The Asian Voice

Seeking the truth about MH17: The Star columnist

In his commentary, the writer says it could be a mistake to blame Russia and says more information might be revealed in a documentary on the missing plane, to be released next month.

An armed pro-Russian separatist stands on part of the wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 plane after it crashed near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, on July 17, 2014.
An armed pro-Russian separatist stands on part of the wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 plane after it crashed near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, on July 17, 2014.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - It has been almost five years since MH17 was shot down but the truth about who was responsible for the despicable mass murder remains unknown.

The Boeing 777-200ER jetliner, which had left Amsterdam for Kuala Lumpur, was shot at 4.20pm on July 17, 2014, while flying at 10,060m over the east of Ukraine's Donetsk region.

All 298 people on board were killed - 43 Malaysians (including 15 crew members), 193 Dutch, 27 Australians and 35 citizens of seven other countries.

Even before the formation of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), the narrative had been fixed: Russia is to be blamed.

Three weeks after the disaster, the four countries in the JIT signed a secret non-disclosure agreement to ensure consensus among themselves before any information on the investigation is released.

One obvious question was ignored by the global media.

Why was Ukraine, a party involved in a conflict with separatist rebels and as such should have been rightly regarded as a suspect, be included in the investigation?

If Ukraine was included, why not Russia?


And why was Malaysia, the owner of the plane, left out of the initial "state responsibility" meeting and the non-disclosure pact?

Malaysia was only invited to join the JIT much later, and that too as part of the technical study team but not the criminal investigation.

Ironically, our aviation disaster experts were the first on the ground and Malaysia initiated the move to recover the black boxes of the wrecked plane by contacting separatists in the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR).

Malaysia also arranged for the remains of the victims to be taken by a train with a refrigeration system before they were flown to the Netherlands.

Former US president Barack Obama, whose administration foisted the coup against the democratically elected pro-Russian ex-Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, set the script for Russia's culpability.

"Evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile launched from an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists inside of Ukraine," he said.

That allegation was used as the justification for the sanctions imposed on Russia by the US and the European Union on July 29, 2014.

The story on Russia's liability has not changed much from then to now.

Despite the unanswered questions and inconsistencies, any alternate views to the US' and its Nato allies' version of what happened are immediately rejected without rational consideration as "fake" or "manipulations" or dismissed as "conspiracy theories".

In 2016, the JIT stated that the Buk Telar (transporter erector launcher and radar)missile system involved in the MH17 tragedy crossed the Russian border into eastern Ukraine and returned after the plane was shot down.

However, instead of hard data (such as primary radar evidence, clear photographs or satellite images of the actual shooting), the claim was only backed by computer animation and a blurry amateur video.

On May 24 last year, the criminal investigation team concluded that the Buk Telar that shot down MH17 was from the 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade from Kursk in Russia, adding that it had "legal and convincing evidence that stands up in a courtroom".

The supposed "smoking gun" were the serial numbers found on missile fragments.

The JIT displayed the numbers and appealed for information on further evidence of the missile's origin and the location where it was fired at MH17.

But four months later, Russia's Defence Ministry said based on the numbers on the fragments, it was made in a military plant near Moscow in December 1986, when Russia and Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union.

The missile was sent to an air defence unit in Ukraine by train later that month and it was there until 1992, when the unit was renamed the 223rd missile brigade of the Ukrainian army.

That unit was in action in eastern Ukraine, where the JIT said it was fired.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has since effectively shattered the supposedly conclusive narrative that Russia is guilty.

He said those pointing fingers were only "scapegoating the country for political reasons".

"You need strong evidence to show it was fired by the Russians. It could be by the rebels. It could be the Ukrainian government because it too has the same missile," he said during a dialogue and media conference with the Japanese Foreign Correspondent Club in Tokyo, Japan, on May 30.

Noting that there had been a deliberate attempt from the beginning to blame Russia, he questioned why Malaysia was not allowed to be part of the criminal investigation and not even allowed to check the black boxes.

More of what he has to say is expected to be revealed in a new documentary MH 17 - Five Years On, produced by Dutch MH17 investigator Vander Werff and Russian filmmaker Yana Yerlashova.

It is expected to be released next month.

In a preview released last week, Dr Mahathir was recorded as saying: "They never allowed us to be involved from the very beginning. This is unfair and unusual. So, we can see they are not really looking at the causes of the crash and who was responsible.

"But already they have decided it must be Russia. So, we cannot accept that kind of attitude. We are interested in the rule of law, in justice for everyone irrespective of who is involved.

"We have to know who actually fired the missile, and only then can we accept the report as the complete truth."

The writer is a regular commentator with The Star. The Star is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.