Missile firm offers to recreate MH17 crash in bid to clear Russia

Almaz-Antey claims attack could only have been carried out with system that is used by Ukrainian army but not by Russia

A Russian defence conglomerate has suggested recreating the MH17 plane crash by shooting another Boeing 777 aircraft out of the sky using a Buk missile system.

Almaz-Antey, which makes the Buk systems, said such an experiment would help prove its thesis of how the plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July last year. All 298 people on board died in the incident.

Almost all the circumstantial evidence appears to point to a Buk system fired from separatist-controlled territory. Russia has denied supplying the system to the separatists, just as it has denied providing any military aid, despite much evidence to the contrary.

At a press conference in Moscow on Tuesday Almaz-Antey presented an “expert report” on the crash, in which it said it believed the plane had indeed been downed by a Buk system.

However, it placed the launch position in a different place to others, and said the attack could only have been carried out using a discontinued Buk M-1 system, which it claimed the Ukrainian army operated but the Russian army did not.

The company’s general director, Yan Novikov, said Almaz-Antey was prepared to stage a reconstruction of the crash, “despite the significant costs involved”, in order to prove the angles. He said the company could invite international observers could take part.

“They would probably buy an old out-of-service plane, fly it on autopilot, and then shoot it down over a military testing ground,” said Igor Korotchenko, a Russian defence analyst. “The aim would be to get all the angles the same and show the damage.”

Almaz-Antey said it had carried out its own investigations as it was furious at having been put on EU and US sanctions lists along with other companies involved in Russia’s actions in east Ukraine.

Russia’s defence ministry has previously suggested MH17 may have been shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet, and state television gave prominent airtime to people who claimed to have seen a second plane in the sky.

That story is now changing, possibly under the weight of evidence that a Buk surface-to-air system was indeed involved. The Dutch commission investigating the tragedy has not yet published its final report.

An Almaz-Antey expert presented several slides showing graphs, equations and 3D-reenactments, which he said showed that damage to the aircraft was consistent with the impact from a Buk missile but only from the older Buk M-1 system.

The company representatives said they had used secret information about the properties of the missiles, which the Russian defence ministry had agreed to declassify especially for the purposes of the report. They said they could not speculate on which side had fired the missile but intimated heavily that they believed it to be the Ukrainians.

Novikov said the 9M38(M1) missiles used with the Buk M-1 system had not been produced since 1999. He said Ukraine had 991 of the missiles, which the company knew as it helped perform maintenance on them in 2005. He said they were not currently in use with the Russian armed forces.

However, even if all of their findings are correct, it is unclear whether this would prove that Russia had not supplied the missile system. At the press conference it appeared that the representatives were willing to answer only friendly questions. There was no chance to ask how many M1 systems were still in Russia, including decommissioned or out-of-use systems.

Reporters from the Associated Press said they saw a Buk system in the rebel-held town of Snizhne in eastern Ukraine on the day of the attack, and there were numerous photographs purportedly of a Buk system being moved through rebel territory.

Locals in the nearby town of Torez said they had seen a Buk drive past. In the days after the attack, a rebel commander admitted the rebels had a Buk system, which he believed had arrived from Russia. He later retracted his words.

A number of studies using open-source photographs and tracking have suggested the missile was launched near Snizhne, but Almaz-Antey’s directors said their analysis proved the missile must have been launched further away, near the village of Zaroshchenskoe. Zaroshchenskoe was very close to the front line at the time MH17 was downed, but is believed to have been under rebel control.

This made it unclear why Almaz-Antey wanted to recreate the incident and what such a re-enactment would prove. It may mean that Russia is preparing to accept that rebels downed MH17 but is now working to show that the Buk system involved did not come from Russia but was captured from Ukrainian forces.

On Sunday the citizen journalist group Bellingcat released a report that it said proved that the Russian defence ministry had used doctored images in an earlier presentation about MH17.

Almaz-Antey said it had carried out the investigation as part of an appeal against its inclusion on sanctions lists, saying that the development of a new “cluster” near St Petersburg had become significantly more expensive now that equipment could no longer be purchased from suppliers it had previously planned to use.


Shaun Walker in Moscow

The GuardianTramp

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