HOW TO FIX UKRAINE

  • Hold a plebiscite throughout the territory of the former Ukrainian SSR (yes that includes Crimea – we’re trying to make a settlement that everyone agrees with and there’s no doubt how that would turn out).
  • Said plebiscite to be monitored by countries with no dog in the fight: say China, India and a South America one. Get the UN to bless the results in advance.
  • Question for Round 1
    • Do you want to be part of Russia?
    • Do you want to be part of Ukraine?
    • Do you want to be independent?
  • Re-design the borders to accommodate results of votes as much as possible.
  • Generous financial assistance to those who want to move from one area to another. Paid for by the USA and the EU who, after all, blew up the old Ukraine.
  • In five years as Rump Ukraine gets worse off, repeat plebiscite with one additional question
    • Do you want to be part of a neighbouring country? If so, which one?
  • Repeat in another five years and keep repeating until everyone is where he wants to be.
  • Make sure you have tight border controls around Rump Ukraine to keep the nazis in.

What are the chances of this happening? Well, given that Trump is a new phenomenon, you can’t say it’s absolutely zero.

What happens if this isn’t done? The same thing eventually but after a lot more suffering and a lot more time.

Is this a precedent? Yes, what’s wrong with that?

Why Russia Hasn’t and Won’t Invade Ukraine

These pieces are papers that I believe to be still relevant; they were published earlier elsewhere under a pseudonym. They have been very slightly edited and hyperlinks have been checked. NOTE 2017: I originally wrote this in November 2014. Breedlove has come and gone but a new American general is apparently believing that there are thousands of Russian soldiers in Eastern Ukraine. So this is apposite again.

https://orientalreview.org/2017/09/11/russia-hasnt-wont-invade-ukraine/

Here we go again. NATO is again – how many times does that make it? – echoing Kiev and saying that Russia has invaded Ukraine. Or so says NATO’s General Breedlove. “‘Across the last two days we have seen the same thing that O.S.C.E. is reporting,’ General Breedlove said at a news conference in Sofia, Bulgaria. ‘We have seen columns of Russian equipment, primarily Russian tanks, Russian artillery, Russian air defence systems and Russian combat troops entering into Ukraine.’” Well, here are the OSCE reports, read then and see whether you think Breedlove is telling the truth: columns moving around in east Ukraine, yes; crossing the border, no. Meanwhile, back at the Pentagon, the official spokesman has no “independent operational reporting that tells me that they have crossed the border”. But NATO has its own reality.

So has Russia invaded Ukraine? Of course, that all depends on your definition of “is” is, or some similar piece of deceptive hair-splitting, doesn’t it? But, for most people, “invasion” means regular troops and equipment crossing the border and staying there. Is Moscow aiding the rebels in the east? Probably. But that’s not what’s being claimed.

The neatest way to respond to these endless frothings is this:

If Russia had invaded, you wouldn’t have to ask; if you have to ask, it hasn’t.

It would have happened quickly and be plain for all to see. A thousand soldiers, a dozen or two tanks is not how it would have happened: it would have been big, it would have been sudden and it would have been over quickly. There would be no need for grainy satellite photos of combine harvesters or whatever they were; no need for reporters who forgot their cell phones saying they saw something: there would be Russian soldiers at the Dnepr certainly and maybe in Kiev or Lviv; Russian soldiers, guns, helicopters, tanks and aircraft all over the place. (Interesting to speculate, as it gets colder and armed thugs throw their weight around, how Russian troops would be received in Kiev today, isn’t it? But we’ll probably never know).

Or at least the first part would have been over quickly. Just like the US invasion of Iraq. Getting to the Dnepr, Kiev or Lviv would have been easy, but once there, the Russians would have found themselves surrounded by people who didn’t want them to be there. And that, as the Americans found out in Iraq, is quite a different thing. If one were to take a horizontal slice of Ukraine from east to west and ask the inhabitants to rate the presence of Russian soldiers in their neighbourhood from one to ten, one would get an answer ranging from ten in the far east to minus ten in the far west: flowers in the east, bullets in the west.

Russian troops in the centre and west would find themselves opposed by people who had had military training in the Soviet or Ukrainian Armed Forces, many of whom had military experience in Afghanistan. In other words, Russian invaders would be met with exactly the same response that western Ukrainian invaders found in the east.

Crimea was different: there it was all flowers, all the way and the borders are clear, distinct and obvious. Not at all the same in the rest of Ukraine. (NOTE 2017: And the Russian troops were already there, a point that Western accounts usually glide over.)

Yes, the Russian Army could get to the western border in a week or two without much difficulty but it wouldn’t be able to stay there.

So that’s why Moscow hasn’t and won’t “invade Ukraine”: it doesn’t want to find itself bogged down in months or years of ambushes, IEDs and all that. And then probably have to leave at the end, anyway. Moscow has watched the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, of course, it remembers its own experience in Afghanistan. Huge cost for a trivial and momentary gain.

The same reason, come to think of it, why Moscow, with its alleged desire to rebuild the empire or whatever, didn’t put Georgia into the bag in 2008. And why it won’t invade Estonia either. It could do it, but it wouldn’t be worth it.

Afterword: All this is predicated on the West confining its support to the discreet provision of training and weapons (something that Breedlove and the others don’t talk about much – the projection in this whole affair is enormous). Should NATO forces enter Ukraine and move east, then all bets are off.

MH17 For Dummies

According to this source, the US intelligence budget for 2014 was 67.9 billion US dollars. That’s about 130,000 kilometres of $100 bills laid end to end or about three times around the world at the equator. Which is quite a lot of money, even if a lot goes to administration, overhead and the like.

So, you’d think that if an airliner was shot down over an area that was being closely watched, all this money would have bought quite a lot of information.

And, US Secretary of State John Kerry said it did and here he is saying it: “we observed it” (1.15)

But, two years later we still await the US intelligence evidence.

Instead we have

Well common sense would suggest that, if we haven’t heard about the other stuff then

  • it isn’t there or
  • it contradicts what Washington has been saying.

QED. It’s not that complicated.

 

A Common Delusion, Ukrainian Version

Note: I believe that it was very commonly assumed in the USSR that the Russian SFSR was exploiting all the other union republics. As a consequence, most of the post-Soviet leaders expected their new countries to immediately become wealthier. But, the reverse was true: in fact the RSFSR was subsidising the others thanks to its energy reserves.

…like everyone else, I believed that Ukraine is so rich that it provided for the entire [Soviet] Union. It turned out that it is, in fact, rich. However, was it really a provider?

Leonid Kuchma, then PM of Ukraine and later President, Holos Ukrayiny, Kiev, 4 November 1993

UKRAINIAN CIVIL WAR: WHERE THE REBELS GET THEIR WEAPONS, HOW THEY USE THEM AND WHAT THEIR MOST EFFECTIVE ARE.

(First published at Sic Semper Tyrannis under the pseudonym Shellback. They were first published in Russia Insider, respectively here, here and here)

Where they get their weapons

Especially as the shattering scale of destruction becomes apparent – Poroshenko says that Ukraine lost two-thirds of its military equipment (just one video of dozens) – Westerners who have been misled by the propagandist character of their media outlets are ready to believe that Russia must have been supplying the rebels with weapons and ammunition. While it is likely that some stuff crossed the border, there is another source that few Westerners are aware of.

What most Western commentators do not understand is that the USSR was preparing to fight World War II all over again with huge armies fleshed out with millions of conscripts and reservists. Millions of soldiers need immense quantities of weapons and ammunition and they need them to be ready and waiting for them as they are mobilized Consequently there were arms dumps all over the western USSR. Most of these sites were named as the headquarters of a division which had a skeleton staff in peacetime but would receive a flood of reservists who would find everything they needed to go to war with waiting for them.

The Soviets divided their formations into 3 categories. As far as I can remember after thirty years, Cat I were fully manned, equipped and ready to go; Cat II were partly manned but fully equipped and Cat III were at much lower levels. The idea being that Cat I formations were ready to go immediately (when the Wall came down I remember learning that the units in East Germany were on 48 hours notice to move. A stance, by the way, that indicated they were not intending to attack; and since NATO wasn’t either, that’s probably why we’re all still here). The Cat II formations would be ready to go in a week or so, while the CAT III formations would take a few months.

The whole Soviet system was based on waves of attackers (echelons) attacking, one after another, seeking out the weak spots; reinforcing success. So the Cat I formations in, say, the DDR and Polish PR assumed support from Cat II formations in their rear, in the Belarussian SSR and Ukrainian SSR and so on; behind that were the reserves of Cat III divs in the RSFSR etc.

When the whole thing stopped, this system was torn apart. Russia assumed responsibility for the stuff in the Warsaw Pact countries and Ukraine, for example, nationalized what was in its territory. As to the forward-based Cat I formations, Russia wound up responsible for the equipment and moving it to Russia, as to the personnel, the conscripts went home and the various nationalities went to their own countries. In short, almost overnight a tank division all ready to go would be turned unto an understaffed pile of equipment waiting to be quickly moved into Russia. I don’t think there were any Cat I formations in the Belarussian SSR and Ukrainian SSR; I think I remember that they were all Cat II there. These movements were accomplished quite quickly and the whole carefully constructed arrangement was destroyed. I used to explain what had happened with the analogy that Russia had got the spear head and Ukraine and Belarus had got the spear shaft; neither being much use without the other. But the enormous supply dumps necessary to bring Cat II divisions up to Cat I would have remained in Ukraine (and Belarus).

For some years Russia pretended that sites on its territory were actual divisions (I was in regular contact with our CFE and Vienna Document inspectors through this time) but the only things inspectors would ever find when they went to inspect the location of an so-called motorized rifle or tank division in the 1990s were fields of poorly maintained AFVs, officers and no troops. (We used to speculate that the secret that the Russians were guarding was that they had no soldiers – oh, they’re all out on a training exercise; oh yeah, with no officers and no equipment? But, as the CFE Treaty only covered equipment and the Russians were completely open about that, there was no problem.) Incidentally, training was impossible: I remember a Russian woman telling me that her brother was a company commander – he had two soldiers in his company! “Empty formations” was the expression used.

Then, suddenly one summer (I can’t remember the year: some time between the two wars in Chechnya), we received a blizzard of notifications (as required under the CFE Treaty) each saying something like “remove the xth MR Div from the list; enter the zth Storage Base at the same location”. When all this was completed, there was a much smaller number of divisions (which were gradually being transformed into independent brigade groups) and many storage bases. After thinking about it, we decided that the storage base idea was an attempt to provide employment in lieu of pensions for surplus officers. (In meetings at this time, the Russian military were always telling us that they simply could not afford the pension and housing obligations for the hundreds of thousands of unnecessary officers. Other ranks were easy to reduce, of course: as they’re conscripts, they can just be sent home early). These changes also recognized the reality that the old Soviet formations had gone forever.

Things began to change after this. I well remember one of the inspectors returning from an inspection of a brigade at Buynaksk in 1998 or 1999 quite excited: here, at last, was a complete formation with all the necessary equipment and men and (very significantly) a commander who commanded the whole thing. No more pretending that a handful of listless officers and field full of equipment would some day magically fill up with conscripts and become a real division. This process seems to have started in the North Caucasus and is one of the several reasons for the much improved Russian performance in the second Chechnya war.

So at the end of this process the Russian Army 1. had the beginnings of a rational structure (brigade groups) 2. had abandoned the fantasy that it was a huge multi-division army with a temporary manpower problem 3. pseudo-divisions with insecure storage of weapons manned by dispirited officers were transformed into something more secure and purposeful and the process of disposing of obsolete and insecure weaponry could begin. With money and a stable government since 2000, other improvements have been made as well.

Nothing like this happened in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. So one can expect the territory of Ukraine to be littered with piles of poorly guarded weaponry and “empty formations”. A Russian official recently confirmed this when he said: “

When the USSR collapsed, the Ukrainian territory was replete with millions of guns, mines, artillery systems and other weapons. The area where the combat activities are held today, where Kiev leads its punitive operation, is no exception

Slavyansk, in particular, is said to have a particularly large dump in an old mine.

In short, the Ukrainian Armed Forces are in the sorry state the Russian Armed Forces were in the 1990s but with another decade and a half of neglect. Much of this decayed equipment doesn’t work any more, but, if you cannibalize 100 tanks and get 10 runners, that’s a lot better than nothing. And, it should be remembered, the Donbass is full of mechanics, technicians, artificers and so forth. To say nothing of plenty of people who through conscription and the Afghan war, know how to operate them. Most of the weapons used in east Ukraine are from Afghan war vintage; the BM-21 Grad, arguably the most important weapon in the rebels’ arsenal and responsible for fearsome destruction, for example, has been around since the 60s. And finally, a characteristic of a lot of Soviet equipment was that it was easy to operate and very very rugged. (Remember that these guys actually got a T-34 that had spent the last 50 years sitting on a concrete slab in the rain and snow up and running: all the points illustrated at once!)

The other thing I recall that we learned when it was all over, was that, in contrast to the Western style of having dumps in floodlit spaces surrounded by fences, barbed wire, armed patrols and so on, making the site very noticeable but strongly protected, the Soviet style was to have something much more discreet in an out-of-the-way place and rely more on silence to secure it (an old mine, of which there are many in the Donbass, would be ideal). Given that the USSR military headquarters was in Moscow, it is quite possible that the Kiev government doesn’t even know where many of these dumps are. One service that Moscow could be providing is to tell the rebels where to look.

So, I have no difficulty seeing the rebels coming across (or being directed to) a dump and getting weaponry and ammunition; they have people who can get it working again and plenty of ex-Soviet Army veterans to make them work. On top of that is the equipment captured when Ukrainian conscripts abandon positions (quite a lot – this site attempts to make a photographic record) and a few things bought or bribed. So far all they would have needed from Moscow is maybe some command and control equipment and target acquisition services.

So Ukraine’s military problem today is that it has the two-decades decayed remnants of what was originally planned to be a first line of support for the best and most ready elements; never to be a stand alone force. And during this time Kiev has starved this remnant and sold off the best stuff abroad (Georgia got a lot from Ukraine). So, the rebels and the Kiev forces are much more evenly matched than would be the normal case in a rebellion against the center They are both learning on the job, but the rebels have much more motivation while Kiev has a larger stock of weaponry on which to draw.

Thus the rebels are doing better faster than would normally be expected and have a good stock of weapons and ammunition. This is one of the reasons why so many in the West believe that Russia must be helping them.

Cords and Cauldrons: How Good Little Guys Beat Bad Big Guys

Many in the West probably wonder how the the Ukrainian rebels can be defeating the Kiev forces without help from Russia. But this has happened many times before; good little guys often beat bad big guys: the Vietnamese beat the Americans, the Israelis beat the Arabs in 1948. But, for our purpose, it’s worth considering how the Finns beat the Soviets in the Winter War.

In 1939 the Soviet Army invaded Finland along the entire border. The Finnish Armed Forces were small and not very mechanized but they were determined and they knew the ground they were fighting on – it was theirs, after all. The Soviet Armed Forces were large, highly mechanized by the standards of the time but poorly led (Stalin had killed or imprisoned the best commanders a year or so before).

So what were the Finns to do? They could surrender, but they were Finns and disinclined to do so. They had two fronts to deal with. The first was in the south in Karelia. Here they understood that there could be no retreat. So they held the “Mannerheim Line” and sent whatever heavy weapons they had there. The Finnish strategy here was the word sisu. The English translation for sisu would be something like “We’re not giving up. Ever. No matter what”. I recommend watching the movie Talvisota to show what this actually meant.

But the Soviets also invaded in the north all along the border. Equipped, we are told, with Swedish-Russian dictionaries for when they got to the other side of Finland. Here the Finns could not spare their limited heavy weapons or manpower; but they could not afford to be defeated here either.

The Finnish word motti means a measure of wood cut for use. The English equivalent would be a cord of wood. The Finns chopped the Soviet invaders into manageable amounts of wood. The terrain was forest and frozen lakes; terrifying to the Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian conscripts but familiar home to the Finns. The Finns made ski routes parallel to the roads the Soviets stuck to. The Finns chopped the Soviet columns into motti with abbatis (felled trees interlaced to make an impenetrable obstacle). The Soviet fragments found themselves in a hostile frozen nightmare with only the food, fuel and ammunition they happened to have with them. Two soldiers get together to have a smoke; an invisible sniper kills one of them. A field kitchen is lighted to give some hot food, an invisible sniper kills the cook, another destroys the stove. Soviet troops make a foray into the woods; they see nothing but on the way back an invisible sniper kills their officer. Soviet divisions simply disappeared, nothing was left but shattered vehicles and frozen corpses. It worked: a small, mobile light force of dedicated infantry who knew the terrain defeated much heavier forces; it wasn’t easy, there was very heavy fighting in places but, in essence, the five or six Soviet divisions that invaded simply disappeared. (I recommend A Frozen Hell by William R Trotter.)

At the time, most “military experts” bet on the Soviets: more tanks, more aircraft, more men and so on. Just as most “military experts” probably bet that Kiev would defeat the rebels.

Much the same thing happened in eastern Ukraine; the favorite word there being “cauldron” or котёл. The principal difference being that you can create motti in forests, but only a котёл in steppe land. I no know better description of how to create one than the Saker’s. But it is very much the same as how to make a motti. Road-bound, poorly commanded heavily mechanized units advance too far and are cut off. Sometimes they can fight their way out but it’s a declining situation if they stay: every day they have less food, fuel, ammunition and water. If they don’t fight their way out, they die or surrender. In Ukraine it’s summer, so at least they don’t freeze to death as thousands of Soviets did in the motti.

So there you have it, that’s how the little guys (but they have to be very brave and very determined) can beat the big guys. We see the same thing in Iraq or Afghanistan, by the way. The difference being that the Iraq or Afghanistan insurgents can’t concentrate because of America air power so they never can create a motti or котёл.

And another similarity, and a very important one, in eastern Ukraine and Finland as well as Vietnam, Afghanistan, Israel in 1948 or Iraq is, to quote James Clapper, the director of national intelligence (USA),  that the attackers don’t “predict the will to fight”. In June Poroshenko was talking about the whole thing being over quickly: “in hours, not weeks”.

As that great military strategist, Muhammed Ali, put it, when you haven’t got the muscle to stand toe to toe, float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. And chop them up into into motti if you get the chance.

The Donbass RebelsSecret Weapons

The two decisive weapons of this war that have given victory to the rebels are the MANPADS (MAN Portable Air Defense System) and the Grad (“hail” in Russian).

Kiev had, at the beginning, complete air superiority; it may not have had very many helicopters and ground-attack fixed wing, but it had all that there were. Against these the rebels had stocks of the SA-7 shoulder-fired missile. Like many Soviet weapons it was modified and improved in incremental steps over its service life since the 1970s and produced in quite large numbers. It has an infra-red guidance system and is shoulder-fired. Like most weapons of this type, it is most effective against aircraft that are actually attacking the firer, ie when the angular momentum of the aircraft is low. According to this site, quoting the Kiev Post, Kiev lost ten helicopters and nine fixed-wing aircraft. The true number is likely higher but the point is that this weapon system effectively nullified the air superiority that the Kiev regime had; they either destroyed the aircraft or forced them to fly higher and faster and therefore be less effective. These weapons made the war into a ground war.

The real destruction of the Kiev forces – Ukraine President Poroshenko says two thirds of Ukraine’s military equipment was lost – was carried out by the BM-21 Grad MLRS. Another weapon system from decades ago, this is a truck with 40 122mm rocket tubes at the rear. Not particularly accurate – it is what is known as an “area weapon” – the fact that all 40 rockets can be fired in 20 seconds means that after a few ranging rounds a terrifying amount of explosive can be delivered very quickly by a few Grads. Here are a lot of them firing at a demonstration. Here are some videos from the fighting in Ukraine. Grads firing at night – we see the ranging rounds and then the full salvo from two. Hits nearby. This is what remains after a strike.

There are dozens of videos showing the destruction of Kiev forces trapped in a “cauldron” or котёл by Grads. As I said in another essay, the bulk of the rebel forces were men who knew the area: the back roads, where this forest trail comes out, where that hill is and how to get there without being seen. The Kiev forces did not know the area and had ludicrously inadequate maps (one report spoke of maps from the 1920s) and bad information; thanks to their reliance on heavy equipment they stuck to the main roads. Their commanders were spectacularly incompetent, they themselves were either either poorly motivated untrained forced conscripts unwilling to advance or gung-ho “volunteer” forces, pumped up with warrior fantasies, who charged down the road and got trapped. In either case, there would be periods of being stopped, all jammed together when the mobile rebel spotter forces would call in the target. A few adjustment rounds, then a hundred or more rockets. This is what would happen, over and over and over again. All done by discreet spotter teams and a few Grads within twenty kms or so.

Conclusion

Therefore, there is no particular reason to assume any large-scale Russian military assistance here. Dedicated people fighting for their homeland, on their homeland, have beaten many a bad invader. Add to this the military training left over from the Soviet days, the weapons stockpiled in the area against a future huge war, mechanical ability and the incompetence of the invader, it is not surprising that they have held their ground.

 

Fracking, Slavyansk and War

Many people blame Strelkov/Girkin for the outbreak of serious fighting in the Donbass. I believe it is important to see the sequence of events. Chronology is always worth keeping in mind: it’s not necessarily cause and effect but it usually points to it.

*****************************************************

So, if I had heard that I was being called a “terrorist”, with all that that means these days, by some people who had pulled off a coup and driven out the people I’d elected, whose first action is to try and ban my language,  if I’d heard about the Korsun attack, if I got wind that a large company with foreign involvement might want to strip mine my place and move everybody out of the way, if I was already mistrustful of the new regime in Kiev, maybe I’d get some guns too.

Let’s Sanction Those Pesky Russians

Kiev’s envoy at the Trilateral Contact Group Leonid Kuchma says it is impossible to talk about elections or constitutional changes in Eastern Ukraine without resuming control over the Ukraine-Russian Federation border.

Here’s the text of the Minsk II agreement. (My italics) “9. Restore control of the state border to the Ukrainian government in the whole conflict zone, which has to start on the first day after the local election and end after the full political regulation (local elections in particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts based on the law of Ukraine and Constitutional reform) by the end of 2015, on the condition of fulfillment of Point 11 – in consultations and in agreement with representatives of particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts within the framework of the Trilateral Contact Group.”

Let’s blame the Russians for not sticking to the Minsk Agreement, shall we?

Malaysia left out of MH17 Inquiry

http://russia-insider.com/en/malaysia-left-out-mh17-inquiry/ri10711

“We could not view the aircraft and were not invited to attend certain meetings.”

The DSB report on MH17 is looking shabbier and shabbier. The latest is this from The New Straits Times Online of 24 October. When we add this to all the other omissions – radar data, Russian evidence of aircraft, damage to port wing and engine, the trivial number of lethal fragments – I realise that I was wrong to call it a “limited hangout“. It’s an incompetent limited hangout.

Responding to points made in the DSB final report on the incident, which stated that Malaysia did not extend its full cooperation in the initial stage of the investigation, Deputy Transport Minister Datuk Abdul Aziz Kaprawi said this was because Malaysia’s role was not honoured as it denied full access and privileges to the probe. He said the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) was not made a full member in the joint investigation and unlike other members, Malaysian representatives were only granted limited access. “We were the owner of the aircraft. How can we be prevented full access? “We could not view the aircraft and were not invited to attend certain meetings.” “In the end, we cooperated when they gave us full access after acknowledging our role. It even says so in the news report,” said Abdul Aziz, referring to a recent foreign news article alleging Malaysia’s initial reluctance to cooperate.

MH17 Final report is Not a Final Report; It’s Just a Limited Hangout: It tells as much of the truth as it has to. But no more.

http://russia-insider.com/en/mh17-final-report-not-final-report-its-just-limited-hangout/ri10575

JRL2015/2013/32

http://uk.makemefeed.com/2015/10/19/mh17-final-report-is-not-a-final-report-its-just-a-limited-hangout-patrick-armstrong-258969.html

http://ian56.blogspot.ca/2014/12/the-truth-about-mh17-is-beginning-to.html

http://protiproud.parlamentnilisty.cz/politika/2014-dukladny-rozbor-zpravy-o-mh17-pripad-kontrolovaneho-uniku-ktery-ma-zakryt-zjisteni-pravdy-nahodou-osleply-vsechny-radary-co-a-proc-vynechali-holandsti-vysetrovatele.htm

“Limited hangout” is spy jargon for a partial admission of the truth to attempt to control the exposure of a clandestine operation. The hope is that the partial truth will satisfy the questioners and they will look no further. The phrase came into popular awareness during the Watergate scandal in 1973 as the cover story unravelled. The Dutch Safety Board report on the MH17 disaster is an example. It’s a partial statement: something very important is left out; but it is not completely left out because there may be a later need for “reconsideration”.

The sources and abbreviations I use are below.

  • Russian MoD briefing July 2014 (MoD) (English)
  • Dutch Safety Board Final Report October 2015 Video (DSBV) Text (DSBT)
  • Almaz-Antey First Report June 2015 (AA1) (Video) (Almaz-Antey is the manufacturer of the Buk family of SAM systems which has been in service in many countries since 1979. Over the years, as is common with evolutionary Soviet and Russian weapons systems, there have been several different rockets and warhead designs.)
  • Almaz-Antey Second Report October 2015 (AA2) (Slideshow in English)

In August I published a piece at RI named “Questions a Real MH17 Report Would Answer“. The DSB report fails my test but it fails it in an interesting way: in a limited hangout way, in fact. I said there were four vital points that must be addressed:

  1. The “black boxes” will tell us where MH17 was when it was hit, what direction it was going in, what speed it was travelling.
  2. Analysis of the damage pattern of the wreckage will show where the missile was when it detonated.
  3. Backtracking from that point will show from where it was launched.
  4. Lethal fragments will show what weapon hit it.

The report deals with 1 satisfactorily, there is a question about 4 but it is in its answer to numbers 2 and 3 that we see the limited hangout.

The report was delivered by its Chairman, Tjibbe Joustra, [quondam the Netherlands’ National Antiterrorism Coordinator – is that significant? You decide, Dear Reader – and Chairman of the DSB since February 2011] who stated that it was not the DSB’s job to assign blame. The DSB’s conclusion was that MH17 was brought down by the explosion of 9N314M warhead as carried on 9M38 series Buk surface-to-air missile (SAM) (DSBT-9); other scenarios were considered, analysed and excluded. It offers an area from which it believes the missile was launched.

The Flight Data Recorder (both “black boxes” were in good shape) showed MH17 flying at 33,000 ft heading 115° at 293 kts (542kph). The recording stopped at 13.20:03 UTC at 48.12715N 38.52630538E (DSBT-47).

I begin with my principal conclusion that the DSB report is a “limited hangout”.

By ignoring the damage to the port wing and port engine, the Board was able to shift the approach route of the missile away from Kiev-held territory south of MH17’s route to rebel-held territory in the south-east.

The importance of leaving out the wing and engine

The Dutch Safety Board did not take into account the damage to the port wing and the port engine (see below). While it did provide a photo of the damaged port engine intake ring at DSBT-50, there is no other discussion of damage to the engine and I believe that the inclusion of the photo provides the DSB with an “out” should there be a need for a later “reconsideration” of the evidence. To summarise (see below): the DSB established a point at which the detonation occurred; the DSB understood the blast pattern of the warhead (DSBT-130 but see a better representation at AA2-35). But it ignored the fact that the existence of damage to the port wing and port engine proves that the missile had to have come from the side of MH17 and not from in front of it. That is the key point: everything up to that point in the analysis of the destruction of MH17 (leaving aside the rather small number of “bow-ties” – see below) is closely reasoned. The sleight of hand occurs when the wing and engine are forgotten. Concentrating only on the damage to the cockpit allows the path of the missile to be twisted from the south to the south-west as is required by the “rebels did it theory”. A launch point from the south rules that possibility out.

This is illustrated at AA2-21. Both Almaz-Antey reports calculated the firing point as being near Zaroshchenskoye while the DSB calculates it as being near Snezhnoye. AA2-21 shows a damage comparison: a Buk fired from Zaroshchenskoye damages the port wing and port engine, a Buk fired from Snezhnoye does not. The damage to the cockpit is similar in each scenario.

Because the damage to the port wing and port engine was ignored by the DSB report, they were able to make the approach line of the missile closer to the direction MH17 was heading, which allowed them to calculate the launch point so as to include rebel-held territory. Had they included the port wing and port engine damage, they would have been forced to accept a launch point farther south into Kiev-held territory.

In short, they told as much truth as they could without compromising the required answer. A “limited hangout” indeed.

But there are some other – less significant, to be sure – points that should be considered.

Missing Radar Data

The first point worthy of attention is the radar data or, rather, its absence. We are told that “The Ukrainian civil primary radar stations in the area were not functioning at the time of the crash due to scheduled maintenance. The military primary radar stations were also not operational. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defence stated that this system was not operational, because there were no Ukrainian military aircraft in the sector through which flight MH17 flew” (DSBT-38). NATO had an AWACS aircraft in the air but that said MH17 was out of its range (DSBT-44). Thus only limited radar information was available from Ukraine and nothing from NATO.

This is not believable. Ignoring the “scheduled maintenance” stuff, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence statement that there were no military aircraft in the area is contradicted when DSBT-185 informs us that Kiev claimed that a military aircraft was fired at in the Donetsk area on that very day. That is less than 40 kms away from MH17. As to NATO, it is absurd to think that NATO had an AWACS aircraft up that was not looking at the fighting area. The DSB accepts these statements without comment.

Russia also provided limited radar information because, it said, as the crash occurred outside of Russian territory, it did not record the primary data (DSBT-42). The report spends some time chiding Russia for this.

Flight Path

Another of the points that I made in my RI piece was the change in the flight path as recorded in the FlightAware website. No mention whatsoever is made of that in the DSB report. I did notice, however, that the flight plan as shown at DSBT-212 shows a slight turn to the left at the Germany-Poland border and a slight turn to the right at the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan border. If we remove this slight deviation, we have a straight line flight path that goes over the Sea of Azov as the earlier routes did before they were changed on FlightAware.

I still believe that this is a point that has been insufficiently discussed and I remind readers of the screen shots taken of the FlightAware tracks showing previous routes well south of the track taken that day by MH17 shown here and here. I remember noticing the change at the time and thinking that the flight path of 17 July was the first question that had to be answered. Again, the DSB makes no mention of any other routes taken by this daily flight.

Fighter planes

As to the fighter plane story the flat statement is made that there are no aircraft shown on the Ukrainian radar tracks except MH17 and two other commercial flights (DSBT-114). No mention whatsoever is made of the Russian presentation (MoD 9th illustration) that showed a fighter plane close to MH17. (But note the careful statement that there is nothing on the Ukrainian radar tracks. Perhaps the DSB is leaving space for a later “reconsideration”.) The report rules out cannon fire because 1) there are too many holes in the fuselage for a limited number of cannon rounds; 2) the presence of “bow-tie” fragments (see below); 3) there were no military aircraft in the area (DSBT-126). It returns to the issue at DSB-131 where it argues that all penetrations of MH17 came from a single point.

Personally I do not find this very convincing and I do not believe that the presence of a fighter as well as a SAM is excluded, although it is clear that the SAM was sufficient to bring the plane down and kill the cockpit crew. But the DSB ought to have said something about the Russian statement that there was a fighter plane nearby. And certainly there are many holes in the wreckage that look as if they may be caused by cannon fire. And then there are the numerous claimed eyewitness statements of fighters in the area. All this should have been discussed and, if rejected, rejected with serious arguments and evidence.

The reconstruction and the damage

We now come to an analysis of the reconstructed aircraft. Or – and this is a point of great significance – the partly reconstructed aircraft. DSBV gives a good view of the reconstruction at 22:44. We see that the cockpit and part of the lower forward passenger section is all that has been constructed. Missing are the port wing and port engine. This is the key to the limited hangout.

DSBT-55 begins a long section detailing what parts were recovered and from where they were recovered. Everything is accounted for except – an important exception – missile parts consistent with an Buk 9M38 missile (DSBT-80). No location is given for them and there is no chain of custody given. Are these the parts reported to have been found only as late as August 2015? We are merely informed they were found “in the wreckage area”. Photographs appear at DSBT-82.

A long section analyses the sounds from the Cockpit Voice Recorder and establishes a source outside the the upper port side of the cockpit (DSBT-112) This is assumed to be the location of the centre of the explosion. This location is verified by analysing the holes (DSBT-124). All this is perfectly convincing.

About 75 fragments were found in the human remains. Some of these are argued to have come from outside through the aircraft skin; some photos at DSBT-89. Two of these (three?) are claimed to be “bow-tie” shaped (DSBT-92). These two – or is it three or four? – “bow-tie” shaped fragments are conclusive as far as the DSB is concerned: their assertion that it was a Buk warhead type 9N314M completely depends on these two or three or four fragments. John Helmer has argued that there is a suspicious amount of secrecy and national security about these vital pieces.

This is a point of contention with Almaz-Antey’s reports which maintain that the Buk used did not have a “bow-tie” warhead. AA2, which used a static test of a Buk with “bow-tie” (Almaz-Antey calls them “I-beam”) shaped particles in its warhead, argues that the resulting destruction pattern shows bow-tie/I-beam shaped holes (AA2-27) (which DSBT does not) and many more bow-tie/I-beam fragments – there are more than 2000 in that particular warhead design – in the wreckage than two or four. From this Almaz-Antey concludes that the warhead used was not the 9N314M (which has bow-ties/I-beams) but the B9N314 which does not. Their point is that this is the type of Buk in Ukrainian service but no longer in Russian service.

Launch point of missile.

DSBT-144 gives the estimated launch point for the Buk. It chooses a rather large area to the east of Torez more-or-less in front of MH17. In that area is a smaller one it claims to have been provided by Almaz-Antey and a still smaller one provided by the Kiev authorities. Therefore a missile fired from any of these positions would have been approximately head-on to MH17 (from directly head-on to about 30°). This is one thing to which I will return, but I must say I do not understand what the DSB is talking about when it includes an Almaz-Antey estimate of the launch point in this area: neither Almaz-Antey presentation gives an origin in that area. As we saw above, Almaz-Antey gives an estimated firing point that would place the missile launch point much more to the right of MH17 – at roughly 60° from its course. Which brings us back to the key point: ignoring the damage to the port wing and port engine allows the DSB to make the missile track more to the front of MH17’s course. Such an origin is impossible if the damage to the wing and engine are taken into account. The DSB report elides the issue altogether but does provide an “out” by showing a photo of the engine damage.

Conclusion

There are a number of questions that can be raised about the report: the lack of primary radar data from Ukraine and NATO is just not believable and the authors should not have blandly accepted it: there were Ukrainian fighters in the air and no one should possibly believe that NATO assets weren’t watching the area.

The report airily ignores the Russian MoD claim of a fighter plane near MH17 (although leaves itself an out by saying the Ukrainian data showed nothing).

The “flight route question” is completely unaddressed.

Too much hangs on the very small number of bow-tie/I-beam pieces.

By the main thing is that, because it has ignored the damage to the port wing and port engine (although leaving a photo of the latter in the report so as to provide an out), it is able to shift the approach line of the missile away from Kiev-held territory to the south of MH17’s route to rebel-held territory in the south-east.

So what happened?

I agree that we will probably not know until the regime in Kiev collapses or some Edward Snowden reveals something. (Although, as it now appears that the Kiev regime is actually questioning the official “heavenly hundred” sniper story, discussed here by Gordon Hahn, who can say what’s next?).

I would suggest the following possibilities.

The media dog is no longer barking

I would draw the reader’s attention to the media coverage. A media campaign blaming the rebels and Russia began almost immediately after the crash; on the other hand, the media has been very silent about the DSB report. The Daily Mail can serve as an example of both: “Anything to confess, Putin? Russian president in church as world leaders warn him you can’t ‘wash your hands’ of MH17 disaster” 18 July 2014 (“Amid growing evidence that the flight was hit by a sophisticated surface-to-air missile, launched from areas controlled by pro-Russian rebels in the separatist eastern regions of Ukraine, fingers have increasingly been pointed at Russian president Vladimir Putin, who denies involvement.”) and “Russian missile killed pilots and cut jet in half but passengers could have been conscious for up to a minute as plane plunged, reveals official report into MH17 downed over Ukraine” 17 October 2015 (rather neutral coverage full of “he said, she said”). And the story seems to have disappeared. A cynic might be excused for wondering if some central agency puts out the story line. I find this suggestive.

To watch

As for further developments I recommend Alexander Mercouris’ piece on RI – there are some legal cases coming up that may prove interesting. I also recommend John Helmer’s writings on the subject at his blog Dances with Bears. The story appears to be unravelling in several places at once. He also goes into more details on the tiny number of bow-tie/I-beams on which the DSB hangs so much of its case.

Stay tuned, there may be more to come.