Delivered before the full-bench chamber of The Hague District Court on 9 June 2020.
The JIT investigation soon focused its attention on those scenarios suggesting a criminal offence, because it was clear early on that this was no accident.
MH17: alternative scenarios
Investigation by the Aviation Police into the flight preparations for flight MH17 showed that the aircraft was airworthy and that the crew was qualified to operate the flight. The amount of fuel taken on was adequate for the planned route. The Aviation Police found nothing that would explain the crash of MH17. The Dutch Safety Board looked into a number of accident scenarios, and subsequently ruled out the possibility of a lightning strike or a collision with a meteor, for example. So it soon became clear that there was no reason to assume it was an accident.
During the JIT investigation, various scenarios were formulated based on information from the investigation, and all these scenarios were explored simultaneously.
First of all, investigators considered whether an explosion inside the aircraft could have caused MH17 to crash. Secondly, they considered whether MH17 had been brought down with an air-to-air weapon, i.e. the fighter aircraft scenario. Thirdly, they considered whether MH17 had been shot down with a surface-to-air weapon, such as a Buk missile. Within the framework of this third scenario – i.e. that MH17 was shot down by a weapon on the ground – various subsidiary scenarios were also investigated.
For example, investigators looked into whether a surface-to-air weapon other than a Buk had been used to down MH17. In the context of the Buk scenario, the team investigated not only a possible launch site in the vicinity of Pervomaiskyi but also several other possible launch sites. They also looked into whether there were indications that the Ukrainian armed forces had shot down MH17 using a missile.
We have already explained that indications were found in the course of the forensic investigation that point to the use of a Buk missile. The visual features and chemical composition of various foreign materials found in the bodies and belongings of victims and in the wreckage of MH17 are consistent with various parts of a Buk missile. Furthermore, the JIT had already made public that a significant amount of evidence had been collected from telecom data, photos, videos and witness statements for the scenario where a Buk launch vehicle was brought to an agricultural field near Pervomaiskyi, that flight MH17 was shot down from this location and that the Buk launch vehicle was then driven away. In the investigation this scenario was designated the main scenario. This main scenario was described in detail in the case file and is reflected in the indictment. Later on we will discuss how this scenario was investigated.
The JIT’s investigation of various other scenarios continued even after the forensic investigation had already produced concrete evidence that flight MH17 had been shot down by a Buk missile, and intercepted telephone conversations yielded key evidence about the use of a launch site in the vicinity of Pervomaiskyi. We investigated the accuracy of the main scenario not only by critically analysing the evidence in favour of it, but also by looking for evidence that pointed to alternatives. These other scenarios are referred to in the case file as ‘alternative scenarios’. These too were investigated extensively and at length and described in the case file.
We will now explain how the different scenarios were formulated and investigated. First we will explain how the various reactions following the downing of MH17 were investigated and how those reactions gave rise to a number of scenarios as to what may have happened – scenarios that would require investigation in their own right. Then we will briefly describe the most important indicators pointing to the various scenarios and explain how these were investigated and what the initial conclusions were. The complete results of the investigation are included in the ‘Alternative scenarios’ subfile in the general case file.
Initial reactions after the aircraft was shot down
The initial reactions after flight MH17 was shot down were an important point of departure for the investigation. Various scenarios took shape in those initial reactions in the hours and days after the crash of flight MH17. These scenarios began to crystallise in a remarkably short time after the disaster had occurred. The investigation into the reactions after the downing of the aircraft helped determine which of the various scenarios merited further examination. The investigation into these reactions is also relevant because even at this early stage, the ‘mistake scenario’ – i.e. that MH17 was shot down with a missile that was actually intended for an aircraft belonging to the Ukrainian armed forces – had already emerged as a possibility.
This possibility influenced the investigation and the choices made in the indictment. This is why we would like to take a moment to sketch out a timeline for the emergence of the various scenarios, in which both the DPR and the Ukrainian armed forces were identified as responsible. The investigation into the initial reactions is described in a separate case file.
Reactions on 17 July 2014
Reactions in the media and on social media
We will start with a brief outline of the reactions in the media and on social media. MH17 was shot down at 16.20 local time. Within the first hour after the crash, reports were already circulating from various parties about an Ukrainian aircraft being shot down by the DPR. At 16.41, a post appeared on the Twitter account @Strelkov_info that had been posted four minutes earlier on the website VK.com/strelkov_info. VK is a Russian social media platform, similar to Facebook. The highlighted part of the VK post reads:
‘A message from the people’s army. An An-26 was just downed in the vicinity of Snizhne. It lies scattered on the ground behind the “Progress” mine.’
An Antonov An-26 is twin-engined transport aircraft.
Shortly after the post on VK was altered and reposted on Twitter. The edited message on VK reads:
‘A message from the people’s army. An An-26 was just downed in the vicinity of Torez. It is lying somewhere behind the “Progress” mine. A warning had been issued not to fly in “our sky”. And here is video confirmation of the next “pitchkopad”. The birdie fell behind the slag heap; the residential area was not hit. There were no civilian victims. There is also information about the second downed aircraft, which is apparently an SU.’
In this context ‘SU’ is an abbreviation of Sukhoi, an aircraft manufacturer of which various types of fighter aircraft are in service with the Ukrainian air force. These fighters are popularly known as ‘Sushkas’.
It should be noted in this context that when questioned as a witness by the Russian Federation, Igor Girkin, alias ‘Strelkov’, stated that the posts on VK under the name Strelkov (about the downing of an An-26 and other aircraft) had not been posted by him. It was also stated on the VK account in question that Girkin did not post the messages himself. The account also said that the ‘information about the aircraft being shot down was from a forum where the local population converses with the rebels’. Such messages were allegedly gathered from ‘open sources’ and ‘diaries of rebels and eyewitnesses’. This does not make these messages any less important. They show that immediately after MH17 was shot down, claims were being made that an aircraft had been shot down from somewhere near Snizhne by the ‘people’s army’, as the DPR sometimes calls itself.
A Twitter account with the name ‘the Donetsk Republic’ and the username ‘@dnrpress’ swiftly claimed that an aircraft, presumably an An-26, had crashed near Torez: ‘Around 17.30 a plane crashed in the village of Rassypnoye (city of Torez), near the “Progress” mine, thought to be an An-26 of the Ukrainian air force.’
Shortly after the crash of MH17 the same claim was broadcast on television. In the initial hours after the crash multiple pro-Russian television stations reported that armed groups fighting the Ukrainian government claimed to have downed an An-26. A number of channels, including LifeNews and Russia24, also mentioned eyewitnesses who had seen a missile. The following report was broadcast on LifeNews on 17 July starting at 16.34, i.e. within 15 minutes of the crash:
‘The information service brings you events in Russia and around the world. Rebels inform us that they have succeeded in downing another transport aircraft of the Ukrainian air force. This occurred above the city of Torez in the self-proclaimed Republic of Donetsk. This was around 5.00 Moscow time. An An-26 was flying over the city. A missile suddenly penetrated the aircraft. An explosion followed and the aircraft began to fall. Black smoke could be seen in the air. The An-26 fell down on the side of the mine and the residential areas. I would add that Torez is not far from the town of Snizhne and the Saur-Mogila hill. These areas are controlled by rebels.’
So shortly after MH17 crashed there were reports via various channels referring to information from the ‘rebels’ and from the local residents. However, local residents did not feel free to repeat publicly what they had seen. This is what the investigation team concluded, for instance from a conversation that various local residents had on 17 July 2014 after the crash via the application Zello. Zello is a walkie talkie application for smartphones which is used in eastern Ukraine. A notable aspect of this application is that conversations can be saved online. In the conversation of 17 July 2014, one of the participants states that several people saw a missile coming from the Russian side. He was then immediately urged to forget any notion about it coming ‘from Russia’ and to never bring it up again, at least not out loud ‘on the air’. We will now play this conversation.
Conversation between local residents on 17 July 2014 after the crash via the Zello application:
NNman 2 [voice recognised] Kostya/Kostia
With regard to the plane in Torez: it was downed… it fell in the village of Grabovo. [brief pause]
Hey, listen up!...[static]
|09:18||NNman21 (possibly the same person as at 09:16)||
[strong static] You [unclear if singular or plural] should completely forget all that information about ‘from Russia’...that kind of information. When, what and where it was coming from, who shot it down, how it got shot down…
Journalists who were present in the area also encountered ‘separatists’ who said they had downed an aircraft. Some journalists were prepared to provide a witness statement to the JIT about what they had experienced on and about 17 July 2014. In addition to taking witness statements from locally present journalists, the investigation also examined publicly available news reports for relevant information. This information was added to the case file.
A good example is an online video interview with photographer Jérôme Sessini. In it he looks back on how a spokesperson for the ‘separatists’ informed him about the crash of MH17. In the interview Sessini said that this spokesperson called him shortly after the crash of MH17 to say that they had shot down an aircraft.
‘When we got the phone call from the press officer of the separatists, he said first: “We shot down a military plane...from Ukraine,” and for him it was like he was giving us an information to cover this. And when...we were on the way... And after 15 minutes I got a call from friends / France (phonetically unclear), from a journalist, I don’t remember... and he said: “they shot down a civilian plane in Ukraine, where are you?” And I asked: “are you sure it’s civilian? He said: yeah yeah, we have the conformation, it’s an Malaysian airlines plane with 200 people on board... so uuhh ...I couldn’t believe it, it was so...horrible..so..’
Once it transpired that the aircraft that was shot down was not a military transport aircraft but rather a civilian aircraft with hundreds of people on board, the posts in various places were amended. The posts on Twitter (@Strelkov_info) and VK (VK.com/strelkov_info) were taken down or altered the same day. The pro-Russian television stations radically changed their reporting. On LifeNews, for example, by around six o’clock the claims by the ‘rebels’ and the eyewitnesses about the missile were gone entirely. Instead it was reported that MH17 had been shot down with a missile system by the Ukrainian armed forces. A conflicting reporting line soon emerged that claimed the Boeing had been shot down by a Ukrainian fighter aircraft, i part because a man named Carlos had posted about it on Twitter.
So as early as 17 July 2014 there were public reports of a missile being launched by the DPR from the area around Snizhne, an attack by a Ukrainian fighter aircraft and a missile being fired by the Ukrainian armed forces.
MH17: interview Sessini
Intercepted phone conversations involving DPR fighters
A similar pattern with various scenarios is also evident in intercepted phone conversations between DPR fighters. First, there is elation that they succeeded in shooting down an aircraft using a Buk system. Then it started to become clearer that a Boeing full of civilians had been shot down.
At this point there was a change in the way DPR members spoke to one another by phone about the downing of an aircraft. Whereas in the initial intercepted calls the DPR fighters spoke solely of shooting down a fighter aircraft, later in the day they discussed downing a fighter aircraft shortly after it had shot down the Boeing. The intercepted calls are included in the case file. They may be used when considering the merits of the case.
Reactions in the days after 17 July 2014
In the days following 17 July 2014 both the DPR and the Russian Federation emphatically pointed the finger at the Ukrainian armed forces. On 18 July 2014 the DPR ‘governor’ of the city of Donetsk, a man named Gubareev, gave an interview in which he said that flight MH17 was shot down by a Ukrainian anti-aircraft system with the help of radar. In that interview he also said that the rebels did not have a Buk or radar.
MH17: interview Gubareev
On 21 July 2014 the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation held a press conference. In it, mention was made of a Ukrainian fighter aircraft that had allegedly been sighted in the immediate vicinity of MH17 shortly before the crash. It is striking that at that same press conference, it was said that the Russian Federation had satellite photos showing the presence of a Buk TELAR of the Ukrainian armed forces near the village of Zaroshchenske shortly before the crash. It was also said that MH17’s flight path fell within the range of this Buk system, and moreover that it was precisely before 17 July that the activity of Ukrainian 9S18 Kupol-M1 radar on the Buk anti-aircraft system had increased to its maximum level. In other words this press conference publicly released information about various scenarios. We have already explained the investigation that was conducted into the radar information shown at that time. Later we will discuss how the information publicly released at the press conference, such as satellite photos, was examined.
On 28 July 2014 the defendant Girkin also held a press conference in Donetsk. There he said that he was not responsible for shooting down flight MH17 because he did not have access to a Buk.
MH17: persconferentie Girkin
Provisional conclusion based on the first reactions after the aircraft was shot down
As early as 17 July 2014 and in the days that followed, we can see the emergence of various scenarios in the initial reactions to the crash. Shortly after the incident, the most frequently heard of these are the scenario that MH17 was shot down by the DPR with a Buk missile and the scenario that MH17 was shot down by a Ukrainian air force fighter aircraft (sometimes with the addition that this fighter was then itself downed by DPR fighters with a Buk missile). A later scenario to emerge is that flight MH17 was shot down by the Ukrainian armed forces with a Buk missile. On 21 July 2014 the Russian Ministry of Defence mentioned both scenarios. In the period that followed, statements by the Russian authorities focused mainly on the fighter aircraft scenario. This narrative changed in the second half of 2015, when the Dutch Safety Board (OVV) shared its provisional conclusion that MH17 had been shot down by a Buk missile. From that point on, the Russian authorities and media homed in on the Ukrainian Buk scenario.
Scenario of an explosion inside the aircraft
At the start of the investigation there were no indications of an explosion inside the aircraft that would have caused MH17 to crash. This scenario was nevertheless investigated, in the interest of thoroughness. This scenario was discussed in open sources, but only later and to a very limited extent.
For instance, in August 2015 the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda released a sound recording on which two alleged CIA agents could supposedly be heard planning an attack on MH17. The agents’ initial plan was to shoot MH17 down with a surface-to-air missile. Plan B was supposedly to blow up MH17 with a bomb planted on board. In this operation the CIA was supposedly working with the Dutch security service because the bomb would have been planted on board in the Netherlands. In this news item, however, the newspaper itself included commentary by other parties that contend that such claims were wrong or even impossible.
The investigation of the scenario of an onboard explosive first focused on the question of whether it is possible that an explosive inside the aircraft could have caused MH17 to crash in the way it did. In connection with that question, an investigation was conducted both into the course of events before flight MH17’s departure from the Netherlands and into the possible cause of the crash. Various findings from the Dutch Safety Board’s investigation were relevant to the provisional conclusions in this part of the investigation. We will therefore mention those findings in the description of the investigation that now follows.
Circumstances prior to MH17’s departure
The Royal Military and Border Police conducted an investigation (code named ‘Woodside’) into the course of events before the aircraft’s departure. This investigation looked at the period during which the aircraft that was used to operate flight MH17 was on the ground at Schiphol airport. Over 60 witnesses were questioned; the available camera footage was reviewed and information about passengers, luggage and cargo was subjected to an in-depth examination. In this way they were able to reconstruct and scrutinise the entire time that MH17 was at Schiphol. On the basis of this investigation it was concluded that no irregularities had occurred during the period that MH17 was at Schiphol and that all protocols had been followed in the normal manner.
Cockpit voice recorder
MH17’s cockpit voice recorder (CVR) was found in one of the areas where parts of the aircraft had fallen. It was handed over to the Dutch Safety Board (OVV), which examined it. Afterwards it was also examined as part of the criminal investigation. In the last 20 milliseconds before the CVR stopped recording, an ultrashort sound wave was observed coming from outside the aircraft. This sound wave is so short that it cannot be heard by the human ear, but it can be detected. In this image taken from the Dutch Safety Board’s report, you can see how the sound wave was registered differently by the four microphones in the cockpit. This image shows a view of the cockpit from above. And on the left of this image you can see the same view of the cockpit from above. The sound wave came from outside the aircraft, from a position above the left side of the cockpit, and moved from the front to the back. By ‘left side’ I mean the side that would be on your left if you were standing at the rear of the aircraft facing forward. It was possible to determine the origin and direction of the sound wave because there were multiple microphones in the cockpit, and there were slight differences in the time at which they registered it. A red dot on the left side of this image shows the approximate spot where the explosion must have occurred. The red bands show the direction of the sound wave. This explains why the various microphones in the cockpit registered the sound wave in different ways. This is shown on the right half of this image, which is a front view of the cockpit. The perspective of the diagram is as if you were standing in front of the aircraft and looking directly into the cockpit. Here, too, the red dot shows the location of the explosion, above the left side of the cockpit.
In the Dutch Safety Board investigation the sound wave was compared to the last sound waves on CVR recordings from aircraft that crashed after an internal explosion, including the aircraft that was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. It was concluded from that comparison that there are significant differences in the duration, the peak sound and the dampening of the sound waves. So it can be seen from the Dutch Safety Board’s investigation that the sound wave on MH17’s CVR is not consistent with an explosion originating inside the aircraft. An audio file with the final two minutes of the CVR’s recording can be found in the case file.
The forensic investigation also produced several findings that were inconsistent with an explosion inside the aircraft. This led to the provisional conclusion that an explosion inside the aircraft could not have caused the damage and that further investigation would therefore not be useful. The main reasons for this provisional conclusion were as follows:
- A key indication that would rule out an explosion inside the aircraft was the presence of soot marks on the outside of pieces of the wreckage of MH17. These soot marks could not be seen on the inside of the wreckage. Here you see the inside of the cockpit as reconstructed in the Netherlands.
- The Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) concluded after examining the wreckage that the results point to an explosion outside the aircraft. Here you can see an excerpt from a report by the NFI with the results of the investigation into traces of explosives.
- Perforations were also observed on the outside of various pieces of the aircraft. The only explanation for the fact that the perforations are oriented inward is that they are due to the impact of material penetrating the aircraft from the outside. There was also damage on the outside that did not penetrate all the way through to the inside, such as would be caused by a glancing impact. This type of damage could only have been caused by a source outside the aircraft. In places where multiple layers of sheet material were riveted together, outward-facing bulges were found. The appearance of such bulges as the result of an explosion is sometimes called ‘petalling’. In the arena test in Ukraine, where similar sheet material was placed near an exploding Buk missile, similar bulges were observed. It could thus be determined that the outward-facing bulges in the wreckage of MH17 could have occurred during an external explosion and were not necessarily caused by an explosion on board.
- Finally, metal parts covered with melted cockpit glass were found in the bodies of the cockpit crew. Here you can see an image from a report by the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI). This image was produced using an electron microscope. Under 1 you can see a layer of platinum that was applied for the purpose of the investigation, Under 3 you can see the steel fragment. In between, under 2, is a layer of melted cockpit glass; the black edge in the photo. Such metal parts must have penetrated the cockpit glass before hitting the victims, which could only have happened if the explosion had occurred outside the aircraft.
Provisional conclusion regarding an explosion inside the aircraft
The findings of this part of the investigation are thus as follows:
- Extensive investigation of the period that the aircraft was at Schiphol did not yield any indications of any irregularity that would suggest the planting of an onboard explosive.
- The CVR recording, the Dutch Safety Board’s analysis of the damage and the forensic investigation findings are only compatible with an explosion from the outside, not the inside.
The Public Prosecution Service believes that the above constitutes an adequate investigation of the scenario whereby an explosion inside the aircraft caused MH17 to crash.
Air-to-air system scenario
We will now turn our attention to the scenario that MH17 was shot down by a fighter aircraft: the air-to-air scenario. Shortly after the crash of MH17 there was discussion in open sources and on social media about a fighter aircraft that had allegedly been seen in the vicinity of the Boeing. In the course of the investigation, witness statements and intercepted phone conversations emerged that spoke of a fighter aircraft, a ‘Sushka’, that had allegedly been near MH17, and that this fighter had been responsible for the downing of MH17. A week after the crash the Russian government stated at a press conference that radar images existed that showed a fighter aircraft flying near MH17 just before the crash.
Although the findings of the investigation soon pointed to a cause other than MH17 being shot down by a fighter aircraft, an extensive investigation was conducted to determine if any evidence existed that pointed to the presence of a fighter near MH17 and whether a fighter could have caused the damage that was observed. We will begin by setting out the grounds for investigating the air-to-air scenario, then explain what this investigation entailed and finally look at why it was decided to consider this investigation complete.
Grounds for the investigation
Intercepted phone conversations
In intercepted phone conversations between separatists after the MH17 crash, participants were heard speaking about a fighter aircraft of the type Su-25, generally referred to by the nickname ‘Sushka’. It has been established that in the period prior to 17 July 2014 the Ukrainian air force deployed Su-25 aircraft above eastern Ukraine.
Shortly after the crash, at around 16.40, participants in these conversations assumed that the separatists had brought down a Sushka. It was not until around 18.40 that day, over an hour after it emerged that a passenger aircraft had been downed, that the telephone conversations mentioned a Sushka that had purportedly been downed by a Buk after this Sushka had supposedly shot down a Boeing.
Multiple witnesses in the investigation stated that they had seen a fighter aircraft in the vicinity of MH17. Various media reports also featured individuals who claimed to have seen a fighter aircraft in the vicinity of MH17, for example in an item on the BBC’s Russian service.
MH17: BBC Russia
Press conference by the Russian Ministry of Defence
The scenario that MH17 was brought down by a fighter aircraft was also explicitly mentioned at a press conference given by the Russian government on 21 July 2014. At this press conference the Russian Ministry of Defence stated, among other things, that on the basis of radar images it could be determined that an Su-25 had been flying in the vicinity of MH17 and that that fighter must have been flying at an altitude of over 5,000 metres. We will now show a clip from this press conference. It was also stated that this military aircraft could, for a short period, reach an altitude of 10,000 metres and that it could be armed with air-to-air missiles.
MH17: persconferentie 21 juli 2014
The fighter aircraft scenario was also mentioned in many open sources, such as press publications. Some of this coverage was quite general, while other publications put forward very specific accusations or narratives. An example of a specific accusation can be seen in stories that circulated in the Russian media that a Ukrainian pilot named Voloshin had supposedly shot down MH17.
Also noteworthy are the number of messages posted by a person calling himself ‘Carlos’ who claimed to have been an air traffic controller in Ukraine. He claimed that he had followed the MH17 crash from the air traffic control tower at Boryspil Airport near Kyiv. He asserted, among other things, that two Ukrainian fighter aircraft could be seen in the vicinity of the Boeing 777 and that the Boeing then vanished from the radar.
Course of the investigation
There were thus grounds to conduct a thorough investigation into whether any fighter aircraft was in the vicinity of MH17 and whether a fighter aircraft could have shot down MH17. A specific study was also made of the various sources for the air-to-air scenario described above.
Was there a fighter aircraft in the vicinity of MH17?
We will now summarise the investigation into the presence of a fighter aircraft in the vicinity of MH17. To clarify the Public Prosecution Service’s view that the investigation of this scenario was complete, we will set out the interim conclusions reached at each stage of the investigation.
To begin with, the investigators studied radar data provided by the Russian and Ukrainian authorities. We have already offered a detailed explanation of the investigation into this data. According to various experts, no other aircraft was detected by the primary radar in the vicinity of MH17 around the time of the crash.
Information was also requested from the Ukrainian government about flight movements in eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014. According to the Ukrainian authorities, a number of flights took place on 17 July 2014, but all military aircraft were on the ground at the time MH17 was shot down. This figure shows the information received. The green lines are the military flights carried out on 17 July: these were all outside the conflict zone, which is shown here in purple. The red line shows the final part of the route flown by MH17. According to this flight information provided by Ukraine, no military flights were carried out in the airspace above either Luhansk Oblast or Donetsk Oblast on 17 July 2014.
An open call was made for witnesses to the downing of MH17. The JIT interviewed several witnesses who claimed to have seen or heard that MH17 was shot down by one or more fighter aircraft. In addition, various air traffic controllers and military personnel from Ukraine were interviewed as witnesses. The aforementioned Ukrainian pilot Voloshin, who died in 2018, was interviewed as a witness by the investigation team before his death, as was his commanding officer. The Ukrainian air traffic controller Petrenko, who various publications claimed had mysteriously disappeared after 17 July 2014, was also interviewed as a witness. If the court wishes, those witness statements and their assessment can be discussed when considering the merits of the case. According to the investigation team and the Public Prosecution Service, these witness statements – assessed in conjunction with the other investigation findings – yielded no serious leads that could be pursued pointing to the presence of a military aircraft in the vicinity of MH17.
The investigation team searched for open sources and intercepted phone calls that would support the scenario that MH17 was shot down by a fighter aircraft and more broadly for open sources and intercepted phone calls about the presence of fighter aircraft in the area around the last recorded position of MH17 on the afternoon of 17 July 2014. This did not produce any leads that required further investigation. An analysis of the intercepted calls reflected the picture we have just painted: initially, armed fighters from the DPR talked only about shooting down a fighter aircraft themselves. Only when it emerged that a civilian aircraft had been downed did they start to discuss the shooting down of a fighter aircraft that had just shot down a Boeing.
Recordings of communications between Russian and Ukrainian air traffic controllers before, during and after the crash of MH17 were also examined. After all, at the Russian press conference on 21 July 2014 it was asserted that Russian air traffic controllers had detected the presence of a fighter aircraft in the vicinity of MH17 for several minutes. We would now like to explore what was said that that press conference.
MH17: press conference
Based on the information presented at this press conference it could be expected that air traffic controllers would have discussed such an observation amongst themselves. The recorded communication between Russian and Ukrainian air traffic controllers does indeed show that the Russian air traffic controller had access to primary radar images. Yet there was no mention whatsoever of another (unknown) aircraft in the vicinity of flight MH17. We will now play an excerpt from this communication.
MH17: tapgesprek luchtverkeersleiding
A full transcript can be found in the case file. After MH17 disappeared from the radar the Ukrainian air traffic controller asked his Russian counterpart if he could review the primary radar images, a procedure known as a ‘playback’. Nothing out of the ordinary was mentioned following this playback. Even after reviewing the primary radar images with particular attention to the question of what could have caused flight MH17 to vanish from the radar, the Russian air traffic controller did not report observing any other aircraft on 17 July 2014.
MH17: intercepted communication between air traffic controllers
Communication between air traffic controllers and other aircraft in the wider area was also examined to see whether it could provide relevant information. Singapore Airlines flight SIA351 was flying at a distance of 35 kilometres from MH17 at the time of the crash and was therefore the nearest aircraft. The transcript of the radio communication between Ukrainian air traffic control and flight SIA351 shows that the cockpit crew, after being requested to look out for flight MH17, did not observe anything of the incident or the aircraft.
We have spoken previously about the investigation of MH17’s cockpit voice recorder (CVR). No communication between the crew members can be heard about another aircraft in the vicinity of MH17. Nor could any sounds be heard that might be relevant to this scenario, such as the impact of bullets from an onboard gun. As previously mentioned, an ultra-short sound wave was observed on the CVR audio, coming from the exterior of the aircraft, to the left of the cockpit, just before the crash. These findings are also not consistent with the scenario of an attack by a fighter aircraft.
With regard to the scenario that a fighter aircraft shot down MH17 and was then itself shot down immediately afterwards, it should be noted that no parts of any aircraft other than MH17 were found at the crash site or during the examination of the wreckage in the Netherlands.
Could a fighter aircraft have shot down flight MH17?
An investigation was also conducted into whether a fighter aircraft – specifically a Su-25, as mentioned at the Russian press conference – could technically have shot down flight MH17. This investigation yielded the following results:
the question of whether an Su-25 could shoot down a passenger aircraft at an altitude of 10 kilometres was investigated. Various sources have reported that the Su-25 has a maximum flight altitude of less than 10 kilometres. However, the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) released an official report stating that a reliable source has confirmed that an Su-25 can reach an altitude of 10 kilometres. In light of this the Public Prosecution Service took the position that the flight capabilities of the Su-25 are not, on their own, a reason to reject this scenario out of hand.
A fighter aircraft like the Su-25 can only be equipped with certain types of weapons. Experts from the NFI have investigated what types of air-to-air missiles launched from a fighter aircraft could have caused the general damage visible on the wreckage of MH17. This includes the amount and type of damage. That damage was compared with the type of fragmentation and mass of the explosive charge of various types of air-to-air missiles. In this analysis the NFI did not look into the similarities already established between various materials found in the forensic investigation and components of a Buk missile. This meant that the results of the various investigations could be examined side by side.
According to the NFI, the only air-to-air missiles from a fighter aircraft that could, broadly speaking, cause the sort of damage found on the wreckage are the types R-33 (AA-9 Amos) and R-37 (AA-13 Axehead). When carrying out an investigation on behalf of the Dutch Safety Board, the Royal Netherlands Aerospace Centre (NLR) came to the same conclusion, but with the addition of the type R-40 missile. However, these air-to-air missiles can only be launched from a fighter aircraft of the type MiG-31, which is in service with the Russian air force, but not the Ukrainian air force. Moreover, the NLR concluded that the impact damage sustained by MH17 could not have been caused by an onboard gun.
Sources for the air-to-air scenario
In the course of the investigation of the air-to-air scenario, various findings emerged with regard to the sources that gave rise to this part of the investigation.
As part of the analysis, the press conference held by the Russian government on 21 July 2014 was subjected to investigation. In the first place it was determined that there were striking differences with a later press conference given by the Russian authorities on 26 September 2016. In comparing these two press conferences, it can be seen that the same radar plots that were attributed to a fighter aircraft in 2014 were described by the Russian authorities in 2016 as wreckage from MH17.In examining the report by the ‘Russian Engineers Union’ it is striking that the conclusions lack a factual basis. For example, it is not clear exactly why the impact damage shown must necessarily have been caused by an onboard gun, as the ‘Union’ asserted. There is also reason to doubt the thoroughness and intentions of the report’s authors. Research into open sources has shown that the Russian state broadcaster Channel One (Pervyy kanal) presented an alleged satellite photo of a fighter aircraft firing at MH17 in November 2014. In the Channel One broadcast the vice-president of the ‘Russian Engineers Union’ was asked to comment on the photo. According to the vice-president they had carefully analysed the photo and had found no indications of manipulation. Shortly after the broadcast this photo was dismissed by various other media outlets as a blatant forgery. In late 2019 Channel One’s chief editor admitted that there was no doubt that this image had been manipulated. Finally, it is remarkable, to say the least, that the report characterises R-60 and R-73 air-to-air missiles on the one hand as ‘rather weak heat-seeking missiles’, mainly intended to strike aircraft engines, and on the other hand concludes that MH17 was hit by such missiles from the rear. In the case file several experts explain why MH17 could not have been struck by R-60 or R-73 missiles, and certainly not from the rear.
Anyone who notices that the damage to MH17 is concentrated on the front left side of the wreckage is free to draw their own conclusions.
The case file goes into greater detail about this aspect of the investigation. An investigation was also conducted into the Spanish individual who claimed to be named Carlos and to have worked as an air traffic controller in Ukraine. The man in question has never been an air traffic controller. He has previously been convicted of fraud in Spain and has since been arrested in Romania in order to be extradited to Spain. Various sources write that he himself claimed to have received money from Russia for his claims.
Air-to-air missile scenario: provisional conclusion
As we have shown, the question of whether a fighter aircraft could have shot down MH17 was investigated in various ways. That investigation generated many results from various sources which are incompatible with the air-to-air scenario. The most objective and important of those results are the radar data, the cockpit voice recorder, the recorded communication between the Ukrainian and Russian air traffic controllers and the forensic investigation by various independent experts.
The Public Prosecution Service is convinced that the above constitutes an adequate investigation of the scenario that an attack by an air-to-air weapon caused MH17 to crash. In particular the findings that the primary radar detected no other aircraft in the vicinity of MH17, that the damage could not have been caused by a fighter aircraft and that an attack by a fighter aircraft is incompatible with the audio data on the cockpit voice recorder mean that, on the basis of the information currently available, we see no other opportunities for a meaningful further investigation of this scenario.
Scenario involving other surface-to-air systems
We will now explain the investigation into the scenario that MH17 was shot down using a surface-to-air missile other than a Buk.
Course of the investigation
The investigation looked at which types of surface-to-air missile systems were in use by the Russian and Ukrainian armed forces in July 2014. The focus was on weapon systems that could reach an altitude of 10 kilometres, as it was clear from the flight data recorder that this was the altitude at which MH17 was flying when it was shot down. It emerged from this investigation that the Russian and Ukrainian armed forces possessed 10 different types of surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems with sufficient altitude range.
An explosives expert at the NFI was then asked to review these 10 weapon systems in order to determine, on the basis of (sometimes scant) information about these systems’ explosive charge, which of these SAM systems could have conceivably been responsible for downing MH17. This involved looking at the mass of the explosive charge and the number, shape and composition of the fragments from the warheads of these SAM systems. The expert then compared this data to the damage patterns and trace evidence found amid the wreckage of MH17. Because this was an investigation into systems other than the Buk, in this analysis the NFI did not look at the similarities already established between various materials found in the forensic investigation and components of a Buk missile. This meant that the results of the various investigations could be examined side by side. The NFI concluded that, apart from a Buk missile, only two of the 10 SAM systems – the 2K11 Krug (SA-4 Ganef) and the S-300V (SA-23 Gladiator) – could have caused the damage observed on the wreckage. The investigation then turned its attention to these two remaining systems.
Using its own sources and those of partner agencies, the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) investigated what SAM systems were present in the region in July 2014. Neither the Ganef nor the Gladiator was found to be present.  Moreover, the Ukrainian armed forces said that they were not using these two systems. Nor were armed groups in eastern Ukraine found to be in possession of these weapons.
The Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service’s investigation revealed the presence of only two other types of SAM systems (i.e. besides the Buk) in the region during the month of July 2014 that would have been capable of shooting down flight MH17 at that altitude: the S-300PS (SA-10B Grumble) and the S-300PM2 (SA-20B Gargoyle). According to the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service, the Grumble was in use by the Ukrainian armed forces, and the Gargoyle by the Russian armed forces. As we have indicated, the NFI ruled out these systems as a source of the damage found on the wreckage of MH17 because the specifications of these systems, such as the explosive charge and the warhead fragments, are not consistent with the damage visible on the wreckage. The Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service also ruled out these systems as weapons that could have been used to down MH17, but on different grounds. According to the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service, on 17 July 2014, the operational Ukrainian S-300PS (Grumble) systems were at least 175 kilometres outside the range of MH17. The operational Russian S-300PM2 (Gargoyle) systems, by contrast, were within range, from two locations. They were positioned in a more densely populated area near the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. The Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service found no indication of a launch by these systems on 17 July 2014. In the Service’s view, it would have been impossible to launch such a missile without attracting notice, especially in a more densely populated area such as this one.
Provisional conclusion for scenario involving other surface-to-air systems
Provisional conclusion: the scenario that MH17 was shot down by another type of SAM besides a Buk was subjected to investigation. If we combine the analysis by forensic experts with information about the weapon systems present in the region, no other weapon system other than the Buk emerges. No leads were found that warranted a further investigation of the scenario that MH17 was shot down by a SAM system other than the Buk.
Scenario involving launch of a Buk missile from a different location
Proceeding from the assumption that a Buk system had been used to down MH17, an investigation was conducted to determine the launch site. From the start of the investigation several locations were considered. Based on the findings of the investigation the JIT designated one of these as the launch site. It is designated in the case file as the main scenario. This is a location in the vicinity of Pervomaiskyi. However, other possible locations were also investigated. We will now discuss that part of the investigation.
To begin with, the range of a Buk missile was studied. On that basis it was possible to make an initial rough estimate of the area from which the missile must have been fired. The maximum range of a 9M38-series missile was determined to be 36 kilometres, on the basis of data provided by the Russian authorities, specifications of the Russian manufacturer (subsidiaries of Almaz Antey), information from the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service and military literature. The final position of MH17 was then established on the basis of data from the flight data recorder.
The missile struck MH17 at this location. In the case file this is also referred to as the ‘point of impact’. It was therefore provisionally concluded that the launch site must have been within a 36-kilometre radius of that point. A study of the course of the conflict revealed that on 17 July 2014 this area was almost entirely under the control of DPR fighters.
Alternative launch sites
Subsequently, investigators explored several potential launch sites: wider areas or specific locations that had been mentioned in some way as sites from which a missile could have been launched. The Amvrosiivka and Yenakiieve areas were both named as possible launch sites. During the investigation several more specific locations emerged as potential launch sites: in addition to the location in the vicinity of Pervomaiskyi already made public by the JIT – which we will discuss separately later – these are locations in Snizhne and near Zaroshchenske. These locations were researched using satellite photos, witness statements, telecom data and other sources of evidence. Satellite photos taken before and after the downing of MH17 were used to search for changes that could indicate a missile launch, such as fire damage, changes in vegetation and vehicle tracks. Network measurements were taken at several of these locations for telecom analysis. Soil samples were also taken from several of these locations but, as we have already explained, the passage of time rendered these unusable for the investigation.
The investigation concluded in the interim that there were no concrete indications of a surface-to-air missile having been launched from any of the alternative launch sites on 17 July 2014. We will now discuss the various areas and locations and the reasons why the Public Prosecution Service considers the investigation into these locations complete.
The Yenakiieve area
Finally, shortly after the disaster, still in July 2014, the SBU received intelligence that flight MH17 might have been shot down by two Buk missiles from somewhere in the vicinity of Yenakiieve. The investigation revealed that cossacks and a certain ‘Minyor’ were active in the vicinity of Yenakiieve and Chernukhino. ‘Minyor’ is presumed to be Igor Ivanovich Ukrainets. In intercepted phone conversations Ukrainets and the cossacks were mentioned as being possibly involved in shooting down flight MH17.
An examination of the intercepted conversations revealed that the parties in question apparently did not have any direct knowledge of the events surrounding the downing of the aircraft. An analysis of the intercepted conversations conducted by Ukrainets on 17 July 2014 did not reveal any evidence of his involvement in the downing of MH17. No concrete telecom data, witnesses or other sources were found that pointed to a launch from this area.
For various reasons the Public Prosecution Service decided that it did not make sense to investigate this place any further. Firstly, there are no other indications whatsoever that MH17 was shot down with two missiles as stated in the intelligence. which suggests that this intelligence information is incorrect. Secondly, the Yenakiieve area is outside all calculated launch ranges: based on the known capabilities of the Buk system, MH17 could not have been shot down from this area with two Buk missiles. Finally, there are no concrete leads pointing to this scenario that warrant further investigation.
The Amvrosiivka area
The area around Amvrosiivka was also mentioned as a possible launch site. This emerged from a criminal investigation conducted by the Russian authorities into the events in eastern Ukraine. Various witnesses were questioned in the course of that investigation. Several statements were provided to the JIT by the Russian authorities. Most of these statements relate to a possible attack on flight MH17 by a fighter aircraft. Two witnesses, a married couple, mentioned a missile launch from a location near the town of Amvrosiivka. Although, according to the Russian authorities, they were interviewed separately and at different times, the statements these two witnesses made are almost identical, word for word.
According to the married couple the missile was fired from somewhere in the vicinity of Amvrosiivka. However, because no specific location was mentioned in the couple’s statements it is not possible to investigate these statements using satellite images.
The JIT investigation did not find any evidence in the Amvrosiivka area. In public sources no publications or visual material was found concerning a Buk system in the vicinity of Amvrosiivka or a missile launch from that area. In the course of the investigation the team appealed for witnesses on several occasions. In response many witnesses came forward to be questioned by the JIT. None of them confirmed this couple’s story. These two statements by the couple therefore stand alone and are inconsistent with other findings in the investigation. The statements have been added to the case file so that the parties to the proceedings can assess them themselves.
The Furshet supermarket in Snizhne
An official report of 25 July 2014 by the Netherlands’ General Intelligence and Security Service (AIVD) mentions a location in the centre of Snizhne, behind the local Furshet supermarket. Behind this supermarket is undeveloped land. The General Intelligence and Security Service reports that, on the basis of intelligence, the SBU had pointed to this piece of land as the supposed site of the fatal launch of the Buk-M missile.
Soil samples could not be taken at this location because it emerged that the undeveloped land had been paved over. No witnesses in the investigation mentioned a launch from this location. Nor are there any public sources that provide concrete information about it.
The Furshet is mentioned in several intercepted conversations in relation to the launch vehicle that was seen that day in Snizhne. Given that in the first week after 17 July 2014 there was not yet a clear overall picture of the relevant intercepted conversations, it is understandable that the impression may have been created that the location near the Furshet was the final destination of the launch vehicle, the Buk TELAR. As the telecom analysis progressed, it became increasingly clear that the Buk TELAR had travelled past the Furshet both before and after the downing of MH17 and had even stopped there, but it did not fire a missile from that location.
Field north of Snizhne
There is another specific alternative location in the north of Snizhne. The writers of a 2015 article in the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, which was a collaboration with CORRECTIV and the German weekly Der Spiegel, talked to a local separatist leader. According to the article he said that the separatists had set up air defences in the north of the town of Snizhne.
The north of Snizhne is also mentioned in a Zello chat. In that chat several people said that they heard a loud boom ‘when it fell’, ‘so loud that the Khimmash factory was shaking and creaking’. Another person said they saw smoke in the direction of that factory. This factory is in the north of Snizhne. It is unclear where the people who wrote these posts in the Zello chat were at the time of these observations, so it is not possible to draw any conclusions about a specific location. In another part of the chat, there is talk about a missile to the south of Snizhne, near the October vegetable gardens.
During the investigation no relevant intercepted conversations or concrete sources were identified regarding the location in the north of Snizhne mentioned by the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper.
Both the investigation team and the European Space Agency (ESA) examined satellite images of this location. These images do not point to a missile launch either. Around 17 July 2014 there were no signs of the presence of a launch system or the launch of a Buk missile. ESA therefore concluded that this site could not have been a launch site on 17 July 2014.
Location south of Zaroshchenske
A third specific location mentioned as an alternative launch site is in the vicinity of Zaroshchenske. The Russian Ministry of Defence and subsequently the missile manufacturer Almaz Antey both pointed to the possibility of launching a Buk missile from a location south of this town. The Russian Ministry of Defence made this suggestion at a press conference on 21 July 2014. This location was also investigated.
Zaroshchenske is located within a 36-kilometre radius of the spot where MH17 was hit. So, technically speaking, it would have been possible to shoot down MH17 from this location. According to the Russian Ministry of Defence and Almaz Antey, there are indications that this is, in fact, what happened. The Ministry based this assertion on satellite photos of Ukrainian Buk systems, and the missile manufacturer on a calculation of the launch site. We investigated these two sources. We also interviewed witnesses and examined telecom data that might indicate a launch from this location.
Analysis of satellite photos
We will begin by discussing the analysis of the satellite photos from the Russian Ministry of Defence. At the press conference on 21 July 2014 satellite photos were shown of a base with the number A-1428 belonging to the Ukrainian armed forces, located northwest of Donetsk. According to the Russian explanation the photo at the top was taken on 14 July 2014. The photo at the bottom, allegedly taken on 17 July 2014, shows the same launch system as having disappeared.
Then a satellite photo was presented purportedly showing two Ukrainian Buk systems in a field near near Zaroshchenske. This was allegedly taken on 17 July 2014. In a photo of the same location a day later, on 18 July 2014, these systems were no longer visible. All this was meant to suggest that MH17 had been shot down by one of these Buk systems.
The Russian authorities provided these photos to the investigation team at the Public Prosecution Service’s request. These turned out to be copies, which we then examined.
The investigation team asked the European Space Agency (ESA) to investigate satellite images of these locations. The results were added to the case file. ESA supplied a satellite photo taken on 17 July 2014 of the base northwest of Donetsk. This photo does not match the one provided by the Russians. The difference between the two photos is clear: the Buk TELAR which the Russian Federation claims is missing from the photo of 17 July 2014 is still in the same place on ESA’s satellite photo.
Follow-up investigation confirmed that this is not due to a difference in the time when the photos were taken. The photos from the Russian Federation plainly differ from other satellite images from July 2014. The research collective Bellingcat conducted its own analysis of this. The investigation team was made aware of this analysis and subsequently examined the satellite photos in the light of its own source material. The conclusion of that analysis is that the photos could not have been taken on the dates mentioned at the Russian press conference. The Russian photos show, for example, trees and bushes around the base which, as can be seen in other satellite photos, were removed prior to 2 July 2014.
Investigation also showed that this base near Donetsk had been abandoned by the Ukrainian armed forces since early July 2014 and was subsequently taken over by separatists. The Ukrainian armed forces left behind a number of vehicles, including a non-functional Buk TELAR. Investigators have confirmed that the TELAR in question appears in exactly the same place on several satellite images between 30 May 2014 and 3 September 2014, with the rotatable upper part of the TELAR at the same 45-degree angle in relation to the lower part of the vehicle in every single photo. This Buk TELAR was also photographed from close-up.
Both photos show a section of the blue roof that is also clearly visible on the satellite photos. The position of the TELAR, including the 45-degree angle between the upper and lower parts, is identical to the satellite photos that were examined. These photos clearly show that this TELAR was indeed non-functional and not in use. You can see the damage to the upper part and the rust on the caterpillar tracks.
The investigation also gathered information that shows that that location northwest of Donetsk had ceased to be in the hands of the Ukrainian armed forces well before 17 July 2014.
The Russian satellite photos of 17 and 18 July 2014 showing the location near Zaroshchenske were analysed in a similar way. A comparison of the photo of 17 July 2014 with other satellite photos from neutral sources reveals a number of inexplicable discrepancies. A Google Earth satellite photo of the area from 16 July 2014 shows that a field has been ploughed or otherwise disturbed. In the Russian photo the same field appears untouched. This photo thus cannot be from 17 July 2014, as claimed. Furthermore, there are no traces of a missile launch or a launch vehicle on a Google Earth satellite photo of this same area from 21 July 2014, a few days after the missile was supposedly launched and the launch system removed. Yet a study of the Buk system has shown that a launch in a dry field can cause a fire and that the caterpillar treads on heavy launch vehicles will leave tracks on an unpaved surface.
For its part, the European Space Agency (ESA) found no indications in satellite images from 16 and 21 July 2014 of a Buk launch from this area south of Zaroshchenske. Furthermore, according to ESA, from 17 up to and including 21 July 2014, the area was almost completely overcast, and as a result no satellite images are available from that period of time. This is inconsistent with the clear image of an allegedly empty field, with no Buk system, which the Russian defence ministry claimed was taken on 18 July 2014.
Finally, we shared the Russian visual material with the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), which we asked whether the alleged dates were consistent with actual weather conditions on the ground. The KNMI concluded that the photo of 18 July 2014 must have been taken on another date. On 18 July 2014 there was heavy cloud cover in the area south of Zaroshchenske.
The Russian authorities provided the investigation team with only low-resolution digital copies of the satellite photos shown which offer no scope for further analysis.
Since 15 October 2015 we had therefore repeatedly asked the Russian authorities to provide the underlying image files for the satellite photos shown by the Ministry of Defence on 21 July 2014. These would allow experts to further investigate the date and content of the photos. For years these repeated requests remained unanswered. One week before the opening of the trial in March 2020 we received a reply. According to the Russian authorities, the satellite photos of the area south of Zaroshchenske were not retained because on the satellite image of 17 July 2014 there was up to 90% cloud cover and on the image of 18 July 2014 more than 90% cloud cover. The Russian authorities stated that satellite images are not retained if there is more than 60% cloud cover. They did not comment on the photos shown of the base in Donetsk.
Investigation into the launch area
Another part of the investigation into the alternative scenario that MH17 was shot down from the vicinity of Zaroshchenske focused on calculating the possible launch area. Various parties paid specific attention to the area around Zaroshchenske. We previously explained how the launch area was calculated in the discussion of the forensic investigation.
According to the Buk manufacturer Almaz Antey, MH17 must have been shot down from an area south of Zaroshchenske. This conclusion was presented by Almaz Antey at two press conferences, on 2 June and 13 October 2015. We previously mentioned this in the discussion of the forensic investigation.
The Dutch Aerospace Centre (NLR) and the Belgian Royal Military Academy (RMA) came to different conclusions from those of Almaz Antey. On the basis of an extensive investigation the Dutch Aerospace Centre calculated a launch area of 75 square kilometres, to the southeast of MH17’s last position. The Belgian Royal Military Academy calculated a launch area that partially overlaps with that of the Dutch Aerospace Centre. Zaroshchenske is well outside both these launch areas. In its calculations the institute also used data from Almaz Antey about the Buk missile. According to the Belgian Royal Military Academy, on the basis of a general calculation a launch from the within the vicinity of Zaroshchenske is ‘extremely unlikely’. Following a further calculation based on additional data, including the missile engine’s thrust profile, the institute described a launch from that area as ‘impossible’.
In addition to investigating the putative satellite photos of a Ukrainian Buk system on 17 July 2014 and the launch area, soil samples were taken at the location south of Zaroshchenske, and the investigation team searched for witnesses, public sources and telecom data that could confirm a launch from Zaroshchenske.
We previously noted that the soil samples from this area – and at other locations in eastern Ukraine – could not be taken until June 2015. It subsequently emerged that these samples could no longer provide any useful information, since nearly a year had elapsed since the crash.
Despite repeated appeals for witnesses, no one has contacted the JIT who could confirm this scenario of a launch from Zaroshchenske.
We could only find a single witness statement about Zaroshchenske, from the Russian media. This occurred in an interview with a former Ukrainian major called Baturin. Mr Baturin claimed he had seen flight MH17 disappear from the radar screen and that a few days later he had heard from drivers of the Ukrainian 156th Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade that a Ukrainian Buk system had been stationed near Zaroshchenske. Mr Baturin allegedly sought asylum in the Russian Federation. We asked the Russian authorities to provide the transcript of the statements given by Mr Baturin. The Russian authorities replied that Mr Baturin was not questioned. Mr Baturin’s claims about Zaroshchenske being the launch site are based on hearsay; he is the only witness to have made such claims, and experts have ruled it out as a launch site. Because of all these factors, we see no reason to ask the Russian authorities to question him. We have added the interview he gave to the case file.
Earlier we explained how we investigated public sources. We found no reports, photos or video of a Buk system in the vicinity of Zaroshchenske or of any effects of a launch from that area. Indeed, this investigation yielded only indications suggesting otherwise. After the Russian Ministry of Defence put forward the Zaroshchenske scenarios, various journalists spoke with local residents, who disputed the claim that a missile had been fired from there. These residents also said that there were no members of the Ukrainian armed forces in the area because Zaroschchenske was under the control of the DPR.
No indications of this scenario were found in the telecom data either. Zaroshchenske was mentioned in various intercepted phone conversations, but not as the location from which a Buk missile was launched. These intercepted conversations confirm the points of view expressed by local residents in media reports: there was no missile launch there, and Zaroshchenske was under the control of the DPR. Two conversations show that separatists were surprised to learn about the press conference given by Almaz Antey, which claimed the opposite.
On the same afternoon as Almaz Antey’s first press conference, on 2 June 2015, an individual thought to be the self-appointed ‘mayor’ of Shakhtarsk (A) spoke with a military commander of the DPR (B). Shakhtarsk is located a few kilometres away from Zaroshchenske. We will now play the excerpt.
B: ‘(…) Please, refresh your memory… The month – July, the Boeing’s downing. There is some information appearing that the launch had been performed with an anti-aircraft defence system from the locality of Roschino, Zaroschino, being situated somewhere not far from Shakhtiorks. (…) Was the territory mentioned under them or under us? Zaroschenskoye.
A: (…) Zaroschchenskoye. It was our territory. (…) It was our territory for sure! (…). No, I’m giving you hundred percent it had not been downed from over there.’
MH17: tapgesprek DPR met 'burgemeester'
Shortly after the same commander was phoned by a man who introduced himself as someone ‘calling from Moscow, from TV’. The man from Moscow from the television told the DPR commander that Zaroshchenske was not yet ‘theirs’ and that ‘their’ troops had not yet moved in. The commander gave a firm reply, saying that they did have control of the area. According to the commander, this was the first time anyone had heard about shooting from this area. We will now play his response:
‘This is the territory of ours (…) this territory is located in three kilometers from the center of Shakhtersk. (…) It’s the first time when everyone hears the news someone is shooting in Shakhtersk! There was no one there! (…) If we are talking about this one, no one was shooting from this area!’
MH17: tapgesprek DPR met NN
So according to these two DPR representatives, Zaroshchenske fell within ‘their’ territory – and not that of the Ukrainian armed forces – and there was no ‘shooting’ done from this area.
Provisional conclusion for the scenario involving a Buk missile launched from different locations
As we can see, potential launch sites other than the location in the main scenario were researched extensively and with an open mind. An investigation into potential launch sites in the vicinity of Amvrosiivka, Yenakiieve, the area north of Snizhne and in Snizhne itself did not produce any concrete evidence of a launch site but instead information to the contrary.
In the investigation into a launch site south of Zaroshchenske various concrete indications were found that no missile had been launched from that location. From an analysis it emerged that the Russian Ministry of Defence’s satellite photos of that location were incorrect or had been taken on different dates to what had been claimed. According to statements by residents and intercepted conversations between DPR members, Zaroshchenske was not under Ukrainian armed forces control and no missile was fired from there. Finally, the Dutch Aerospace Centre and the Belgian Royal Military Academy each calculated the launch area from which MH17 was shot down. Zaroshchenske is situated outside the calculated area. According to the Belgian Military Academy, MH17 could not have been shot down from Zaroshchenske.
We do not see any opportunities for a meaningful further investigation.
Scenario involving Ukrainian Buk system
We have now explained how the alternative scenarios involving an explosion inside the aircraft and an attack by a fighter aircraft were investigated. We have also explained the investigation into the scenarios involving MH17 being shot down with a surface-to-air missile other than a Buk or being shot down from a location other than the one near Pervomaiskyi. As we have already mentioned, in those last two parts of the investigation we also looked at whether the Ukrainian armed forces could have downed flight MH17. This scenario was not only investigated by exploring potential launch sites but also by specifically examining the Buk systems used by the Ukrainian armed forces and the origin of suspected missile parts recovered during the forensic investigation. We will discuss that now.
Military and public sources
At the JIT’s request the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence provided information about the actual locations of Ukrainian Buk systems on 17 July 2014. The Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) also provided an overview of locations in around eastern Ukraine where Buk activities were observed during longer periods in June and July 2014. You can see one additional Buk system in the MIVD’s information, well outside where it would have needed to be to hit MH17. The MIVD’s official report mentions fixed locations of both Russian and Ukrainian Buk systems. MH17 was outside the missile range of these fixed locations. Of course, this does not mean that MH17 was outside the range of all Russian and Ukrainian Buk systems because these systems are mobile.
When requested, the Ukrainian authorities provided the investigation team with an overview of the Buk missiles launched by the Ukrainian armed forces during the armed conflict. According to that overview, no Buk missiles were fired by the Ukrainian armed forces during the conflict in eastern Ukraine in July 2014. The first Buk launch in the conflict occurred on 9 December 2014. As we mentioned previously, soil samples were taken from the location of that launch in Kramatorsk. Public sources indicate that from that period onwards the Ukrainian armed forces shot down several advanced drones in the course of the conflict. These missile launches have not been systematically documented because we do not see how this could contribute to any decision to be taken by the court in this criminal trial.
The scenario that MH17 was shot down by a Ukrainian Buk was also investigated extensively using public sources, initially by searching these sources for concrete information about the presence of Ukrainian Buk systems in the possible launch area. This did not produce any leads for further investigation. Secondly, the research team conducted extensive public-source research into images of Ukrainian and Russian Buk TELARs to determine whether they resembled the Buk TELAR that was captured in photos and videos in eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014. As part of this investigation more than 2,400 photos of both Ukrainian and Russian Buk TELARs were analysed. This did not produce any information regarding a Ukrainian Buk system in the area on 17 July 2014 either.
Russian missile records
Finally, the investigation into whether the Ukrainian armed forces shot down flight MH17 looked at the origin of two missile parts that are thought to have struck MH17. In that investigation the Russian Federation provided information that suggests that the missile parts were from a missile belonging to the Ukrainian armed forces. This information was investigated further.
As previously mentioned, various parts were found in the course of the forensic investigation which were consistent with parts of a 9M38-series Buk missile. On two of those parts, an engine casing and an exhaust fitting (Venturi system), numbers were found. On the basis of the number on the engine casing (8 86 9032) the investigators were able to determine that it was produced in 1986. In May 2018 we made the numbers of both parts of the missile public and submitted a request for legal assistance to the Russian authorities containing these numbers, asking whether they could determine, on that basis, which missile or missiles these parts belonged to, what had happened to them, and what party or parties would have had them at their disposal.
In a press conference on 17 September 2018 the Russian Ministry of Defence showed documents from records pertaining to a missile. Copies of those documents were later provided to the Public Prosecution Service. According to those documents the engine casing and the Venturi system came from one and the same Buk missile, of the older type 9M38. According to a two-page entry in a handwritten logbook, this missile was sent to military unit ‘20152’ on 29 December 1986. According to public sources and the explanation provided by the Russian Ministry of Defence, this number corresponds to the 223rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade of the then Soviet armed forces, based in what was at the time the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. According to the documents and the explanation provided by the Russian Ministry of Defence, ‘8720’ is the number of the missile in question. According to the same logbook, someone signed for delivery of the missile on 19 May 1987, and this confirmation of receipt was received by the manufacturer in Moscow on 4 June 1987. The confirmation itself was not among the documents provided. According to the explanation offered by the Russian Ministry of Defence, following the break-up of the USSR the missile remained with the 223rd Brigade in Ukraine, and since that time they have no record of it.
In response to this information the JIT asked the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence if this missile had ever been in the possession of the Ukrainian armed forces and whether any documentation to this effect could be provided. In response to this request the Ukrainian air force and supply department said that no registration of this missile had been found. Later, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence provided a copy of the missile logbook of the 223rd Brigade, the unit to which the Russian Ministry of Defence said the missile had been sent in 1986. The Ukrainian missile logbook contains entries for the period from 2 September 1991 to 22 December 2009. The missile is not mentioned.
At this point it is worth noting that Ukraine and Russia were both part of the Soviet Union (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) until 1991. The Soviet Union had one set of armed forces for the entire country, which fell under the authority of the Ministry of Defence in Moscow. On 24 August 1991, i.e. shortly before the first entry in the Ukrainian missile logbook, the Ukrainian parliament declared independence. It was not until later that year, on 26 December 1991, that the Soviet Union was dissolved. The Soviet armed forces were then divided up.
This leaves a four-and-a-half-year gap in the records. We have received no documents from the Russian Ministry of Defence on the inventory of missiles during the Soviet period from June 1987 up to the end of 1991, when the Soviet Union and the Soviet armed forces were dissolved. We know nothing, on the basis of the documents that were provided, about what happened to the missile in that time. All we have to go on is, on the one hand, the standpoint of the Russian authorities that the missile never returned to the country after it was sent to the 223rd Brigade in 1987 and, on the other, the standpoint of the Ukrainian authorities that the missile was never entered into the Ukrainian inventory.
After consulting both parties the documents received were examined. There was limited scope for investigating the Ukrainian logbook, given that it contains no mention of the missile. It is, after all, difficult to investigate the absence of something. However, the information in the Ukrainian logbook was examined to verify whether it did indeed come from the 223rd brigade, as claimed by the Ukrainian authorities.
The Russian documents offered greater scope for investigation, as they relate to missile parts that were found in the course of the forensic investigation. This meant that the missile information from the Russian documents could be compared with the other investigation findings relating to the missile. Various steps were taken when investigating the documents.
The type of warhead is mentioned in one of the Russian documents provided. According to the pre-printed text ‘9N314(9N130)’,  it is the older type 9N314 warhead. Yet above this printed text someone has written in an ‘M’, right at the spot between the printed ‘9N314’ and ‘(9N310)’.  This would at least suggest that instead of the model 9N314, as stated in the printed text, a newer warhead of the type 9N314M was mounted on to the missile.
This indication of a 9N314M warhead was compared with statements made by the Russian authorities at other times suggesting that MH17 could not have been hit by a Buk missile with a 9N314M warhead. The conclusion of the Dutch Safety Board (OVV) and the JIT concerning the newer 9N314M type warhead was initially supported by Almaz Antey (on 2 June 2014) but has been contested since the publication of the OVV report (on 13 October 2015). On 31 December 2019, in the proceedings brought before the European Court of Human Rights by the next of kin, the Russian Federation stated:
‘If MH17 was brought down by a missile, the DSB [Dutch Safety Board or OVV] and JIT ought to have been concluding that it was an old style 9M38 missile with an old-style 9H314 [Cyrillic; Latin script: 9N314] warhead (…).’
A similar comparison of the documents was made with other information about the type of missile that must have shot down MH17. According to the Russian documents, the engine casing and Venturi system were part of a missile of the older type 9M38. At other times the Russian authorities indicated that they no longer used the older type 9M38 missile but that Ukraine still did. If that were true, the alleged documentary evidence of use of a 9M38 missile would point in the direction of a Ukrainian missile. That does not tally with the findings of the forensic investigation, however. As we explained earlier, in the forensic investigation into the foreign objects recovered, more similarities were found with a 9M38M1 missile than with a 9M38 missile.
The assembly dates in the Russian documents were also analysed and compared with a date found on the engine casing during the forensic investigation. A striking difference was identified. According to those documents, the missile engine parts and the entire missile were assembled on 24 December 1986. Here you can see various documents in which this is stated. Something different is printed on the engine casing that was found during the forensic investigation and to which the documents allegedly pertain. Stamped on the casing is ‘assembly date 15 December 1986’. This date was not mentioned to the Russian authorities in the 2018 request for legal assistance which asked for information about the two missile parts that were recovered. So the date stamped on the engine casing as the ‘assembly date’ is not the same as the assembly date stated in the Russian documents.
An extensive official report was drawn up describing the analysis of the documents furnished by the Russian Federation from its missile records. It describes which documents were provided and also which documents were mentioned by the Russian authorities or referred to in the supplied documents but were not made available to the JIT. It also describes how the information in the documents provided relates to other information available in the investigation, in particular with regard to the type of warhead and the type of missile that downed MH17 and the assembly date on the engine casing.
We asked ourselves whether the questions arising from the analysis of these documents warranted further investigation. Our answer to that question is largely informed by two observations: firstly, we have had to conclude that the Russian Federation is not acting in good faith in this investigation. As we said in March, any party that falsifies evidence and repeatedly produces contradictory versions of events cannot be considered the best source to evaluate other evidence. Secondly, we have had to conclude that, regardless of their probative value, the documents supplied only cover the years 1986 and 1987 and say nothing about who had the missile in question in their possession in July 2014. We therefore see no opportunities for a meaningful further investigation of this point.
Provisional conclusion for scenario involving a Ukrainian Buk system
The scenario that MH17 was shot down by a Ukrainian Buk was also investigated via various avenues.
As we discussed earlier, an investigation was conducted to determine the area from which MH17 must have been shot down. Based on the maximum range of a Buk missile, the area calculated proved to be quite extensive.
On 17 July 2014 this area was almost completely outside the control of the Ukrainian armed forces. Based on the damage to the wreckage of MH17 and the characteristics of a Buk missile, experts were able to calculate a smaller area from which a Buk missile must have been fired in order to have caused the damage identified. On 17 July 2014 this area was entirely outside the control of the Ukrainian armed forces.
In addition, the locations and activities of Ukrainian Buk systems were investigated on the basis of information from the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service, the Ukrainian authorities and public sources. This yielded no indications whatsoever that MH17 was within range of the Ukrainian armed forces.
Finally, an investigation was conducted into the Russian allegations that the Buk missile used to shoot down MH17 had been transported to a unit in Ukraine as early as 1986 and had remained there.
That investigation revealed that the Russian missile records are incomplete, that they are inconsistent with the Ukrainian records for the unit in question and that several parts of the Russian documents are inconsistent with findings in the forensic investigation and other assertions made by Russian authorities.
All in all, the only information regarding a possible Ukrainian Buk system in relation to flight MH17 originates from the Russian Federation. However, extensive investigations into that information have not produced any supporting evidence but rather evidence to the contrary.
Provisional conclusion regarding alternative scenarios
We have now reached the end of our explanation of the investigation into alternative scenarios. These scenarios were an attack by a fighter aircraft, the use of a surface-to-air missile other than a Buk missile and the use of a Buk missile launched from a location other than the one near Pervomaiskyi. Finally, we explained how a targeted investigation was conducted into the possibility that the Ukrainian armed forces shot down flight MH17. In the Public Prosecution Service’s opinion, all the research that could reasonably be expected – and more – has been conducted into alternative scenarios.
So we now come to our explanation of the investigation into the main scenario previously made public by the JIT. This is the scenario that MH17 was shot down by a Buk missile fired from an agricultural field in the vicinity of Pervomaisky.