplanes. As Vzglyad boasted:

“From the East of Ukraine, reports come regularly about the losses of Ukrainian Air Force. The militia are shooting down the forces’ planes from anti-aircraft mortar launchers, PZRKs, and there is a report even of a successful hit of fighter planes from simple mortar launchers.”

3). Then in yet another 14 July story to which they linked 17 July at the word “refuted,” Vzglyad focused on the denial Russia was involved and found an expert to comment, running the headline: “Militia: Ukrainian AN-26 Shot Down Without Participation of Russia”. The sub headline said, “The militia independently shot down a Ukrainian military AN-26 plane, a ‘highly-accurate late-generation weapon’ is not needed for that, said Aleksey Chmilenko of the Popular Front Information Center.

Remember, the issue back on 14 July was trying to refute the claim, made by Ukrainian Defense Ministry Valery Heletey in a report to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, that their military AN-26 plane could be shot down from Russia’s territory.

So the militia went to great lengths to prove that they had sufficient fire-power to do this even without the very latest models. This story reiterates the claims of shooting down the planes over Davydo-Nikolskoye and Krasnodon, and Bezler’s report of the downings over Zaytsevo near Gorlovka and a second near Debaltsevo.

4). In a fourth story also with a 14 July dateline, Vzglyad quotes Bezler as reporting that one civilian was killed accidentally in this downing, when the missile, launched from Golmovsky, was fired. They claimed they shot down two planes, but couldn’t supply photos as the crashes occurred in territory held by the Ukrainian National Guard.

To these stories, Vzglyad added the line, “According to open sources, the Ukrainian armed forces had in their arsenal more than 60 Buks.” This was likely to imply that the separatists had seized the Buks from the Ukrainian army, but they don’t come out and say this in this particular series of 14 July and 17 July stories. As we noted, there was one story 30 June in the Russian Defense Ministry’s TV Zvezda which claimed the Buks were stolen, and this could have been to pre-plant the story to cover actual delivery of the Buks from Russia. (The Zvezda story is now behind a log-in wall, and some social media groups that copied it have deleted it; we found a Google web cache of a copy on an Odnoklassiki Anti-Maidan group).

5). In the the fifth story published 14 July
, we hear from the Lugansk separatists:

“About 13:30 Moscow time the militia shot down the latest SU-25 plan in the area of Krasnodon; it is supposed the plane was shot down with the aid of a PZRK,” Interfax reported, citing a representative of militia headquarters.”

This story also quotes Bezler’s account of the other two planes shot down, and interestingly, also cites Strelkov’s Dispatches post 14 July on VKontakte that law-enforcement agents in Tarasov District of Rostov Region confirmed the information about the downed plane; Vzglyad had no trouble quoting this source as it has in the past.

6). And finally a sixth story buried by the tragedy of MH17 was also published on Vzglyad on 17 July
at 14:20 Moscow time, three hours before the crash:

This story quotes Andrei Lysenko, representative of the Ukrainian Council for National Security and Defense regarding the Ukrainian claim that a Russian military plane shot down their SU-25 on 16 July:

“About 19:00 from the direction of Russia the latest provocation was committed. A Russian Federation military aircraft made a missile strike on the Armed Forces SU-25 plane which fulfilled its task on the territory of Ukraine.”

He added that the pilot had been able to parachute out of the plane, and that an evaluation of the actions of Russia ‘will be provided in the near future.'”

The article noted that on 16 July, the militia had claimed two downings but Ukraine only confirmed one.

So Vzglyad can’t have it both ways — either Russia was involved in shooting down planes as the Ukrainian Air Force believed at that time, in which case even more alarm bells have to be rung about MH17, or it wasn’t involved and the separatists had a Buk capable of shooting down MH17 — which the Ukrainians deny came from their arsenals. Of course a mixture of the various versions of the story is also possible — Russia could have been involved in shooting down Ukrainian airplanes — an act of war with its own implications — and the separatists could also have Buks capable of shooting down airplanes and likely shot down MH17. Whatever the case, this set of stories 14 July and 17 July — copy them before they disappear! — published by Vzglyad constitute an important context for understanding what happened to MH17.

And now a word about the ownership of Vzglyad, since that’s material to assessing its reporting. Technically, it is privately held as a publication of Konstantin Rykov’s Publishing House. Rykov is a newspaper and online news magnate close to the Kremlin who has created a number of popular culture and news sites which have maintained a pro-Putin outlook. Not surprisingly, the name of Vladislav Surkov appears in the history of this business; when Lenta.ru was taken over by pro-Kremlin forces, then-editor of Vzglyad came to replace Lenta’s independent editor-in-chief.

In this amateur video uploaded 14 July titled “Lugansk, Ukraine 15.07.2014 Ukrainian Air Force plane (AN-26) Shot Down from PZRK,” a family watches as the plane is hit and the pilot parachutes out, then cheers as it explodes, commenting that it might land in Russia. Other copies of the same video identify the area more closely as near Izvarino.