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16th May 2021

Dutch-led inquest on MH17 points finger at Russia

  • The DSF pieced together MH17's cockpit using wreckage from the crash site (Photo: onderzoeksraad.nl)

A Dutch-led inquest has concluded that a Russian-made Buk missile shot down flight MH17 over Ukraine in July last year.

The missile, carrying a “9N314M-type” warhead, filled with bow-tie and cube-shaped metal objects, detonated less than one metre from the left side of the cockpit, the Dutch Safety Board (DSF) said on Tuesday (13 October).

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  • Bow-tie and cube-shaped metal packed in the Buk warhead (Photo: onderzoeksraad.nl)

It killed pilots instantly, and severed the cockpit from the rest of the hull, which then broke up and fell 10km from the sky.

The tail section hit the ground first. The main body of the plane landed upside down and caught fire.

The attack killed all 283 passengers, 80 of whom were children, and 15 crew.

But DSF chief Tjibbe Joustra, speaking to relatives of victims earlier on Tuesday at the Gilze-Rijen airbase in the Netherlands, said people most likely died or lost consciousness right after the Buk exploded.

The DSF said the Buk could have been fired from anywhere within a 320 square-km area in east Ukraine.

Joustra also noted the inquest had no mandate to say who fired it - a question subject to a separate investigation by Dutch prosecutors.

Open airspace

Joustra criticised Ukraine for not closing its airspace to civil aviation.

He said Kiev let MH17 fly over the combat zone, en route from The Netherlands to Malaysia, despite the fact Russia-controlled fighters had shot down 16 Ukrainian military aircrcaft, including two at altitudes of more than 6km, in the same area in recent days.

But he noted that non-closure is “normal” practice among many war-torn states.

He said 160 civilian planes flew over the combat zone the same day and three other civilian planes were near to MH17 when it was hit.

The prevailing theory among EU and US military experts is that Russia-controlled fighters fired the Russian-supplied Buk because they thought MH17 was a Ukrainian military plane.

The disaster prompted EU states to impose economic sanctions on Russia.

It also prompted a Russian media campaign which disseminated different theories.

One was that the Ukrainian air force shot it down in a false flag operation in order to prompt Western intervention.

But the DSF ruled out the possibility that MH17 was hit by an air-to-air missile. It also said the plane was mechanically sound, and that damage wasn’t caused by a bomb, or by a meteorite shower.

Russia’s view

Joustra noted that Australian, British, Dutch, Malaysian, Russian, and US experts took part in the inquest.

He said the Russian specialists agreed with the main findings. But they disagreed that the warhead and missile type could be proved “with certainty”.

The Russian firm that makes Buk missiles, Almaz-Antey, which is under EU sanctions, held a separate press conference in Moscow earlier on Tuesday.

Its CEO, Yan Novikov, said its internal enquiry “completely refuted the conclusions of the Dutch commission”.

He said the type of missile was probably a 9M38M1-type Buk, which hasn’t been used by the Russian military since 2011.

He said it was fired from the town of Zaroshchenske, in east Ukraine. The town was held by Russia-controlled fighters in July 2014. But Novikov said he “isn’t sure” who held the town or who fired the weapon.

He also claimed the timing of Almaz-Antey's press event was a “coincidence”.

But the timing prompted the DSF’s Joustra to tell press: “It's always special when people already know that they don't agree with a report that's not even published yet”.

Moscow, on Monday, also tried to discredit the DSF.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign affairs minister, said the inquest is “weird” because it didn’t speak to Almaz-Antey and didn’t collect all the wreckage available. Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, made similar remarks.

The comments come amid Russia’s ongoing refusal to authorise a UN tribunal to bring MH17 perpetrators to justice.

Ukrainian theory

For his part, Valentyn Nalyvaychenko, who was the head of the Ukrainian security service, the SBU, in July last year, also revived a Ukrainian theory on Tuesday.

He said in an op-ed in Ukrainska Pravda, an online news agency, Kiev has evidence that Russian forces were trying to shoot down a Russian civilian plane in order to justify a full-scale invasion.

He noted that an Aeroflot flight, en route from Cyprus to Russia, using the same model plane, was flying 1,500 metres above MH17 at the time of the attack.

The DSF findings come three months before the EU sanctions on Russia are due to expire.

They also come amid a lull in fighting in east Ukraine and amid a new Russian military campaign in Syria, which has shifted media attention from the Ukraine conflict.

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