Ukraine Liveblog Day 152: Separatists Block Access To MH17 Crash Site

July 19, 2014
Separatists rummage through the wreckage of flight MH17 on Friday July 18, 2014 | NBC

Yesterday’s liveblog can be found here. For an overview and analysis of this developing story see our latest podcast.

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For links to individual updates click on the timestamps.

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Pushilin Resigns from ‘Speaker’ Position in ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’

Denis Pushilin, the self-appointed “speaker of parliament” of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR) announced that he had resigned from his position, and other Russian state media reported.

Sergei Kavataradze, special representative of the DPR in Russia, told RT (translated by The Interpreter):

Today at a session of the Supreme council, the deputy chairman of the Supreme Council of the DPR read a letter to the deputies from Denis Pushilin, the chairman of the Supreme Soviet, that he requested to be relieved of his position without indication of the reasons.

Vladimir Makovich reported that there was also a phone call confirming the letter of Denis Pushilin. After this there was a vote on the question of Denis Pushilin’s resignation from his post. This decision was accepted by a majority of deputies. They met Pushilin half-way and voted for his resignation.”

Pushilin, a native of Donetsk Region who survived two assassination attempts, had a checkered career, first in the notorious Russian Ponzi scheme known as MMM, then in pro-Russian politics in Ukraine and recently in the DPR leadership.

While some people speculated that he suddenly resigned due to the accusations against separatists of shooting down the Malaysian airliner, in fact, he has been in Moscow for weeks and not at the center of DPR politics.
While in Moscow in recent weeks, he wasn’t exactly idle, but did a lot of PR work for the pro-separatist movement, denying that the DPR received aid from “foreign governments,” i.e. Russia.

Translation: Novorossiya did not receive proposals to delivery weapons to Novorossiya

Translation: Pushilin: Due to Koval’s plan, the number of militiamen in the DPR has grown.

Translation: Pushilin: in the ranks of the militia there are “anti-fascists from the whole world” fighting.

In a post dated 17 July “On the Political Prospects of Novorossiya,” posted before the downing of the Malaysian plane, Boris Rozhin, editor of Golos Sevastopolya, who blogs under the name of “Colonel Cassad” predicted Pushilin’s resignation, mentioning rumors that it was imminent.

He speculated that because Pushilin had become mixed up in the contacts with Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov as a “party of defeatists,” along with Vostok Battalion leader Aleksarn Khodakovsky and others), he had to be removed. He said sources told him to expect the resignation of yet another highly-placed political figure in the DPR due to these contacts with Akhmetov.

“Pushilin’s resignation means that Moscow is continuing work on improving the management of processes inside the military and political leadership of the DPR,” he said laconically.

Russian Ultrnationalist Bragged About Repair of Separatists’ BUKs

A Russian ultranationalist movement leader has been caught on tape speaking about
an anti-aircraft BUK system in the possession of pro-Russian
separatists in southeastern Ukraine.

Sergei Kurginyan, a Moscow theater director who heads the leftist ultranationalist “Essence of Time” group bragged that Russian “civil society” was helping the separatists with military supplies and had found a repairman to fix the BUKs in the separatists’ possession. Kurginyan, an outspoken supporter of the
separatists fighting in Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine, travelled under armed guard among the separatists in recent weeks.

The July 13 episode for his Essence of Time’s YouTube channel,
Kurginyan explains that Russian civil society is providing
military aid to the separatists — a theme he accentuated in his scandalous press conferences with separatist leaders recently.

The Interpreter has translated an excerpt:

“But, our very talented and even brilliant electronics experts will of
course repair — I think they’ve even already repaired, it seems to me
— the BUK system seized from the Ukrainian bandits — the Banderaites
[supporters of Ukrainian war hero Stepan Bandera]–
I don’t want to say ‘the Ukrainian people’ but the bandits and the
Banderaites and in the very near future, I simply know a brilliant
electronics expert who has flown there — precisely as a representative
of civil society who will help the fraternal people. In very short time
it will get it back working. It will be fixed, yes? It might even turn
out there are even several systems.”

Read more on our Russia This Week blog.

A fan account for the popular Crimean prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya has
also been caught bragging about the BUKs — and it has not been

This account may have been used by Kremlin propagandists to
spread the pre-seeding of the message about the stolen BUKs as we
reported at the time
, but what’s interesting about the tweet is that it doesn’t say
the BUKs were seized, just that they “appeared”:

Translation: Kupol Anti-Aircraft weapon – detection
radius 150 km. ZRK Buk – target kill radius 20 km. Some excellent
cookies have appeared at the militiamen for the Ukrainian Air Force.

Read more on our Russia This Week blog

Locals Say Explosion in Moscow’s Butovo District Likely an Accident

Locals are saying that the explosion reported in Butovo by LifeNews and area residents appears to be an accident:

Translation: In Butovo a generator in a car wash exploded.

Here’s how a local Instagram user who has posted a video of the scene has explained it in hashtags (translation by The Interpreter)


#Nothing to See Here/#Just a Few Explosions in Butovo. Ambulance, fire trucks and cops..everything is normal #It’s South Butovo

Explosion In Moscow District of Butovo

There have been reports of an explosion in the Moscow neighborhood of Butovo.

LifeNews, a TV channel close to law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, is the first to report the story.

The Interpreter has provided a translation:

Translation: Explosion in Moscow TT @lifenews_ru BREAKING An explosion thundered in Butov, rescue workers and medics are heading to the scene.

An Instagram account user has posted a video 15 minutes ago:

Translation: Totally bombed it 2 times. Poor guy, he burnt up. #бутово #чп #пожар #южноебутово

Voices in the video are heard to say “Get out of here! All the cars are going to blow up! Get the f**k out of here! Did you call the fire department?!”

We have no more information on what kind of explosion this was or whether it was an accident or terrorism.

Proof That Buk Missiles Fled Back To Russia?

The New York Times reports:

Ukraine accused Russia and separatist rebels in the east of trying to cover-up their role by blocking recovery workers from the crash site, removing evidence and driving the missile launchers back to Russia just hours after the crash. At a news conference in Kiev, Vitaly Nayda, the head of counterintelligence for the Ukrainian State Security Service, displayed photographs that he said showed three of the Buk-M1 missile systems on the road to the Russian border. Two of the devices, which are missile launchers mounted on an armored vehicle, crossed the border into Russia at about 2 a.m. Friday, or less than 10 hours after the jet, Flight 17, was blown apart in midair, he said. The third weapon crossed at about 4 a.m.

Mr. Nayda said that the missile had been fired from the town of Snizhne, located in rebel-controlled territory, echoing American intelligence showing the missile coming from eastern Ukraine. Both the Ukrainians and the Americans said they believed that the separatist rebels would have needed help from Russia in order to fire the antiaircraft missiles.

Those claims are consistent with other evidence we’ve analyzed. We have geolocated several pictures and videos that appear to show the Buk weapons system in both Snezhnoye (Snizhne) and Torez and a video posted yesterday reportedly shows the Buk missile system, missing two missiles, in Krasnadon, en-route to Lugansk and reportedly on to Russia from there.

WA Today has more details, including the pictures from the press conference:

“We have proof [the attack] was planned and it was committed with the participation of the Russian Federation, representatives of the Russian Federation,” said Vitaly Nayda, Counter-Intelligence Chief at the Ukraine Security Service.

“All Russian media is lying, it’s cynical propaganda,” Mr Nayda said. “They are trying not to be responsible for this.

“But we have evidence. Obvious evidence.”

This picture reportedly shows the BUK-M1 in a rebel convoy headed back to Russia and was released by the Ukrainian Security Services (SBU):


And this is the screengrab taken by the AP of yesterday’s video from Krasnadon, mentioned above and viewable here:


Rebel Tanks Headed Toward Crash Site, Fighting Heard Nearby
We’re still following up on our last update, but here is some context that may or may not be relevant. Simon Shuster reports
We’re not sure where there are battles, but throughout the day the sound of artillery and gunfire has been heard by some journalists and monitors:
Kevin Bishop has more to say about those monitors as well:
On the topic of both the investigation and the removal of bodies:
What Is In The Sky Over The Crash Area Right Now?
Roland Oliphant is in the area of the crash site and he has seen something very peculiar in the sky:

We’ve seen a lot of pictures like this, and our first impression is that these look like flares dropped by an aircraft to avoid the heat-seeking mechanisms of ground-to-air missiles.

But why would anyone be flying over this territory right now? It’s also possible that these were actual flares fired from the ground into the sky. But why and by whom?

This may or may not be important, but we’ll keep an eye on it.

NATO Knew Russia Supplied Ukraine Militants With Advanced SAMs Weeks Ago

Last night MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reminded audiences that NATO had warned weeks ago that the Russian military was supplying Ukraine’s separatists with advanced vehicle-borne anti-aircraft missiles. The Raw Story reports:

Two weeks ago, on June 30, Air Force Gen. Phillip Breedlove spoke at the Pentagon.

Maddow reported, “And in that press briefing, he said that surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft systems, not just the shoulder-fired ones, but the big, vehicle-borne surface-to-air missiles that are designed to shoot down airplanes, those had been observed in eastern Ukraine and just across the border in Western Russia.”

NATO had observed in the early part of the summer, that Russia was moving heavy anti-aircraft equipment over the border into Ukraine and training the rebels there to use them.

“This was sort of a dry Pentagon briefing from two-and-a-half weeks ago,” said Maddow, “talking about something that wasn’t getting all that much attention at the time, but all of a sudden, what he just said there was maybe the most important thing in the whole world.”

June 30th is an important date, and here’s why. On June 29th Russian state-operated news agencies posted stories about how separatists had captured a Buk missile system, the main suspect in the downing of flight MH17. That report appears to have originated from Russian network TV Zvezda, the official news network for the Russian military. At the time there was no evidence that the separatists ever captured a Buk. Ukraine also denies that they are missing a Buk missile system. But the separatists themselves tweeted a picture on June 29th claiming that they had indeed captured a Buk. That picture has since been deleted. Could this be what NATO Commander General Breedlove was referencing?

But beyond all this we have very strong evidence to suggest that sometime before July 3rd the Russian military gave the separatists a different vehicle-based surface-to-air missile system, the Strela-10. The SAM system was prominently videographed by Russian news agencies and civilians in eastern Ukraine. The videos appear to show the vehicle headed away from the Russian border and toward the separatist positions in Donetsk.

There is no indication that a Strela-10 was ever captured by separatists, and the camouflage on the vehicle does not appear to match videos we’ve analyzed which show Ukrainian military vehicles. There is a very strong possibility that this vehicle crossed the Russian border in late June or early July, and that this vehicle is part of the Russian military stockpile.

In fact, back in May a group of separatists were stopped by the Ukrainian security services (SBU). As we reported at the time, an independent arms research company, Armament Research Services (ARES), says that there is strong evidence that the main body of a Polish PPZR Grom surface-to-air (MANPADS) missile carried by the separatists originated from a stockpile of weapons that was captured by the Russian military during the 2008 invasion of Georgia, and other parts of the weapon were only manufactured inside Russia.

While the Strela-10 and the PPZR Grom do not have the range to have shot down Malaysian Flight MH17, they help establish a pattern — Russia has been
providing the separatists with advanced anti-aircraft weaponry for many months, and the evidence has been there all along.

Vice News Gives Exclusive Video Tour of Flight MH17 Crash Site

Vice News provides an exclusive tour of the wreckage of flight MH17. As part of the video, Vice interviews residents of the town who saw the bodies fall out of the sky.

Warning – the video is graphic.

Malaysian Airlines Releases Complete Passenger Manifest

Malaysian Airlines has released the complete passenger manifest for flight MH17. The manifest lists the names, countries of origin, and genders for 283 passengers and 15 crew members: 298 souls were on board.

It does not appear that any of the passengers were American citizens.

Read the names here.

The Buk – The Missile That Likely Shot Down MH17

The Daily Beast reports:

If Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by Ukrainian separatists, those responsible likely didn’t know what they were shooting at and were probably operating outside what limited control the Donetsk People’s Republic has over its air defense system, experts in Soviet and Russian weapons system told The Daily Beast.

Ukraine’s government said the rebels used the Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile system. Descended from the 1970s-era SA-6 Gainful, the Buk is in use throughout the militaries that make up the countries of the former Soviet Union, including Russia and Ukraine.

Known in Western parlance as the SA-11 Gadfly or SA-17 Grizzly, they were designed to defend the mighty Red Army from NATO planes as it would advance across battlefields in a Third World War. They are some of the most potent tactical surface-to-air missiles (SAM) in Russia’s arsenal, said the Teal Group’s Steve Zaloga, an expert on missiles.

Read the entire article here

European Parliament President Says Evidence Russian-Backed Insurgents Shot Down MH17 ‘Becoming Irrefutable’
This is a huge statement from Martin Schulz, the President of the European Parliament:

But he’s not alone in this sentiment. In fact, we now know that the weapon that is suspected of having shot down this aircraft, the Buk surface-to-air missile system, was spotted both before AND after in the vicinity of where the plane was shot down. The “after” video shows the vehicle missing several missiles. That area is completely controlled by Russian-backed separatists, so it would not be possible for Ukraine to position its own missiles there.

Not only that, but these weapons are highly sophisticated. A team of military-trained specialists would be needed to operate the Buk. Where else could that team come from but from the Russia military?

Kiev’s Maidan Square Is Becoming a Dangerous Place

We step away from the MH17 plane crash for a minute to turn to a report from Kiev, Ukraine’s capital city. Kyiv Post reports that Maidan Square, the center of the revolution that toppled the previous government in February, has become a dangerous place:

EuroMaidan has already turned into a shady place. Some protesters decided to leave the Maidan because of robberies, assaults and beatings that happened there quite often in the last months, which they say is now discrediting the protest that took place there just several months ago and which ousted President Viktor Yanukovych.

The EuroMaidan’s self-defense unit number 3 is dismantling its tents, packing stuff and moves to the Kyiv fortress, a 19th century architectural monument, in downtown Pechersk district, says Danylo Klekh, head of the executive committee of EuroMaidan Self Defense. “We have taken such a decision because nowadays on Maidan a lot of negative things occur and they have nothing to do with the idea of the EuroMaidan and discredit EuroMaidan’s self-defense [units].”

Kyiv’s prosecutor Serhiy Yuldashev described the current situation on Maidan as “extremely crime-intensive” in his comment to Ukrinform, a Ukrainian news agency, on June, 10. “Starting from the beginning of April the police registered four facts of murders and more than 10 armed robberies attacks,” he said.

Read the entire article here.

This problem highlights two easily-forgotten realities in Ukraine today. The first is that the current government is very new and is trying to restore order to a highly chaotic country, a post-revolutionary nation where the previous government went from being highly corrupt to being completely derelict in its duties as the revolution progressed. The new government has had to try to address problems resulting directly from the revolution (like restoring order when a large portion of its police force either deserted or is still loyal to the previous government) while simultaneously fighting a war against foreign-backed insurgents.

The second problem is that the people who helped bring this government to power are a rag-tag collection of revolutionaries with different ideologies, and the new government has been reluctant to stand up to them. It has been almost five months to the day since the Yanukovych government in Ukraine fell, but many of the people who protested — and fought against Yanukovych’s shock troops — remain inside Maidan Square.

While the government in Kiev is taking measures to restore Maidan, and the capital city, and the country, back to working order, many obstacles still remain. And it’s harder to tackle these obstacles while simultaneously dodging Russian GRAD rockets and dislodging guerrilla fighters in the eastern regions.

Why Was Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 Flying Through a War Zone?

The Daily Beast reports:

Crimea was off-limits but not eastern Ukraine. It seems flying five miles above the earth provided false security to the civilian airliner.
The United States and Ukraine are saying Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was hit by a missile while at cruise altitude over eastern Ukraine. Without being able to confirm that the missile was fired by pro-Russian rebels, U.S. intelligence said it detected both the launch and the explosion. This urgently raises the issue of why commercial flights had not been diverted from the skies over Ukraine and how war zones are defined these days.

While the Crimea was regarded as too dangerous to fly over because of military aircraft movements, eastern Ukraine was not deemed off-limits even though two Ukrainian military aircraft were shot down this week.

Read the entire article here.

The MH17 Debris Field Is Miles Long
Daniel Sanford reports from the crash site… or, perhaps from part of the crash site, because despite the fact that there appears to be one area where much of the debris is focused, the wreckage is spread across many miles:
The Best Chance To Defeat HIV Went Down With MH17

The Daily Beast reports:

Dr. Joep M. Lange, a Dutch researcher whose work toward finding prevention and treatment for the disease is unmatched, and partner Jacqueline von Tongeren were killed in the crash.

Dr. Joep M. Lange, who died in the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, was one of a handful of brand-name AIDS experts. Of course eulogistic hyperbole is expected after this sort of tragedy, but Lange truly was every inch the visionary, charismatic, and good guy the hurried obituaries suggest.

Read the entire article here.

Russia Will Retaliate By Passing Its Own Sanctions Against US Citizens

A new wave of sanctions has been levied against Russia because of their interference in Ukraine. Today Moscow is firing back, pledging to pass its own sanctions against American citizens. RFE/RL reports:

Russia’s Foreign Minister said on July 19 that it would retaliate against newly imposed U.S. sanctions on Russian firms and citizens by imposing visa restrictions on a similar number of U.S. citizens.

The list of U.S. citizens that Moscow is barring from entering Russia includes the chief wardens of the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay detention centers in Iraq and Cuba.

Moscow also put U.S. congressman James Moran on the Kremlin’s banned list, saying the move was retaliation for the inclusion of Russian State Duma deputy Adam Delimkhanov on the U.S blacklist.

Russia may talk a good game, but Russian sanctions are extremely weak for many reasons that are out of Moscow’s control. Far fewer Americans have any money invested in either the Russian ruble or in Russian markets, and few Americans regularly travel to Russia. In short, while American sanctions can significantly damage an individual’s ability to conduct international business, in most cases Russian sanctions do not.

Gunman Fires Warning Shots At OSCE Observers Who Withdraw From Crash Site After One Hour

The world is demanding answers when it comes to flight MH17, the families are demanding bodies of loved ones, but until the OSCE team was finally allowed access today the only ones who have been working in the crash site are untrained local residents and equally-untrained Russian-backed gunmen. Reporting for The Guardian, Harriet Salem posts a moving and disturbing report from the crash site. One passage stuck out, however: workers from a local coal mine are helping to remove the bodies:

Rescue workers were overwhelmed by the scene. Volunteer miners combed the long grass for bodies; some of the first emergency workers on the scene bizarrely happened to be a unit trained in scuba diving search and rescue.

“This isn’t our area of expertise,” said Boris, 41, an experienced diver who drove his unit to the scene in a Soviet-era Gaz military vehicle. “We have no idea where anything is, we have a huge task ahead of us. We’ve not experienced anything like this, nothing on this scale.”

In a separate article, The Guardian also reports that bodies are being removed by locals. That report also notes that no agreement to establish a security corridor has been agreed upon despite some reports that negotiations to create such a space were in the works:

A spokesman for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Michael Bociurkiw, also said he was not aware of any agreement, and reports from the scene said there was no security zone.

A team of nearly 30 OSCE observers attempted for second time to gain access to the crash site on Saturday after meeting resistance from armed rebels on Friday. The monitors were allowed to view one part of the site under escort.

Aleksander Borodai, prime minister of the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic, denied rebels had touched the crash site but said it would move the bodies for “humanitarian” reasons and called on Russia to help. “Bodies of innocent people are lying out in the heat. We reserve the right, if the delay continues … to begin the process of taking away the bodies. We ask the Russian Federation to help us with this problem and send their experts,” he said.

Workers at the scene have recovered more than 180 bodies, which have begun to decompose under the summer sun. All 298 on board the plane were killed in the crash.

BBC adds that the OSCE team left the scene after a little more than one hour, and a guard actually fired shots to ensure that they did not leave the area where the separatists wanted them to see:

Michael Bociurkiw, a member of the OSCE team, said their access had been limited despite assurances from the regional rebel commander that they would be allowed into the site.

“A visibly intoxicated armed guard fired his rifle in the air when one of the observers walked out of the prescribed area,” Mr Bociurkiw told journalists.

The 25 monitors withdrew after just over an hour, having been been unable to set up an access corridor for specialist teams to investigate the crash, he added.

Several bodies had been marked but left exposed to the elements, Mr Bociurkiw said, and rescue workers were unable to indicate whose responsibility it would be to remove them.

The bottom line is that the very men who stand accused of shooting down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 are the only ones who control the remains of this aircraft, and they continue to use their firepower to ensure that the world only sees what they want the world to see.

‘The Russian-Led Terrorists Are Preventing Access’

The New York Times reports that the Ukrainian government does not have access to the MH17 crash site, armed separatists are blocking access for international OSCE inspectors, and Kiev cannot guarantee that the site is being preserved — in fact, there is evidence to the contrary.

“The Russian-led terrorists are preventing access of the international community and foreign governments to the location where the Malaysia Airlines airplane crashed on July 17 and are obstructing the launch of an investigation,” the [Ukrainian] government’s statement said.

The government said that it had information that 38 bodies were taken to the morgue in Donetsk, a regional capital that is a rebel stronghold…

At a news conference in Kiev on Saturday, Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s national Defense and Security Council, said he could not provide information about the crash scene, because “terrorists” were blocking the government’s access.

“At present we have limited information and limited ability to obtain formal information,” Mr. Lysenko said. “The people who are working from our side, they do not have the ability of free movement. They are under control of the terrorists. They are guarding the place. They are taking out all the evidence.”

He added, “The terrorists, they collect everything in their hands.”

Since those statements, the OSCE team has reached the crash site, a day after they were blocked by a rebel commander who fired warning shots at their convoy. While the OSCE is not a team with any expertise in inspecting crash sites, they may be able to establish whether the site is being tampered with.

RFE/RL reports that the separatists now claim that they have not found the ‘black boxes.’ Earlier there were reports that the flight-data recorders had been found and had been transported to Russia:

A rebel commander told the team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on July 19 that separatists did not touch evidence and had not found the plane’s “black box” flight data recordings.

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