In the aftermath of the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over the Donetsk region of Ukraine last July, two parallel investigations were launched by the Dutch governmment: one a civil inquiry to establish the cause of the incident, the other a criminal inquiry to establish responsibility. The first was completed last month, when the Dutch Safety Board released a report entitled “Crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.” It concluded that the plane had been struck by a missile fired by a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile (SAM) launcher. Responsibility for the deed has yet to be assigned; the Dutch prosecutor’s office is expected to release its findings next year.
Those findings, I think, will surprise many people.
The commonly accepted scenario is that rebels obtained a Buk missile launcher and, believing that they were attacking a Ukrainian military transport, fired upon and destroyed a Malaysia Airlines 777 by mistake. In this telling, no one was truly to blame—it was all a big mistake, the kind of tragic misunderstanding that is all to common in war.
There is ample evidence for this narrative. Russian media reported that on June 29 the rebels had captured a Buk missile launcher. On July 14, a Ukrainian Antonov An-26 military transport plane was shot down over eastern Ukraine while flying at an altitude of 20,000 feet. On July 16, a Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-25 attack jet was shot down while flying at a similar altitude. Then, on July 17, a rebel commander named Igor Girkin boasted on social media that his forces had shot down another Antonov-26 transport plane belonging to the Ukrainian military. Girkin, a colonel in Russian military intelligence declared that “In the vicinity of Torez, we just downed a plane, an AN-26.”
The post was soon after deleted, but not before it was picked up by mainstream Russian media.