IntelBrief: Russia Formally Found Responsible for MH-17
Bottom Line Up Front:
- On May 24, the international Joint Investigation Team (JIT) formally found that Russia was responsible for the downing of MH17 in July 2014.
- The exhaustive investigation found that the Buk missile system used to shoot down the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 came from Russia’s 53rd anti-aircraft brigade in Kursk.
- Russia’s consistent denials represented an early version of the ‘fake news’ defense.
- The Netherlands, which headed up the investigation, stated it ‘is now taking the next step by formally holding Russia accountable.’
The international investigation of the July 17, 2014, downing of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, in which 298 people were killed, has formally found that Russia is responsible for the crime. This has long been assumed, as multiple governments have assessed over the last several years that the Buk 332—the Buk-M1 missile launcher—came from Russia in the days before the crime. In fact, its arrival had been reported by the Associated Press before MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine. Still, the formal announcement has weight and importance.
While the findings from the Joint Investigation Team (JIT)—comprising of officials from the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, and Ukraine Team, and based on United Nations Security Council resolution 2166—do not specify if Russian personnel actually fired the missile, it confirms previous findings based on forensics, as well as covert intelligence from the United Kingdom and well-analyzed open source information, that the BUK came from Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, based in Kursk, Russia. The report assessed that it was beyond improbable that such a weapons system would be sent from Kursk into eastern Ukraine without the approval of the highest level of Kremlin leadership.
The Russian Defense Ministry released a statement saying, ‘If the international investigative team is indeed interested in tracking down the real culprits of the MH17 catastrophe, its members would better rely on facts and witness testimony and not fakes produced by Bellingcat and Ukraine’s Security Service.’ This response has the same tenor as all Russian comments on the matter since MH17 was shot down and fell in pieces into Russian-backed-rebel-controlled areas in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. Bellingcat is the open-source intelligence group leading the analyzing and geolocating of publicly available photographs to plot the BUK system as it moved into eastern Ukraine. Dismissing damaging information as ‘fake’ is a hallmark of the Russian coordinated response to the MH17 investigation.
That the Russian disinformation campaign included cyber-attacks on the investigation teams and implausible but widely-repeated ‘alternative’ theories, for example that a Ukrainian fighter jet that shot down MH17 and that there was no BUK missile, but if there were one, it was Ukrainian anyway. The era of readily available open-source intelligence—and the ability to conclusively prove culpability and debunk outlandish conspiracy theories—has not resulted in a golden age of public enlightenment, but a dark age of echo-chambered bias confirmation and self-selected realities.
The Netherlands has stated it ‘is now taking the next step by formally holding Russia accountable.’ This is a complicated legal process, one made harder by Russia’s complete dismissal of any possible Russian responsibility, which supports Russia’s denial of direct military involvement in eastern Ukraine. In announcing the May 24 findings, Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok said that his country was calling on Russia‘ to accept its responsibility and cooperate fully with the process to establish the truth and achieve justice for the victims of flight MH17 and their next of kin.’ Russia’s response indicates this will not happen.
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