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#MH17: US intelligence says Russia ‘created conditions’ for plane disaster


US officials stop short of blaming crash directly on Moscow and say separatists likely shot down plane by accident.

Pro-Russia rebels guard the area around the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 during monitoring by investigators. Photograph: Rob Stothard/GettyPro-Russia rebels guard the area around the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 during monitoring by investigators. Photograph: Rob Stothard/Getty.

US intelligence officials accused Moscow of “creating the conditions” that resulted in the death of 298 people aboard the Malaysian Airlines jet shot down last week over a part of Ukraine controlled by Russia-backed separatists.

But in a partial declassification of US intelligence on Tuesday, officials stopped short of laying the blame for the disaster directly at the door of Russia. The assessment of the US intelligence community is that the separatists shot the plane down by accident.

The newly declassified information largely reaffirmed an account given last Friday by Samantha Power, US ambassador to the United Nations, saying that a missile from an SA-11 anti-aircraft battery in separatist territory shot down the plane.

Officials said training given by Russia to its separatist proxies on air-defense weapons, which they have used in recent weeks to shoot down about a dozen aircraft, was a contributing factor. Ukrainian forces fighting the separatists have yet to fire a surface-to-air missile, intelligence officials said, as their conflict is on the ground.

MH17 shootdown graphic from US intelligence report on the downing of the Malaysian airliner in Ukraine. Photograph: US intelligence communityMH17 shootdown graphic from US intelligence report on the downing of the Malaysian airliner in Ukraine. Photograph: US intelligence community.

Some of the evidence provided by US intelligence – whose fiscal 2013 budget was $68bn – included Facebook posts. “After it became evident that the plane was a civilian airliner, separatists deleted social media posts boasting about shooting down a plane and possessing a Buk (SA-11) surface-to-air missile system,” a senior intelligence official said in the briefing, held on condition of anonymity. The Guardian was not invited to the briefing, a transcription of which was later made available.

Despite enormous international opprobrium placed on Moscow since the crash, intelligence officials said that they believed Russia continues to arm the separatists. They alleged that rocket launchers, other artillery pieces and tanks have transited through a “training facility” in south-west Russia associated with supplies for the separatists.

While the Guardian cannot independently confirm the allegation, satellite imagery released by US intelligence and dated Monday from the Rostov base seems to depict columns of materiel not present in a photo dated two days earlier.

Images of Russian training facility near Ukraine border, from a US intelligence report on the downing of MH17. Photograph: US intelligence communityImages of Russian training facility near Ukraine border, from a US intelligence report on the downing of MH17. Photograph: US intelligence community.

An account by US intelligence of the Buk missile’s trajectory puts its origin at the town of Snizhne, not far from the Russian border. Images posted on social media from Snizhne seem to depict a mobile Buk system.

A still from the 'social media overview' section of a US intelligence report into the downing of MH17. Photograph: US intelligence communityA still from the ‘social media overview’ section of a US intelligence report into the downing of MH17. Photograph: US intelligence community.

An investigation into the destruction of MH17 has barely got under way. Separatists handed over the flight recorder of the plane to Malaysian authorities late on Monday.

US intelligence officials indicated that their timed release of preliminary information was designed to counter claims from the Russian military they consider obfuscatory.

“We are seeing a full-court press by the Russian government to instruct affiliated or friendly elements to manipulate the media,” an intelligence official said.

On Tuesday, international experts began the process of identifying the bodies of those who died in the disaster, after a train carrying their remains arrived in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

Interpol, the international police agency, said one of its teams had begun preliminary identification work on the remains, which will all be flown to the Netherlands this week for fuller identification.

The train, which included three refrigerated wagons, had been loaded by rebels and local emergency workers at Torez station, near the crash site. The rebels said there were 282 bodies and 87 “other fragments” on board and that 16 bodies are yet to be found.

However, on Tuesday night Dutch officials said only 200 bodies had arrived in Kharkiv.

The European Union said on Tuesday that it would expand its sanctions blacklist to target Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and draw up further broad measures including an arms embargo and financial restrictions on Russian businesses.


The Guardian.

DutchNews.nl: Dutch declare Wednesday official day of mourning for #MH17 dead


A sea of flowers for the victims at Schiphol airportA sea of flowers for the victims at Schiphol airport. Photo: Persian Dutch Network

Wednesday July 23 has been designated an official day of mourning to remember those who died on flight MH17, Prime Minister Mark Rutte has announced.

Flags will be at half mast on government buildings and church bells will be rung for five minutes prior to the landing of the first plane bringing back the first bodies of the dead.

The plane is expected to arrive at Eindhoven air base at 16.00 hours.

Relatives, King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Deputy Premier Lodewijk Asscher will be present at the airport. A one-minute silence will be observed shortly after the arrival.

MPs from the VVD, ChristenUnie, SGP among others had urged parliament to proclaim a national day of mourning earlier but prime minister Mark Rutte said such a day was not in keeping with Dutch tradition.

The Netherlands does commemorate important occasions such as the 1953 floods which killed nearly 2,000 people but rarely declares official days of mourning. The last time this happened was when queen Wilhelmina’s died in 1962.

193 Dutch nationals died when the Boeing 777 traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was brought down in rebel-held Ukraine, close to the Russian border. Many were families leaving for their summer holiday. The dead include 80 teenagers, children and babies.

DutchNews.nl.

BBC News: First #MH17 dead to be flown to Netherlands from Ukraine


An Australian Air Force Boeing C-17 is one of the planes assigned to the task of repatriating the bodiesAn Australian Air Force Boeing C-17 is one of the planes assigned to the task of repatriating the bodies

The first bodies recovered from the Malaysia Airlines plane which crashed in Ukraine last week are to be flown to the Netherlands for identification.

A day of mourning is being held to mark the occasion, more than five days after the aircraft was downed in a rebel-held area in eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile US intelligence officials said they believed pro-Russian rebels had shot down the jet by mistake.

But no direct link to Russia itself had been found, they added.

The plane crashed in a rebel-held area after apparently being hit by a missile on 17 July killing all 298 people on board, most of whom were Dutch.

A refrigerated train carriage carrying around 200 bodies from the crash site arrived in the government-held city of Kharkiv on Tuesday.

The operation to find the remaining bodies and secure crucial evidence continues.

Russia has repeatedly said Ukrainian government forces are to blame for the attack, but the US officials said that Russian claims were “not plausible”.

A majority of those who died were Dutch nationalsA majority of those who died were Dutch nationals

National mourning

The first bodies from flight MH17 are due to arrive in Eindhoven at 16:00 local time (14:00 GMT) after a farewell ceremony attended by Ukrainian officials in Kharkiv.

The Dutch royal family and the prime minister Mark Rutte will meet the plane.

The bodies are then due to be taken to the Korporaal van Oudheusden barracks for identification. Mr Rutte said that process could “take weeks or even months”.

The Dutch government has declared Wednesday a day of national mourning.

In a separate process, the aircrafts flight data recorders have been handed over to Dutch authorities by Malaysian officials.

The devices, also known as ‘black boxes’, will be sent to Farnborough in the UK for analysis.


Analysis: Aleem Maqbool, BBC News, Washington

It’s a briefing by US intelligence officials that’s left many scratching their heads.

Since the crash, officials in Washington have been playing up Russia’s involvement in attacking the plane. Secretary of State John Kerry in particular pointed the finger of blame firmly at Moscow and said evidence would be produced very soon. That’s what was expected.

But while senior intelligence officials said Russia had “created the conditions” for the plane’s shooting down, there was, as yet, NO evidence of the direct involvement of the Russian government. They said that while it’s likely separatists brought down the Malaysian Airlines plane… it was by mistake.

So why would the White House want to wind down rhetoric, in the way it appears to many it has? It could be around the difficult question about what to do with Russia if there IS evidence it was directly involved. It is, after all, a country heavily involved in international diplomatic efforts regarding Iran, Syria, and North Korea, and a country a lot of Europe relies on for its gas.

For the White House, the question of how to put enough pressure on President Putin to stop his country backing rebels and undermining Ukraine’s sovereignty, is still, very clearly, a troubling one.


US intelligence officials, speaking anonymously at a press briefing on Tuesday, said the “most plausible explanation” for the shooting down of the plane was that rebels mistook it for another aircraft.

“Five days into it, it does appear to be a mistake,” one of the officials said.

Experts have expressed concern that forensic evidence at the crash site could be lostExperts have expressed concern that forensic evidence at the crash site could be lost.

They went on to say that Russia was responsible for creating the conditions that led to the crash.

“It’s a solid case that it’s a SA-11 that was fired from eastern Ukraine under conditions the Russians helped create,” one official said.

However, there was no direct evidence of direct Russian involvement in the firing of the SA-11 surface-to-air missile believed to have caused the crash, the officials said.

Nor did the US know that the Ukrainian rebels possessed SA-11 missiles until after the plane was shot down, the officials added.

The officials said that their findings were based in part on social media postings and video released in recent days.

Countries directly affected by the disaster, such as the Netherlands, Australia, and the UK, have been concerned that the crash site was not properly sealed off, with the risk that valuable evidence could be put at risk.

Meanwhile, the conflict between Ukrainian government forces and rebels has continued, with reports of fighting round Donetsk and Luhansk.

Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Tuesday the army had captured the strategically important town of Severodonetsk, located some 140km (87 miles) from the key rebel stronghold of Donetsk.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine erupted in April and is believed to have claimed more than 1,000 lives.

Fatal Flight path of flight MH17


BBC News.

EU to widen Russia sanctions #MH17


EU ministers have been meeting in Brussels to discuss tightening sanctions against Russia for backing the rebel separatist fighters blamed for shooting down a Malaysia Airlines plane.

There is widespread anger over the plane crash in eastern Ukraine, in which 298 people died.

A statement after the talks said that the EU would prepare “proposals for taking action, including on access to capital markets, defence, dual-use goods, and sensitive technologies, including in the energy sector”.

Gavin Hewitt reports from Brussels.