Evidence is mounting that pro-Russia rebels were responsible for the crash of Malaysia Airlines MH17 over the east of Ukraine yesterday, which killed all 298 people on board.
As well as now deleted posts on social media that apparently to take responsibility for the tragedy, leaked recordings appear to show rebel fighters talking about the crash, and earlier reports from the weeks leading up to the tragedy. The plane is believed to have been shot down by a surface-to-air missile, though both the Ukrainians and the Russians are blaming each other for the disaster.
In the face of damning evidence that Ukrainian pro-Russia militias had downed the jets, President Vladimir Putin and Russian media said that it was both the direct, and the indirect, fault of the Ukrainians.
The Boeing 777 was travelling on almost the same route as Putin’s jet, Interfax news agency claimed, hinting that it had been a Ukrainian assassination attempt.
Putin said at a press conference that "the state over whose territory it happened bears responsibility for this terrible tragedy,” though he did not specifically deny that pro-Russia rebels had shot the missile.
“This tragedy would not have happened if there was peace on this land, if military action in the southeast of Ukraine had not been resumed,” Putin continued.
But that changes little about the facts on the ground, and there at least six damning reasons why the Ukrainian rebels could be to blame:
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Commander and self-proclaimed minister of defence of so the called 'Donetsk People's Republic' Igor Girkin was reported to have claimed credit for shooting down MH17
, posting a boast on the VK social media site, which was later removed. It appears to have mistaken the plane for a Ukrainian army plane.
“The plane has just been taken down somewhere around Torez," he wrote. "It lays there behind the Progress mine. We did warn you – do not fly in ‘our sky'."
Ukraine's security services released three intercepted phone calls purportedly involving rebel fighters, where they appear to admit downing the jet. In one, a commander called Igor Bezler says: "We have just shot down a plane." Another, codenamed Major, says he can see no weapons: "Absolutely nothing. Civilian items, medicinal stuff, towels, toilet paper: In the third phone, Cossack commander Nikolay Kozitsin is heard to say of the plane: "They were carrying spies. They shouldn’t be fucking flying. There is a war going on."
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Armed with shoulder-missiles, the separatists have been taking down Ukrainian military jets since June
. On June 13, a Ukrainian transport plane carrying 40 paratroopers and nine crew members was downed by rebel missiles. Pro-Russian rebels claimed responsibility for shooting down two Ukrainian Su-25 fighters on Wednesday, one was purportedly hit by a surface-to-air missile.
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Shashank Joshi, a Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute wrote in the Telegraph
: "Separatist, pro-Russian rebels do not have aircraft. Therefore it is unlikely, though not beyond doubt, that the Ukrainian military would be trying to shoot down aircraft."
Ukraine did shoot down a Russian airliner in 2001. It crashed into the Black Sea, killing all 78 passengers and crew because of what the country's security council said was "an accidental hit from an S-200 rocket fired during exercises"." It took eight days for Ukraine to accept responsibility.
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A reporter for the Associated Press reported seeing a Buk missile, the kind believed to have taken down the flight, at Snizhne, a city in eastern Ukraine within the Donetsk Oblast. It would take around half an hour to reach the site of the crash from Snizhe. The reporter "observed a Buk missile system, which can fire missiles up to an altitude of 22,000 meters (72,000 feet)," the report says.
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On June 29, the Donetsk People’s Republic seized control of a Ukrainian anti-air military installation, RIA Novosti reported.
"The forces of Donetsk People’s Republic assumed control of A-1402 military base," the militia's representative is quoted as saying, adding that the facility is equipped with Buk mobile surface-to-air missile systems. DPR "prime minister" Alexander Borodai yesterday denied having a Buk missile
, though he added "unfotunately" because it was something the rebels desired. Speaking to Kommersant FM and blaming the Ukrainian army, the rebel leader added: “We only have artillery that can hit a target at 2,500 meters.”