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Thursday, July 17, 2014 3:43 PM

Ukrainian Buk Air Defense System Allegedly Deployed Near Donetsk Yesterday; Questions Still Linger

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A Russian news website claims Ukrainian Army Buk Missile Likely Downed Malaysian Plane.

A Ukrainian army battalion of Buk air defense systems was deployed near the city of Donetsk a day before the crash of a Malaysian passenger plane on Thursday, making the downing of the aircraft by one of the missiles highly probable, an expert source said.

"According to reconnaissance data, a Ukrainian army battalion of Buk air defense systems was deployed near Donetsk on Wednesday morning,” the source said.

The source added that armed militia fighting Kiev-led forces in eastern Ukraine does not have Buk systems, which are capable of shooting down aircraft flying at altitudes up to 25 kilometers (82,000 feet).

Questions Still Linger

Do we know any more than we did hours ago? In spite of various claims and even an alleged admission by Ukraine rebels they did it, the answer is not really.

Foreign Policy Magazine discusses the situation in What We Know So Far About the Passenger Jet Allegedly Shot Down Over Ukraine.
A spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington declined to comment on charges that pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine shot down a Malaysian Airlines plane. "Why should we comment on allegations?" the official said. The spokesman did however point to an article published by the Russian news service RIA Novosti suggesting that the Ukrainian military shot down the aircraft, not the rebels.

The source in the article also raises doubts that pro-Russian rebels could've carried out the attack, claiming that the armed militia in eastern Ukraine "does not have Buk systems." Both the Ukrainians and pro-Russian rebels deny shooting down the passenger plane.

Following the plane's crash, the rebels denied having access to the Buk, but in recent weeks, there have been widespread reports of separatists acquiring the weapon, and possibly other surface-to-air missiles, as well. On June 29, the Russian newswire ITAR-TASS reported that rebels in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic had acquired Buk missiles. The group even tweeted about having acquired the weapons.

Crucially, the Ukrainian armed forces also have the Buk missile system, which gives Russia and its proxies a measure of plausible deniability if it is confirmed that a Buk was indeed responsible for downing the Malaysian jet. According to Patrick Megahan, a research associate for military affairs at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the Ukrainian military has been operating Buks in the area near the crash-site, raising the possibility that Ukrainian forces made a mistake.

"It's a very capable system, proven under real-world conditions," Andrew Bowen, a columnist for The Interpreter and a researcher at the political risk consultancy Wikistrat, told Foreign Policy. It's also not an easy weapon to fire, and would require some training or prior knowledge to use it. "These systems require a large amount of technical know-how, unlike these MANPANDS, which are basically ‘point-and-shoot,'" Bowen said.
Claims and Allegations

Rebel tweets claiming acquisition of a Buk system are not believable for two reasons.

  1. Propaganda: In war all kinds of claims are made so the enemy does not know what to believe.
  2. Was the tweet planted?

Similar questions arise over the assertion rebels claimed responsibility.

  1. Did someone see a crash and take credit, not even knowing what happened?
  2. Did anyone really make the claim or was it planted then removed from a rebel website?
Also see Did Ukraine Shoot Down Passenger Plane? They Did Once Before: SA Flight 1812 Erroneously Downed by Ukraine in 2001.

It is still entirely possible this was just a jet crash. But if the plane was shot down, then all things considered, Kiev seems more likely than rebels.

I am willing to reconsider as evidence comes in.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock

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