August 03, 2014

MH17 Tragedy: Missing Evidence

Prabir Purkayastha

THE shooting down on July 17 of the Malaysian airliner MH17, killing all the 283 passengers and 15 crew members, undoubtedly is one of the most unfortunate consequences of the civil war in Ukraine. The world should have responded with an independent investigation, possibly under International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) or any international agency. Instead, the tragic incident is being used by the US and its allies in tandem with Ukraine's Poroshenko regime to launch a vicious attack on Russia and the federalists in Ukraine. What is missing in all this is a shred of evidence. In contrast, the Russians have been quite restrained, raising questions regarding Ukraine regime's possible responsibility and producing evidence from their satellite and radar imagery to back up their claims and asking for an independent investigation. They have also asked that the US release similar data as the US had a satellite operating over the area where MH 17 was shot down and the Ukraine regime to make public the records of the Ukrainian Air Traffic Controller. On both counts, there have been no response, the US spokesperson talking about the evidence in the social media and a highly dubious recorded conversation made public by the Poroshenko regime. VITRIOLIC CAMPAIGN What is inexplicable in this whole affair is the vitriolic campaign that the US in particular has launched. It is back to cold war days, with Russia and Putin being attacked in terms that appear to close all possible avenues of cooperation. It appears that there is no interest in any investigation, all that matters is how to use the downing of MH17 to isolate Russia and back the Poroshenko regime in its war against the people on Eastern Ukraine. Let us at least identify what are accepted as the facts by all sides. The ill-fated plane was travelling over a region where admittedly there was fighting going on the ground. ICAO had issued statement in April advising all airlines that there was a risk to civilian aircraft while flying over Ukraine. Why some of the airlines – including Air India – were still flying over this territory is still not clear. While an accident is not entirely ruled out, it is likely that the cause of MH17 was a missile strike. While the US, the Ukrainian regime and others have talked about a deliberate attack on a civilian aircraft, nobody has given any reason for such an attack. Joe Biden, the US vice-president, stated on 17th itself, “Apparently.. Shot down, not an accident. Blown out of the sky.” Such an incident obviously has hurt Russia and the federalists in Eastern Ukraine badly in terms of adverse international reaction. By the same token, it could be argued that this was a “false flag operation” carried out by the Ukrainian regime in collusion with the US and its allies. However, no side has provided any evidence that this was a deliberate attack. Even the US, which has ratcheted up a near hysteria in the western media on downing of MH 17, conceded, “the most plausible explanation to me is (it was) a mistake.” (Press briefing by unnamed intelligence officers, reported on July 22 in Washington Post). Leaving out the issue of intent – was the act of shooting down MH 17 a deliberate one – let us look instead of what is the evidence regarding the shooting itself. The first evidence that the Poroshenko regime in Ukraine introduced was three audio recordings of a conversation between supposedly a federalist leader of the Bes group and a Colonel in Russian intelligence, and then between a "Major" and "Grek" who are also allegedly Russian rebels. The third section is a conversation between a “militant” and a leader of a Russian Cossack group operating in Ukraine. Conceivably, the first recording could describe the shooting down of a Su-25 by the federalists that did happen in that region the previous night. The next two sections are supposedly the smoking gun, as they refer to the first conversation and then go on to say that this is a civilian aircraft. The last conversation even identifies it as a Malaysian Airlines aircraft from markings on the fuselage. The problem with this audio recording is that if the second and third are merely scripted and read out by actors speaking Russian, and spliced with the first, then also we will get a similar audio. Worse, it appears in the manufacturing of the spliced audio tapes, the date of creation was shown as July 16, a day before the accident. There are also major time stamp discrepancies between the original Russian and the English dubbed versions; dubbing should not change the video's original time stamp. The Russian experts have claimed that this is crude forgery, a claim that remains unanswered. The next issue is what was the missile used to shoot down MH17. It is difficult without a forensic examination of the broken pieces of the aircraft to clearly identify a missile strike as the cause of the MH17 disaster. Some experts have claimed that the pictures of the broken pieces of the aircraft indicate that it was a most likely an S-11 missile strike. The S-11 batteries are a part of the Buk missile system. The US and the Poroshenko regime used video evidence to claim that such a battery was indeed given to the federalists by Russia and later moved back to Russia. They also claimed that as the Buk system is a sophisticated one, it is unlikely that the ill-trained federalists could have used such a system and therefore it must have been operated by the Russians. The Russians held a press conference as a response. Lt. Gen. Igor Makushev not only denied that any such system had been either brought in or been moved back to Russia, he also showed that the video of an alleged Buk battery was shot in Krasnoarmeisk, which was under Kiev control at that time. What was damning in Makushev's presentation was a series of satellite images that show the presence of Ukrainian Buk missile batteries, “...the Ukrainian military had three or four air defence battalions equipped with Buk-M1 SAM systems deployed in the vicinity of Donetsk on the day of the crash.” He also stated, “Also, July 17 saw increased activity on the part of Ukraine’s Kupol-M1 9S18 radars, which are part of the Buk system. Here on this chart you see that there were seven radars operating on July 15, eight radars operating on July 16, and nine radars operating on July 17 in the area. Then, starting with July 18, the intensity of radar activities radically decreased, and now there are no more than two or three radars operating a day. The reason behind this is yet to be found.” FURNISH SATELLITE IMAGERY The Russian side asked the US, which has a sophisticated satellite over Eastern Ukraine to also make public what it has. This should have been a simple issue – if there are Buk missile systems in federalist hands, it should be easy for the US to present similar images to what the Russians have supplied. So why would the US refuse to furnish satellite imagery contradicting what the federalists and the Russians are saying, that the federalists have no Buk missiles? This was the question posed to Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson of the State Department during her press conference on July 21. She flatly refused to furnish any such data and claimed that there was enough evidence that shows that the Russian backed federalists are guilty, and therefore by association Russia. I reproduce her answer in the press briefing, “Well, a couple of points. You saw the Secretary yesterday speak very clearly about our assessment that this was an SA-11 fired from Russian-backed, separatist-controlled territory; that we know – we saw in social media afterwards, we saw videos, we saw photos of the pro-Russian separatists bragging about shooting down an aircraft”. When pinned down by the reporters regarding evidence of the Buk system being with the federalists, her only answer was the “social media”. I am not going to go into an analysis of the so-called social media videos of a phantom Buk battery travelling through federalists held territory. The simple question that the US refuses to answer is that if the Buk battery was indeed where the Youtube videos claim it was, a simple corroborative exercise would be to provide backing satellite imagery. Remember, Sherlock Holmes finds that the barking of the dog as the most important evidence, the dog that did not bark? As of now, the only evidence that has been presented of Buk systems and S-11 missiles in the area over which the Malaysian aircraft was flying is that such systems were with the Kiev regime. So if it was indeed an S-11 missile, the preponderance of evidence at the moment would indicate that this an act committed – either due to incompetence or for a false flag operation – by the Kiev regime. The incompetence of the Ukraine forces is not as farfetched as it might appear. In 2001, during a military exercise, Ukraine shot down a Russian airliner with 78 persons on board using an S-200 missile. It denied for eight days that it was responsible for downing of the aircraft, conceding its role only when investigators found incontrovertible evidence. Here too, it is possible that this was the result of a botched military exercise that the Kiev regime was carrying out when it accidentally shot down the aircraft. That would also explain the inability of the US to furnish actual evidence. The Russians and others have raised questions about the inexplicable changing of the course of MH17 by the Kiev Air traffic Controller. It is also strange that the security agencies in Kiev who have taken charge of the Air Traffic records, have not made them public. The Malaysian authorities in the case of the missing Malaysian aircraft had made all the exchanges between MH370 and the control tower public soon after the aircraft went missing. The narrative of evil Russia and an evil Putin feeds into the Pavlovian cold-war reactions of the western audience. The western media is happy to play cheerleaders to any war – hot or cold – that their masters decree. The current hysteria that the US and its allies are whipping up is a measure of the global ambitions of the US: it will brook no opposition in any part of the globe. This is the message that Russia is being given – submit or else.