Who Shot down the Malaysian Jet over Ukraine?

On July 17, 2014 the madness of a three-month-long Ukrainian military conflict in the East has brought the first shocking international consequence.  At 3.20PM GMT the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777-200 jet flight #MH-17 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala-Lumpur disappeared inside the Ukrainian airspace right above the area of intense military combat in the Donetsk region and crushed near Grabovo village, around 60 km to the east from Donetsk. All 285 passengers and 15 crew members have reportedly died.

According to data available the airliner “was moving at the altitude of 10,600 meters on the 350th flight level”. This flight level was opened for international transit flights, despite since July 8, 2014 the Ukrainian aviation authorities “did not recommend” international transit flights in the area below 302th level; i.e., 9600 meters due to the “anti-terrorist operation” unleashed in the area involving Ukrainian pursuit aviation and air-defense capabilities in action. So formally the Malaysian company complied with the ruling of Ukrainian civil aviation authority although the security risk for the flight was evident.

The area of the catastrophe is indeed the epicentre of the ongoing fierce fighting between regular Ukrainian army units and rebellious armed militias of Novorossia opposing the anti-constitutional February coup d’etat in Kiev. An informed source monitoring the operational situation in the area has revealed earlier on Wednesday that a battery of Buk anti-aircraft missile systems of the Ukrainian Armed Forces was deployed near Donetsk. At present, another battery of the same missile systems is being loaded in Kharkiv. The aircraft flying at the altitude of more than 10 thousand meters might be hit only with weapons like S-300 or Buk. The militias don’t have such weapons, and cannot afford them as it was acknowledged even by the Ukrainian Defense minister Valery Galetey in a statement on another issue two days before the Flight MH-17 tragedy:

“…a “powerful weapon” must have been used to down the plane flying at 6,500 meters, an altitude the shoulder-fired missiles used by the separatists can’t reach.”

The Russian military expert Igor Korotchenko argues that the catastrophe in Donetsk was most likely caused by the incompetence and non-professionalism of the Ukrainian operators of the Buk systems during its testing after the battery was deployed in the new location. He said that the Ukrainian anti-aircraft unit did not have any kind of proper training for the last 23 years since the collapse of Soviet Union.

What happened today is hardly the first case of “errant shooting” of the Ukrainian military on civilian air targets. On October 4, 2001 the Russian Siberia Airline flight #1812 Tel-Aviv-Novosibirsk carrying 66 passengers and 12 crew members was erroneously hit by a Ukrainian missile over the Black Sea during military exercises, which was eventually admitted by the Ukrainian side. No one on board survived.

So regardless whether the MH-17 incident was caused by the criminal negligence and incompetence of the Ukrainian military or a deliberate (and reckless) Kiev’s provocation to put blame on Russia, the strong international committment to make Kiev immediately halt its punitive actions in Novorossia until all the circumstances of the tragedy are thoroughly investigated is urgently needed.

MH17map

Andre Fomine is the founder of the open dialogue research journal Oriental Review where this article first appeared. Read other articles by Andre.