Will MH17 Be Our 9/11? (18) Discussion points for the parliamentary debate on the JIT Report, 26 October 2016.

The items raised below, presented as a memorandum to Dutch MP´s, flow from a profound concern that the drama of the downing of Flight MH17 on 17 July 2014 has been seized upon to raise tensions with Russia instead of trying to contain the confrontation. The items have been taken from a study that is almost finished in manuscript but not yet published, The Downing of Flight MH17—A Political Economy of the New Cold War.

A confrontational approach and the New Cold War

From the time of the downing of MH17 the Dutch attitude has been characterised by a confrontational approach, first of all with the address of secretary Timmermans in the UN Security Council on 21 July of that year. Also, the admonition of Russia by prime minister Rutte to desist from expressing doubt abour the JIT report of 28 September last (hereafter, the JIT report), is testimony of that attitude. Yet a lot of items giving rise to doubt can be raised, as explained below.

Question: Is it desirable that the Netherlands continues to seize on the disaster to raise tension with Russia?

The Ukrainian veto
That there is a problem with granting the Ukrainian authorities confidentiality concerning the outcomes of the investigation (the technical one signed on 23 July, the criminal one on 6 August) was first signalled in Joost Niemöller's MH17—De doofpotaffaire, (MH17, the Cover-up). Kiev is a party in the civil war in which MH17 was downed, is responsible for its own airspace, and possesses all the weapon systems with which the plane can possibly have been targeted. It also distinguishes itself in terms of motives.

  • For Russia the downing was a heavy blow because negotiations over a comprehensive deal were in progress (‘land for gas’), but they were immediately discontinued. Also the EUU after previous hesitations did now agree to join the new sanctions imposed by the US on 16 July. As Mark Leonard of the European Council of Foreign Relations declared in a Dutch newspaper interview a year later, 'without MH17 it would have been really difficult to obtain sufficient support for the heavier sanctions against the Russian economy.' 
  • Meanwhile these sanctions and the countermeasures against the EU according to a French report have already cost more than $60 billion. It needs no argument that the damage to Russia has been gigantic also because sanctions were targeted at the energy sector (on top of the falling oil price, capital flight, etc.).
  • In the hacked e-mails of NATO commander Breedlove (with Wesley Clark, Nuland, a. o.) their view transpires that the big geopolitical contest with Russia and China (!) must be fought out in Ukraine (meanwhile Syria too would probably be counted in as such a battlefield). The new power holders in Kiev on several occasions have expressed thier agreement with this. MH17 was the third time in one week that the downing of a plane (the first two were military planes) was seized on by Kiev to accuse Moscow of intervention and try to drag it into the civil war directly.

Be this as it may, to award a potential suspect a place in the investigation has never before been done in aviation history.

Question: in light of the political profile of the extreme anti-Russian government in Kiev, brought to power in February 2014, should there not be a reconsideration of its de facto immunity from prosecution?

The trajectory of the JIT report

How the Kiev veto has influenced the nominally Dutch-led investigations became clear when the interim report of the Dutch Safety Board came out three weeks late although there is not much in it. This was even clearer in the case of the JIT report.

  • In November 2014 two Australian coroners indicated that the bodies of the victims on the left side of the plane showed too few traces of shrapnel impact to make a Buk hit credible (this would correspond with the discovery of the OSCE observer, Bokiurkiw, that a large body section that had come down at considerable distance from the disjointed cockpit, had almost no broken windows). Also the body of the captain, who was seated left, according to his sister who was allowed to see it, showed no grave injuries. The body of the co-pilot on the right on the other hand was not repatriated to Malaysia like the others, but cremated in the Netherlands. 
  • In December 2015 an Australian member of the JIT declared on the basis of these findings that a missile attack by a jet fighter could not be excluded. When the lawyer acting for Australian victims in February 2016 pressed this matter he was told by federal police that the coroners' report was an internal JIT document and nothing from it could be made public because this would violate Australia's international obligations (something comparable had been discovered by a Dutch pathologist who was fired from the forensics team in April 2015 for revealing information on injury patterns).
  • Still on 16 February 2016 the prosecutor, Fred Westerbeke, in a letter to next of kin stated that there existed no video or photo evidence of a Buk launch. Thus he dismissed the picture of a white smoke trail against a clear blue sky (it was overcast that day with cumulus cloud up to 13 kilometres), a photo disseminated on 17 July by the spin doctor of the Kiev interior ministry, Anton Gerashchenko, as bunk. He also declared that on the basis of American data presented to the Dutch MIVD (military intelligence), no case against perpetrators could be based. However, four days later, on 22 February, the Australian government distanced itself from Westerbeke's letter. 
  • Still in June 2016 progress of the JIT investigation by Dutch and Australian investigators in a dedicated field office in Kiev of the intelligence service SBU, was reported to Dutch next of kin. In that report it was stated that of the 150,000 telephone taps (of which eventually, 3,500 were selected for closer investigation) several were ‘fake’. It was not made clear whether the supplier of the valid taps (the SBU) also had supplied the fake intercepts.

After all these vacillations it was, to say the least, a surprise that on 28 September, the JIT report showed no traces of the previous reservations, but unreservedly repeated the claims made on 17 and 18 July by Gerashchenko and his minister, Avakov, about a Buk transported from Russia. Even though the findings of the research collective, Bellingcat, had been previously dismissed by Westerbeke, in the JIT report its role was now recognised by a complimentary mention.

Question: should the previous doubts raised from within the JIT not be taken as the basis for greater reticence on the part of the Netherlands concerning the conclusions of the report?

Criticism after the presentation

Right after the presentation of the JIT report well-founded criticisms have been levelled from different sides. A sample is here:

  • There are no hard radar, satellite, or comparable data, although the US in particular performs daily high resolution satellite observation in the area. What is on offer is notably a reconstruction assembled from separate telephone intercepts, a medium that can easily be manipulated (Robert Parry, Consortium News, 28 September 2016, online). 
  • All taps have been supplied by the SBU and witnesses were heard ‘under Ukrainian law’ (Joost Niemöller, De Nieuwe Realist, 29 September 2016, online). As far as ‘Ukrainian law’ is concerned (under a state of emergency and with political assassinations the order of the day): in May 2016 a delegation of the UN Committee on torture returned empty-handed from Ukraine to New York because it had been denied access to SBU detention centres (Parry, Consortium News, 13 June 2016, online). 
  • The supposed route back to Russia, along a detour of 120 km, roughly along the then existing front line, although the Buk is claimed to have been at some 20 km from the Russian border, is 'completely incredible; there is not one single image of this flight back except for a contested SBU video; not one image of the transport from Russia to Donetsk; only from Donetsk to Permovaisky. (Vincent Verweij, CrimeSite, 30 September 2016)

Question: should there not be far greater reservations, in light of so much fundamental criticism, before accusations against Russia are being made?

Was it a Buk to begin with?

The DSB as well as the JIT report proceed from the conclusion that MH17 was downed by a Buk missile. The DSB report bases this on three butterfly-shaped particles of the around 3,000 in the missile's warhead. In filmed trials by the Buk's maker, Almaz-Antey, some 1,500 butterfly-shaped impact holes appeared in the test plane's hull. Almaz-Antey argues that the missile came from Kiev-held territory (from the west), but in that case too there should of course have been more impact traces. Hence it must be considered that

  • In all cases in which planes were hit by Buk or euivalent anti-aircraft missiles, they exploded in the air. No wonder given the kinetic force of the explosion and the electrical and fuel cables and conduits in the targeted airplanes. The Russian passenger plane that was hit over the Black Sea during an Ukrainian exercise in 2001, and also all ten Russian planes hit by Buks in the war with Georgia in 2008, exploded in the air.
  • On the contrary, where missiles fired from jets were used, e.g. R-60 or R-73 (30 kilos explosive charge instead of 70, and 10 to 14 times smaller number of projectiles) no explosion occurred. In 1978 a Korean passenger plane was hit by two R-60-raketten missiles; it was able to land with severe damage and a few casualties; the same in the case of the Antonov-26 downed by Donbass rebels on 14 July with a ground-launched lighter missile and which yet was able to make an emergency landing.

Question: doesn't the pattern of the MH17 crash (break-up in the air, after which largely intact parts come down) point to a lighter missile and/or cannon fire rather than a Buk?

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All of the above does not in the final analysis exclude that MH17 was consciously or by accident brought down with a Buk by Donbass rebels, on their own or with Russian servicemen. Even then the reservations raised should lead to a much more cautious and careful position of the Dutch government and parliament should press

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