Three and half years on, why are there still so many unanswered questions?
The year is ending and so is the mandate of the Joint International Team investigating the downing of flight MH17. It’s time to provide the results of the prosecutors’ work. No need to say how it’s important to identify and pursue those responsible for shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on 17 July 2014 in Ukraine. Otherwise, the perpetrators will feel like they have impunity. But as the investigation progresses, more questions to the JIT and more doubts about their ability to find responsible for the death of 298 passengers arise.
Loopholes in the JIT report
At the press conference in May 2018, the international investigators presented evidence that, according to them, implicated the Russian army in the MH17 crash. From the beginning, this theory, quite realistic indeed, has been the only one developed by the JIT. But should not prosecutors consider all the possible scenarios about the circumstances of the disaster?
There is no doubt that a massive Russian information campaign is impeding the ongoing investigation. But the JIT members, themselves, empower Putin by ignoring the information that Moscow did officially provide to them. Thus, the report of the manufacturer of Buk missiles Almaz-Antey was rejected as being out of synch with the official line of the JIT. Fred Westerbeke, chief investigator, literally said:
Their findings are contrary to ours, we do not share them … I do not want to know if they are correct or not”.
In September 2018, the Russian Ministry of Defense held a press conference on the downing of Flight MH17. Based on “secret defense” documents, the Russian army assured that the missile “was assembled on 24 December 1986 and delivered by train” to the west of Ukraine. “After the fall of the Soviet Union, the missile was not repatriated to Russian territory and was incorporated into the Ukrainian army.”
Moscow claims to have handed over these documents to the prosecutors. The JIT has so far given no comment to the information received. As if the Russian press conference had never taken place.
“The work of the JIT is very politicized”
The independent experts denounce the methods of the JIT and study other plausible theories. Thus, Max van der Werff, a Dutch blogger who has twice been to the MH17 crash site, does not rule out several possible versions of events. According to him, the Ukrainian army could have fired the Buk missile by accident, as it was in 2001, when it shot down the 1812 Siberia Airlines flight carrying 76 passengers over the Black Sea. According to Christian Roger, former leader of the Patrouille de France, another hypothesis is likely to be true: Ukrainian soldiers familiar with the technology could have taken control of the Russian Buk vehicle.
The work of the JIT is highly politicized, says Max van der Werff, because most of the Team’s member countries, especially the Netherlands and Australia, which are traditionally hostile to Russia, seek any pretext to criticize it. Malaysia, however, being not so biased towards Moscow, did not find the latest JIT’s findings convincing. For Malaysian Transport Minister Anthony Loke,
there is no conclusive evidence to point at Russia under the JIT [Joint Investigative Team] evidence”
Belgium also abstained from making judgemental comments. The JIT report is mainly based on photos and videos published on social networks, whose authenticity nobody can validate, says the Dutch expert. So at this point, the JIT does not have any documents that can be presented before the judges.
In addition to this, Max van der Werff points to numerous testimonies, which oppose the official JIT’s line on the one hand and explain why one should not rule out different versions of the events and other suspects on the other hand. The Dutch investigators did not disclose the data that Kiev should have provided to the JIT. Since the disaster, Ukraine has not held a press conference and has not published any reports. The Ukrainian officials have only given different assumptions.
Details hidden by Ukraine
At first, Valentine Nalivaishenko, the head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) at the time, said the pro-Russian separatists had wanted to shoot down a Russian plane to create a casus belli for Moscow to intervene in Ukraine. The SBU then deleted his statement from the site, but it’s saved in the archive. Afterwards, the SBU suggested and immediately rejected the assumption that the Buk missile downing MH17 had been seized by the rebels from the Ukrainian army.
At this point, a question arises: why did not the Ukrainian authorities having all the tools to conduct a detailed and unbiased investigation come up with solid conclusions? The latest JIT publications do not contain any information regarding the positions of the Ukrainian Buks on the day of the accident or recordings of the air traffic controllers. If the Ukrainian military is innocent, as Kiev , why does not Ukraine or the JIT reveal these data?
Besides, the experts also questioned Kyiv’s claims about their military aviation flights on 17 July 2014. The Ukrainian authorities assured that the country’s air force had not performed any flight. But Max van der Werff managed to collect testimonies from people who had seen fighter planes flying the day of the tragedy, yet at such a low altitude that they could not shoot down the MH17. But why then to hide it?
Here is another ambiguous question that the Netherlands and several European officials prefer to avoid: why Ukraine had not closed its airspace above the conflict zone? Kiev surely should have to do this considering that shortly before the MH17 crash the separatists had shot down Ukrainian fighter jets. The danger to air traffic was obvious. But Kiev didn’t want to lose profit from international air traffic, which amounts to at least two hundred million euros a year.
Anyway, Ukraine’s unrestricted airspace turned out to be one of the fatal mistakes that led to the death of the 298 passengers of flight MH17. Amsterdam had even asked the families of the victims not to lodge a complaint against Kiev as it could have torpedo the cooperation with Ukraine in the framework of the JIT, reports the Dutch journalist Peter Klein.
Before the answers to the questions above are obtained, the survey can not be considered as unbiased as Ukraine was also part of the conflict that led to the accident. In order to determine the true causes of the disaster and render a judgment, it’s essential to collect and carefully analyze all the data provided by both sides. Thus, the investigation is still far from completion. Consequently, the JIT’s mandate, which expires on January 1, 2019, could be extended for at least another year.