An international investigation has no doubt that the passenger plane was shot down with Russian weapons" />

Facts and fake-news: five years since the downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine

An international investigation has no doubt that the passenger plane was shot down with Russian weapons

REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

Novaya Gazeta

Five years ago, on July 17, 2014,  Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by an earth-to-air missile in the sky over Eastern Ukraine, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, with 298 passengers on board. 

All of them, including 80 children, died. Most of them were Dutch citizens.

Technical parts belonging to Soviet-made Buk anti-aircraft missiles were found amongst the debris. In June, an international investigation team named the names of four people suspected of involvement in the downing of the plane – three of them are Russian citizens.


The rocket was launched at the civilian aircraft from the village of Pervomayskoye (near the town of Snezhnoye). Ukraine has not controlled these territories since the start of the war in 2014. The Buk anti-aircraft complex, as later established by international investigators, was taken to the conflict zone from the territory of Russia and handed over to representatives of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). 

• Former South Ossetian Defense Minister identified as the Russian general in charge of the attack on MH17

• Names released of those responsible for destruction of Boeing MH17 over Ukraine, deaths of 298

How the weapons of the Russian army turned up on the territory of a neighboring state and who authorized its transfer have yet to be clarified. However, it was at that time that the separatist forces in the Donbass experienced an urgent need for air defense equipment. The Ukrainian air force was rapidly bringing troops into the rear of the separatists, threatening to cut them off from the Russian border and, accordingly, cut off all types of assistance that came into the DPR and LPR from the south of Russia.

The elimination of the air threat was a matter of survival for the separatists, who could not reach the ships flying at high altitude with conventional portable anti-aircraft complexes.

By mid-July, the separatists had probably already received new assistance from Russia:

July 14, 2014 they manage to shoot down the military transport AN-26 Ukrainian Air Force; the ship was flying at an altitude of more than 6000 meters, which is only reachable by long-range air defense systems like the Buk. 

On the morning of July 17, 2014, DPR representatives received information about the departure of the next An-26 transport. The DNR’s air defense united attacked a flying object from the vicinity of Snezhnoye, as almost immediately reported by the official Russian media. From the intercepted telephone conversations between the “militias”, one can garner that it was first perceive to be an An-26 (Antonov).

Only when they arrived at the crash site did the separatists realize that a civilian airliner had been shot down.

Fake news

Starting the very first day after the tragedy, the Russian authorities have declared the non-involvement of the DPR and LPR in the attack on the Boeing passenger plane. Russia has also denied its own involvement in the attack. 

Russian propaganda has put forward several versions: the most ‘famous’ of which was a suggestion that a Ukrainian military plane shot down the Boeing.

To support this account, the pro-governmen media has used data that time and time again has proven false or incomplete.

Another Russian account of events was that the Malaysian Boeing 777 was indeed attacked by a Buk, but by Ukrainian forces from the village of Zaroshchenskoye. This account has been disproved by independent experts from Bellingcat.

In October 2015, the Security Council of the Netherlands announced that the Buk anti-aircraft missile system launched on a plane from the vicinity of Snezhnoye was the only cause of the MH17 crash.

The Security Council asked for help from the Russian side, and in particular, the producer of Buk missiles, the state corporation Almaz-Antey.

Coordinated by the Netherlands, an international criminal investigation began, the aim of which was to answer questions about how the Buk ended up in the hands of the separatists, who was in the crew and, finally, who gave the orders to move the complex and open fire. 

In May 2018, the Dutch displayed the shell of a rocket engine with serial number 9032, stating that it may be an important piece of evidence.

According to the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, the engine was at the disposal of the international investigation thanks to the mediation of unknown persons from the DPR who asked for a fee. 

Novaya Gazeta put the amount requested at several tens of thousands of US dollars.

The authenticity of this material evidence and the true motives of the “intermediaries” are today the only unexplained issue in the MH17 case. 

According to the head of international investigation Fred Westerbeke, international experts are still studying data on the rocket.

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