by David Parker
The drone supposedly shot down in Turkey on Friday, October 16, is Ukrainian, Guardian online commenters revealed exclusively last Monday, outsmarting the world’s press and “military sources” who the paper reported had “said it is likely that it belonged to the Russian military”.
And the paper’s response? Discussion was closed within minutes of the posting of a translation showing that the plane was developed at Ukraine’s Zhytomyr Military Institute and produced in large numbers in the Dnipropetrovsk area for missions against pro-Russian forces to the east.
Friday’s downed craft had immediately been suspected of being the latest in a series of Russian violations of Turkey’s airspace alleged by the government in Ankara, which has opposed Russia’s intervention in Syria’s civil war on the side of president Bashar al-Assad.
Anti-Russia commenters on the Guardian website seized upon the report as evidence of Russian mischief, with one going so far as to suggest that the unarmed 5ft plane should trigger collective NATO military action against Russia in support of Turkey’s right-wing government, an alliance member accused of allowing arms to reach jihadist fighters in Syria.
But photographic evidence shows that the wreckage in Turkey is identical to an aircraft shown on 19 August 2014 on the website of Ukraine’s Zhitomyr Journal website. The accompanying article reported that Ukraine expected to produce 30-40 such drones every month.
How Friday’s wrecked vehicle made it from Ukraine to Turkey remains a mystery. But it follows the release of a recording in which current Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu and security chiefs discussed creating grounds for cross-border operations.
In the tape, released in March 2014, intelligence chief Hakan Fidan is heard to propose, “I send four men to the other side. I get them to fire eight missiles into empty land.”
The tape’s authenticity appeared to be confirmed by then premier (and now Turkish president) Tayyip Erdogan who shortly afterward declared of opponents, “They even leaked a national security meeting… Who are you serving by doing audio surveillance of such an important meeting?”
But the quest by the Guardian’s readers to identify the mystery aircraft unearthed indications of a potentially still more sinister use by Ukraine in its 2014 conflict with pro-Russian separatists. The drone was the very same model alleged by Ukraine’s own security agency to have carried possible chemical agents.
The aircraft reported by Turkey last Friday is identical to one supposedly brought down by Ukrainian air defences on 28 May 2014 during armed clashes with separatists in Donetsk and Lugansk districts, and claimed by the Security Service of Ukraine to be carrying an “unknown chemical substance”.
It is unclear whether Ukraine’s security service knew at the time of its announcement that the downed craft came from its own side. At the very least its allegation of the possible presence of chemical materials seems a spectacular own goal.
The same might be said of the Guardian, which was handed an international scoop by its own online readers but chose instead to prevent further revelations and to persist with its own disproved story of an alleged Russian airspace violation.