A team of international prosecutors is investigating the downing of flight MH17

  • Dutch, Australian, Belgian, Malaysian and Ukrainian prosecutors are part of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT)
  • All of the 298 people on board the Boeing 777 died when it broke apart in midair on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur
  • Pro Russian rebels have been blamed by Ukraine and the West for shooting down the plane
  • Investigators say the Buk missile that hit the plane originated in Russia

Russia is claiming these conclusions are “extremely political” and that its Buk missiles “never shot down” the plane.

“Based on the criminal investigation, we have concluded that flight MH17 was downed by a Buk missile of the series 9M83 that came from the territory of the Russian Federation,” chief Dutch police investigator Wilbert Paulissen said in a news conference on Thursday.

Leonid Slutsky, the head of the parliamentary committee for the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent State) said, “This is of course a provocative statement… it has nothing to do with investigating the tragedy that took away the lives of so many people. These conclusions seek to achieve only one objective – to further marginalise the image of Russia in the global political and information space”.

Who was behind the order?

A field nearby the then rebel-controlled village of Pervomaiskyi has been narrowed down as the specific missile launch side. The identities of about 100 people who are linked to the crash or transport of the Buk have been discovered, but it remains to be seen who will be held criminally responsible.

Recordings from intercepted phone calls were played during their news conference, and witnesses reported seeing the missile move from Russia into Ukraine and have provided photographs and videos of this.

Separatist rebels have denied they were involved:

“We never had such air defence systems, nor the people who could operate them,” Eduard Basurin, military deputy operational commander at the rebel Donetsk People’s Republic

Russia’s fluid explanations

Earlier in the week, Russia has claimed it has radar data showing conclusively that the missile was not fired from rebel-held territory, but they have refused the JIT access to this data up to this point.

  • July 2014: Russia’s defence ministry presented satellite photos and other images suggesting it was downed by a Ukrainian surface-to-air Buk missile or a Ukrainian military jet
  • June 2015: Russia’s Ministry of Defence suggested MH17 was downed by an air-to-air missile. It said Russian radar had spotted a Ukrainian fighter jet 3-5km away from the plane.
  • October 2015: Buk missile producer Almaz-Antey said that the plane was indeed downed by a Buk, but an old one – which Russia no longer had in its arsenal
  • September 2016: Russia’s defence ministry released what it said were radar data suggesting MH17 was shot down by a missile, but not one fired by Russian-backed rebels

The two sides are at odds with each other

The Dutch say that the Russians have got it wrong, and that they are basing their “calculations on an incorrect detonation point and orientation of the weapon resulting in an incorrect missile trajectory”.

This game of back and forth is far from over and the stakes are rising. The international criminal investigation will be published in 2016 – this will ultimately decide who is to blame.