Russian fury clouds the search for MH17 culprits

Moscow rejects damning findings of international investigation

A Malaysian air crash investigator inspecting the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo) in Donetsk region, Ukraine, in July 2014. Photograph: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

A Malaysian air crash investigator inspecting the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo) in Donetsk region, Ukraine, in July 2014. Photograph: Maxim Zmeyev/Reuters

 

The hunt for the people who fired the missile that downed a Malaysia Airlines jet over Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people on board, is set to face fierce opposition from Russia after it rejected international findings on the disaster.

A Dutch-led investigative team announced on Wednesday that the Buk rocket system that destroyed flight MH17 was brought from and returned to Russia, and was fired from Ukrainian territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.

“To arbitrarily name the guilty and invent the desired results has become the norm for our western colleagues,” Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

“Russia from the start offered to work together and proceed only from facts. Instead, international investigators excluded Moscow from full participation . . . relegating our efforts to a secondary role.”

Russia continues to deny sending military personnel and weapons to the militants and, since the afternoon the Boeing 777 was hit, its officials and state media have surrounded the attack in a fog of contradictory claims and often-bizarre conspiracy theories.

In the hours after the attack, local people near the crash site repeated claims made by Russian media that Ukraine may have struck the plane thinking it was the jet of Russian president Vladimir Putin, or that the airliner was filled with dead bodies and intentionally crashed to discredit Moscow and the separatists.

Only this week, Russia’s defence ministry claimed that previously unknown radar data held on recently discovered memory chips showed that no missile was launched from militant-held areas on July 17th, 2014, when MH17 was hit.

Just four days after the airliner was shot down, however, Russian defence officials claimed to have evidence of a Ukrainian fighter jet flying near the aircraft just before it broke up at 33,000 feet.

The defence ministry’s satellite pictures were quickly exposed as crude fakes, however, and Russian officials quietly shelved their claims about the Ukrainian attack jet, while continuing to allege that Kiev’s forces must have fired a Buk rocket of their own.

“This whole story is unfortunately surrounded by a huge amount of speculation,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov lamented on Wednesday.

“Undoubtedly, conclusions must be drawn in light of the latest information from our military . . . which pinpointed all flying items and objects that could have been launched from or located above territory controlled by the rebels,” he said.

“So if it was a missile, then it could only have been launched from some other area. I’m not saying which one – that is for the experts,” Mr Peskov added.

Separatist leaders in eastern Ukraine, who are propped up by Russia, again denied that a Buk missile system had ever entered territory that they control.

Kiev hopes the findings of the investigative team – comprising experts from the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Belgium and Ukraine – will help maintain international diplomatic and economic pressure on Russia to end its aggression against Ukraine.

“Now the investigative agencies will continue to work on finding a way to bring the guilty to justice,” said Ukrainian foreign ministry spokeswoman Mariana Betsa. “The investigation continues.”