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paranoid theory of the week :: did russia shoot down flight mh17?

it's been a year since malaysian airways flight mh17 exploded and crashed in the eastern ukraine and still, investigators aren't certain what happened. well, some people are certain. some people are very certain indeed, but they're not the people charged with uncovering what actually happened [not that they'd trust those people anyway]. a year on, there are still abundant, ill-documented theories as to what might have happened. i thought about trying to cover all of them, but i decided, no, best to stick with the one that is actually the least conspiratorial and most widely believed of all. does being widely believed mean that it passes muster? let's find out...

the theory ::
flight mh17 was shot down either by russian-armed separatists in the eastern ukraine or by the russian soldiers, more than likely by accident.

the origin ::
ukraine. newly minted president petro poroshenko was quoted in the associated press the day of the disaster calling the crash an act of terrorism and demanding an international investigation. of course, he wasn't the only one. as you can see in the associated press article, american vice president joe biden was already referring to the plane as having been blown up, even though that had not been determined.

the believers ::
most of the media. most western governments. most ukrainians. most americans who have an opinion. in fact, this might not count as a paranoid theory at all, because it's become the "official story". except that many of its greatest proponents admit that they lack conclusive proof. but we'll get to that.

the bad guys ::
valdimir putin. the russian military. separatists in the eastern ukraine.

the evidence :: 
"radical centre" media outlet the daily beast has an excellent recap of all the evidence against russia that you can read here. the key points include:

mh17 was flying at such a high altitude that there are a limited number of missile systems that would have been capable of taking it down. chief among the suspects is the buk anti-aircraft missile launcher [aka the sa-17 grizzly]. just before the crash of mh17, journalists with the associated press claimed to have seen a buk in the possession of the ukrainian rebels.






[note- these are amateur videos, not from the journalists.]

it's not exactly clear where the buk could have come from. the ukrainian army has them and rebels were appropriating armaments in towns they won, however it's unclear whether any of those areas had this sort of missile launcher. as a result, speculation arose almost immediately that the rebels could have received a buk from the russian military, or that there were russian soldiers in the area with the missile launching system. [although a few weeks earlier, there did appear to be some rebels boasting that they had captured a buk system.]the ukrainian security service released audio tapes of what they say is a recording of separatist rebels speaking to a russian military commander three days before the crash, confirming that they had the buk and that the russians were aware of this.



even more damning, the security service released a recording purportedly between two rebels discussing the fact that they had shot down the plane:



the contents of those calls were released on the day of the crash. if that timing sounds convenient, it is. the authenticity of the video itself, or at least of its timing and geolocation have been questioned, as well as the fact that security council spokesman andrij lysenko was talking about the rebels having a buk system at a press conference just forty minutes after the crash [and before he had been officially briefed about it].

one of the rebel leaders, igor bezler, has said that the conversations did happen, but that the flight referred to was not mh17. another audio expert said that the recordings were doctored and edited [beyond, one assumes, the editing that the security service admits to]. even america's radio free europe admits that they can't independently verify the authenticity of a lot of the material provided by the ukrainian authorities.

going back to the daily beast piece again, if you look through it and follow its myriad links, you'll see that almost all of them go to one site: this site. the interpreter has clearly made coverage of events in the eastern ukraine a priority and, if you read through their stories, it's impossible not to see a pronounced anti-russia bias. that's not surprising, since the magazine is part of this group. the institute for modern russia is a registered charity in the united states run by pavel khodorkovsky. pavel is the son of mikhail khodorkovsky, the oil billionaire and putin political rival who was imprisoned on what many believed were politically motivated charges [and that he was convicted by a politically corrupt judiciary]. none of this constitutes any sort of proof that information published in the interpreter is false. what it does do is reveal that the "airtight case" the daily beast is outlining is drawn almost entirely from reports written and researched by people who have an axe to grind with both russia and vladimir putin. more importantly, it draws from that source without mentioning the possible bias. [and let me be clear: bias doesn't guarantee inaccuracy, but if you view events through a certain filter, that filter has a way of contaminating your objectivity even when you don't mean it to.]

although there are many, many theories as to what happened to flight mh17 [see the main ones snidely assessed here by the washington post], the prevailing theory outside russia is still that the plane was taken down by a buk anti-aircraft missile. [russia has offered the counter-theory that mh17 was shot down by a ukrainian plane, although the extensive damage to the front of the downed aircraft makes it unlikely that the crash was caused by anything other than a front strike from a something much larger than bullets. see more on this here.] and russia has not helped herself by seeming to waffle on alternate theories, even backing some pretty outrageous sounding ones.

in fact, biased reporting aside, there is tremendous evidence that a buk anti-aircraft missile was responsible for the crash [i'll send you again to the dutch blog investigation, which has links all over the place]. but that doesn't mean that russia was responsible. after all, even if you accept that the separatists had a buk, they weren't the only ones who did. despite near-miraculous technology, it's proven singularly difficult to identify the point of origin of the missile, which is a pretty important piece of the puzzle.

the "information dump" by the ukraine security service may be 100% accurate, but it's also a political maneuver, aimed at drumming up anti-russian sentiment in the west and support for the ukrainian government in their fight against them. with the battle for eastern ukraine still raging, there's no doubt that the poroshenko government would welcome some nato support.

as for the russians, there is a precedent for previous administrations being less than forthcoming about accidents. thirty years on, we're clearly dealing with a different group of people, but russia's situation in the world is not entirely changed: she still sits as the counterbalance to the united states; she continues to view the west with suspicion and continues to be viewed by the west as suspicious and threatening. it's not unreasonable to assume that russia would be hesitant to reveal everything she knows, even if it would establish that taking down mh17 was a horrific accident.

the likelihood :: 7/10
based on what's been revealed thus far, it does look highly likely that flight mh17 was shot down anti-aircraft missile and that the most likely source of that missile was the rebel side of the ukrainian battlefield. while it's far from clear what happened, the facts do seem to fit this explanation. the problem is, we're not really hearing the entire story and a lot of what we are hearing comes from biased sources.

in court, a lawyer's case would be ripped apart if they couldn't find corroborating evidence to back up a biased witness's statement and that's what's lacking at the moment. verifiable proof has to come from sources outside the ukrainian security forces or the story will always be suspect.

what's truly sad, however, is that the inability to establish the bare facts of the crash stops other important questions from being addressed: was the ukrainian government aware that rebels had a buk system [kinda seems like they were]? if they knew this, did they tell anyone? assuming that someone, somewhere knew that there were warring factions in possession of anti-aircraft missiles capable of taking down a plane at thirty thousand feet, why were passenger flights still being allowed to cross such dangerous air space? the actual shooting down of mh17 may have been an accident, but that isn't a sufficient explanation. in order to really solve the mystery and give grieving families some semblance of peace, what needs to be addressed is how that accident came to happen.

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