MH17: towards the truth?

Kindly translated by Anne-Marie de Grazia.

This is an updated version of the previous note: MH17 – Vers la Vérité

The more time passes, the more weighty become the questions raised the crash of flight MH17. Recently, Robert Parry, the great American journalist who revealed, among other things, the illegal operations of the Reagan area (the Iran-Contra network), published on the site of his foundation several important articles, involving either the Ukrainian army[1], or a mysterious “defector” of said army[2]. The Russian news agency has recently published its own version[3]. We have no reason to find it less, or more, credible than the one circulated by the US government. So that one may attempt to reformulate these questions precisely. But for a start, we must know what we are talking about.

1. What caused the crash?

The most frequently mentioned hypothesis refers to a SAM-11/17 missile, called « Buk » in Russia. In its M1 or M2 version, this is a SARH (Semi-Active Radar Homing) missile, equipped with a 70kg warhead, 40kg to 50kg of which consist of an explosive charge. The missile’s explosion is triggered by a proximity fuze. The destruction of the target occurs through a combination of shock-waves (the more violent the higher the density of the atmosphere) and splinters. We must notice here that if this weapon is perfectly mortal when used against a fighter-bomber weighing 25 to 36 tons, the Boeing 777 MR of Malaysian Airlines was weighing  300 tons. In order to give a scale for comparison, the B-52 strategic weighs only 220 tons, yet in the raids over Hanoï, in order to destroy it, SAM-2 missiles were required, with a war-head weighing 40K. Moreover, this allows one to exclude the « Buk » as being responsible for the destruction of an Antonov flying at an altitude of 6500 m and a speed of 500km/h. Indeed, this airplane, weighing 25t, would have been entirely destroyed by such a missile, and its crew would have been killed.

Other sources, essentially Russian, refer to air-to-air missiles. These missiles have warheads weighing from 7,5kg to 60 kg. We can exclude light missiles. One possibility would be the AA-10 « Amos » or R-27, the charge of which amounts to approximately 40kg. This missile is in the Ukrainian Air Force inventory. These missiles are habitually fired in twos. As far as the « heavy » missiles are concerned, the AA-12 (Russian code R-77) appears as another potential “culprit”. Its charge is comparable to that of a « Buk » missile. But it is far from proved it is in service in the Ukrainian Air force.

If a « Buk » missile is indeed at the origin of the catastrophe, this missile must probably have exploded towards the front, or to the side but still towards the front, of the Boeing 777. The proportional navigation system of the missile anticipates the evolution of the target, and brings it onto a collision course aiming to anticipate future movements. This is an important difference with an infra-red guided missile which, generally, follows its target and strikes it from the back.

2.    How did the crash happen?

The mass of the MH17 clearly exceeded largely the mass of the military airplanes against which these missiles, whether ground-to-air or air-to-air, have been conceived. But we have a precedent, the case of the destruction of a Korean Boeing 747 in 1983 by the Soviet air forces (IA-PVO), the famous flight KAL007.

In the case of the destruction, on September 1st, 1983, of a Korean Air Lines Boeing (Flight KAL 007), the airplane was destroyed by one or two (more probably two) R-9 air-to-air missiles equipped with 40kg heads. But the airplane did not burst and continued on its trajectory, in distress, for several minutes (at least 4 minutes) before crashing. Taking into account the mass of the Boeing 777 of Malaysian Airlines (300 tons against 370 tons for the 747 of flight KAL007) it is also probable that the missile could not make the plane burst in flight. Starting from the precedent of the Boeing 747 of KAL, one may think, taking into account the angle of the missile and the detonation of the proximity fuze that the immediate damages were caused by splinters. It is highly probably that these splinters have massively hit the cockpit, which would explain the immediate loss of contact with the ground. More damage may have been provoked by the shock wave, even if, at 10,000 m altitude, the latter would be lessened. These damages, adding to those caused to the cabin by the splinters, may have caused ruptures in the airplane’s structure, which would explain the scattering of debris over some ten miles. But, always with the precedent of KAL-007 in mind, it appears that the damages have been progressive and took several tens of seconds before becoming lethal. The plane was able to continue on its trajectory for a certain time, before beginning to break apart. It therefore did not follow a parabolic trajectory, such as that of a bomb, but a mixed aerodynamic and parabolic trajectory. It is on the basis of this interpretation, which has been confirmed to me by a specialist of the structures of civilian aircrafts, that I have estimated at 30km minimum the distance between the impact of the missile and the site of the crash. I draw attention to the fact that the expert would rather surmise a distance of 40 to 45 km, and that a calculation made by a Russian blogger indicates at least 30 km[4]. This blogger also signals the destructive effect of the splinters, but he doesn’t seem to have made a parallel between the cases of the MH17 and of the KAL007 of 1983.

If the MH17 was a victim of air-to-air missiles, the damages must not have been very different. If the missiles fired were R-27s, it is possible that the damages would have been greater.  If an R-77 was fired against the airplane, the charge of this latter missile would have been much comparable to the one of the « Buk ».

3. The scenarii

The American government maintains that it was a ground-to-air missile, fired from the zone under control of the insurgents, which is responsible for the catastrophe. It maintains having satellite pictures. The missile battery would have come from Russia a few days before the firing. But the distance between the probable point of impact of the missile and the point of the crash of MH17 gives this hypothesis scant probability. In fact the only scenario compatible both with the crash location and an intercept by a missile fired from the insurgents zone would have been one where the proximity fuze of the Buk missile would have not worked and a direct contact between the missile and plane would have happened. In this scenario, the missile would have detonated against the very nose of the plane and the explosion would have created a blunt surface, which would have precipitated a break up of the plane. But as already said, this scenario implies a lot of “if”.

Moreover, the insurgent operators cannot have been instructed in the minimal procedures in order to fire the missile in such a short time. Several weeks are needed in order to train operators, even summarily. Granted, it is perfectly possible that these operators may have been summarily trained in Russia, but this implies a delay of at least 15 days, and more probably 21 days, and would place the date of the decision to deliver a SAM-17 battery to the insurgents around June 25, at the latest. This is not completely impossible, but nothing, in the fighting, which was taking place at the time, would have justified delivery of such a type of materiel. We are faced with two inconsistencies.

As for Robert Parry, he mentions a CIA source, which is supposed to have indicated to him that the missile had been fired by Ukrainian soldiers, loyal to Kiev, who would have been in a state of drunkenness at the moment of the firing:

« …the initial assessment was that the troops were Ukrainian soldiers. There also was the suggestion that the soldiers involved were undisciplined and possibly drunk, since the imagery showed what looked like beer bottles scattered around the site, the source said[5] »

The Los Angeles Times of Tuesday, on July 22, signals the possibility that: “U.S. intelligence agencies have so far been unable to determine the nationalities or identities of the crew that launched the missile. U.S. officials said it was possible the SA-11 [anti-aircraft missile] was launched by a defector from the Ukrainian military who was trained to use similar missile systems.[6]». In other words, it would have been a « defector » of the Ukrainian army who fired the missile, from a zone controlled by the Kiev’s army. Notice that this would resolve the contradiction about the distance between the impact zone of the missile and the zone of the crash of MH17.

Moreover, there are rumours about Ukrainian fighter planes having escorted MH17, and it cannot be excluded that one of them may have shot it down.

4. The Russian version

It is interesting now to look at the story published by RIA-Novosti[7]. “A source from one of the Ukrainian defence departments told RIA Novosti. “On July 17 the commanding officer of 156th Anti-Aircraft Regiment was instructed to conduct a training exercise of ground troops stationed near Donetsk, which involved deploying the troops, and carrying out a routine tracking and destroying of targets with the Buk-M1 missile,” the source said. The source added that the actual launch of the rockets was not intended. Two Sukhoi Su-25 combat aircraft on a reconnaissance mission participated in the exercise. It is likely at some point, the routes of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 and a Su-25 jet overlapped. Despite flying at different levels, they became a single dot on the radar of the missile system. Of the two, the system automatically chose a larger target ». This IS consistent with what Robert Parry wrote some days ago. The use of two planes in an air-defence exercise is also a common routine in a lot of Armies. This would have explained the two « echoes » which were reported by radars and would confirm rumours circulating since the beginning about Ukrainian planes flying not far from the MH17. By the way, if the TELAR has been emplaced near Zarochtchenskoïe, as it is claimed, this would solve the problem of the MH17 post-detonation trajectory till its impact against the ground. One has to add that if a missile has been inadvertently released it would have locked on to the largest target. Of course, we have no reason to believe more in a Russian source than in an American one. But, and this is quite important, this scenario would explain a lot of things that are either unexplained or have to be explained by resorting to highly speculative scenarios otherwise.

If the Russian version is correct, the story would have been one of a tragic mistake done by one air-defence unit of the regular Ukrainian army, exactly like in the Sibir flight of 2001 which was downed by an Ukrainian missile[8].

5. Provisory Conclusion

In fact, we observe that the American government, who says to be in possession of formal proofs of the implication of the insurgents, continues to refuse to show them. This behaviour is highly problematic. We are in fact faced with a « communication policy » which seems to be typical of the American government. Every time, we get a proclamation of so-called proofs, or in-lieu of proofs, but without the documents being produced. It is puzzling that they are not being asked for. The media, in the United States as well as in the NATO countries, take these declarations at face value and do not bother one minute about their verification exactly like in the Cold-War. Of course, the answer would probably be that these documents being confidential, they could not be disclosed in order not to expose to public view the methods and means of functioning of secret assets. Remember that this was the method adopted by the French army in the end of the XIXth century at the time of Dreyfus Affair. They claimed too to have “proofs” that Captain Dreyfus was guilty but that these proofs could not be released and were top-secret. We know what we have to think about these kind of discourse.

These proofs, if they really exist, should, in fact, be entrusted to an independent international investigative commission. It is true that the credibility of the American authorities is far from perfect since the lies that were proffered by Colin Powell in 2003 at the United Nations. It is therefore urgent that the American government hand over the pictures at its disposal to an independent international commission, as well as the means to verify them.

Meanwhile, we must grant that the implication of the Ukrainian insurgents appears to be more than doubtful, and that one may have good reasons to suspect the authorities in Kiev. The present press campaign against Russia, both in the US and in a number of NATO countries, appears like an obscenity, by no means justified by facts, and which in truth obeys to very peculiar political, and even geopolitical objectives of the United States and of their allies. It is then not surprising that this media hate campaign is not bought by a lot of countries. Western powers are now largely alone in their condemnation of Russia[9].


[1] Robert Parry, « What Did US Spy Satellites See in Ukraine? », 20 July 2014, http://consortiumnews.com/2014/07/20/what-did-us-spy-satellites-see-in-ukraine/ . See also the blog DeDefensa,  http://www.dedefensa.org/article-mh17_et_l_insaisissable_buk_russe_21_07_2014.html

[2] Robert Parry, « The Mystery of a Ukrainian Army ‘Defector’ », 22 July 2014, http://consortiumnews.com/2014/07/22/the-mystery-of-a-ukrainian-army-defector/

[9] MkKinnon, Mark,ac“Western powers largely alone in condemnation of Russia », July 24th, 2014, http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/western-powers-largely-alone-in-condemnation-of-russia/article19735260/


Jacques Sapir

Ses travaux de chercheur se sont orientés dans trois dimensions, l’étude de l’économie russe et de la transition, l’analyse des crises financières et des recherches théoriques sur les institutions économiques et les interactions entre les comportements individuels. Il a poursuivi ses recherches à partir de 2000 sur les interactions entre les régimes de change, la structuration des systèmes financiers et les instabilités macroéconomiques. Depuis 2007 il s’est impliqué dans l’analyse de la crise financière actuelle, et en particulier dans la crise de la zone Euro.

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