Plane may have been shot down by Russian-built Buk missile

Claim that Ukrainian rebel force spotted with missile close to crash site

 Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak (centre) accompanied by ministers at  a press conference last night in  Kuala Lumpur. Photograph: Ahmad Yusni/EPA

Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak (centre) accompanied by ministers at a press conference last night in Kuala Lumpur. Photograph: Ahmad Yusni/EPA

Fri, Jul 18, 2014, 01:00

The Malaysian Airlines aircraft may have been shot down by a vehicle-mounted Russian-built Buk missile system, according to western-based defence specialists. Russian-backed rebel groups or Russian forces based in eastern Ukraine are said to have been shooting at planes and helicopters with Buk missiles over the last week in an attempt to achieve mastery of the airspace.

But Russian fighter planes have also been in action this week, allegedly responsible for downing a Ukrainian jet. It is easier for aircraft to accurately target planes but it should also be easier for a pilot to identify a plane as a commercial airliner.

Shoulder-held MANPAD missiles are popular with guerrilla groups worldwide but the Malaysian Airlines plane would have been flying above 10,000 metres, well beyond their range. The Buk, which Ukrainian interior minister Anton Gerashenko has blamed for the attack, has a range of up to 25,000 metres.

Igor Sutyagin, a Russian military specialist at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, said he believed that either Russians or Russian-supported groups in eastern Ukraine were responsible. Kalashnikov-carrying Russian sympathisers in Ukraine would not have had the expertise to use the Buk system and would have needed either specialists who had “volunteered” their services from Russia or locally recruited experts. Russia is alleged to have infiltrated special forces into Ukraine in the guise of rebels.

Mr Sutyagin, who monitors social media in Ukraine, said a Ukrainian rebel force had been spotted just hours earlier with a Buk system at Torez, a village close to the site where the plane came down.

He added that a Ukrainian transport plane had been flying overhead close to the time that the missile was fired at the Malaysia Airlines plane, suggesting that may have been the original target.

– (Guardian service)