jit mh17
© AP Photo/ Peter Dejong
Today the Joint Investigation Team released their findings on the shoot-down of MH17. This follows the October 2015 Dutch Safety Board report, which concluded that the plane was shot down with a Buk missile armed with a 9N314M warhead, and stressed that Ukraine had failed to close the airspace over the war zone. However, the Russian company that produces the Buk system conducted their own tests, allegedly ruling out the separatist-held village of Snezhnoye as the launch site, pointing to Kiev-held Zaroshchenskoye as the only possible site, and questioning the type of warhead identified by the DSB based on the physical damage to the wreckage. (See: Closing the BUK on MH17? Dutch final report is clearly biased.)

Initially, on July 21, 2014, Russia released data showing that a Ukrainian jet was in the vicinity of MH17 before it was shot down. This matched up with eyewitness accounts and analysis of the damage suggesting the possibility of fighter jet machine-gun fire. However, just two days ago, Russia released some "newly discovered" civilian radar data alleging to show the situation in the air at the time of the shoot-down and crash. The data showed three civilian aircraft in the vicinity, but "no foreign objects near the Malaysian plane which could have caused its destruction". So this latest release contradicts their earlier statements: the radar shows no indication of a fighter jet in the air.

According to the Russian experts, due to the capacities of the radar station involved, the data suggests that a Buk was not fired from rebel-held territory, but the same could not be said for the territory held by Kiev, because the radar station wouldn't have been able to detect a missile fired from Zaroshchenskoye. (The author of the What Happened to Flight MH17 blog argues the opposite - that the radar would have detected a missile fired from Zaroshchenskoye more easily, but without a detailed expert analysis, it's hard to say either way.) According to the Russians, Ukraine has yet to release their radar data, and the investigation is proceeding based on false premises, namely the misidentification of the type of missile used.

Now, the JIT has released their report, placing the blame on the Donetsk militia using a Buk system provided to them by Russia, fired from the location of Pervomayskoye (a rebel-held village 6 km south of Snezhnoye), which was then quickly returned to Russia. However, the JIT did not accuse Russia as a nation, or Russian individuals, of directly participating in the launch of the missile. They ruled out technical failures, a bomb on board and an attack from other aircraft, like the DSB before them, and presented audio allegedly proving that the rebels voiced a need for a Buk system to target high-flying Ukrainian fighter jets, and that they received one. The JIT says it is not clear how long it will take to establish the exact identities and roles of those involved in the attack; the investigation has been extended from October to January 1, 2018. They also left open the possibility that MH17 was targeted by mistake, as some recordings seem to indicate rebels had thought they had shot down a Ukrainian fighter jet and were surprised when they found out it was a civilian plane. You can watch their presentation below:

According to the JIT, they analyzed some 500,000 photos and videos, 200+ witness interviews, 150,000 telephone intercepts (3500 relevant ones fully translated and analyzed). These telephone recordings were all provided by Ukrainian intelligence. JIT uses one call, recorded in June 2015, to establish that Zaroshchenskoye was under control of the militia on the day of the shoot-down, thus discrediting the Russian claim that it was held by Kiev. At no point does the JIT raise the question the legitimacy of the call in question (or the calls in general); nor do they express any doubt that if genuine the person recorded could have been misremembering a detail from one year prior to the call.

The calls were also instrumental in establishing the alleged path taken by the militia convoy to bring the Buk from the Russian border to field in Pervomayskoye (along with photos and video of the convoy, many of which have been available online, and some of which appear to have been provided to the JIT). Based on this evidence, the JIT says they have identified 100 persons involved in procuring the Buk, transporting it, and escorting it. They are not considered suspects as of yet; the JIT wants to further investigate the military hierarchy of the militias to determine who are suspects and who are witnesses. They refuse to release any details of the suspect at this point in time.

The reason they give for excluding the "air-to-air" scenario is curious; it solely based on the absence of any jets on the radar provided by Ukraine (and now the latest Russian radar), and interviews and recordings of air-traffic controllers, again provided by Ukraine. In other words, if there were physical evidence suggesting such a scenario, we wouldn't even know, because it is excluded a priori. The JIT says that some details and evidence are being withheld; the U.S. data remains classified and the JIT will not even confirm the nature of the data they provided. And they make no comment on the controversy of which Buk missile warhead was used, citing the general "9M38" type, but not being any more specific.

The Russian foreign ministry responded, saying that the JIT has allowed Ukraine to fabricate evidence, while denying Russia any comprehensive role in the investigation. Zakharova told the media:
Instead of [working together], international investigators suspended Moscow from comprehensive participation in the investigative process, allowing our efforts only a minor role. It sounds like a bad joke, but at the same time they made Ukraine a full member of the JIT [Joint Investigation Team], giving it the opportunity to forge evidence and turn the case to its advantage.

Russia is disappointed that the situation surrounding the investigation into the Boeing crash is not changing. The findings of the Dutch prosecutor's office confirm that the investigation is biased and politically motivated. To arbitrarily designate a guilty party and dream up the desired results has become the norm for our Western colleagues.
She has a point. Ukraine was and is essentially one of the suspects in the case. To have them as a full member of the JIT, and to exclude Russia, is a major conflict of interest, especially given the revelation that each member of the JIT had a veto on information released and the conclusions reached. It also raises the possibility of fraudulent evidence being introduced and used.

For their part, the Russian Ministry of Defense responded by denying that any Russian Buks crossed into Ukraine and questioning the objectivity of the sources of the JIT's information: the internet and Ukrainian intelligence services. They also reiterated their willingness to assist in any way in the further investigation and demanded the release of the Ukrainian radar data.

Almaz-Antey also released comments after the JIT press conference, reiterating their conclusion that a Buk missile could only have been launched from Kiev-controlled territory and pointing out that the JIT's conclusions are not backed up by technical proof. Specifically, the JIT focused only on some of the wreckage damage, and ignored three other sections - basically they only looked at evidence that could confirm their theory that the missile approached the plane head-on, ignoring evidence that would contradict this. They say they expected that their information would be ignored by JIT, and that they even sent previously classified top secret extracts from their books. While Almaz-Antey conducted experiments using actual Buk missiles and warheads, the JIT conducted a test using a U.S. missile. Their presentation can be watched below:

There are at least two major problems with the JIT report, alluded to above. The first is the use of Ukrainian data to establish the use of a Russian-sourced Buk system. Ukraine is a suspect and cannot be expected to provide objective information. However, even if the Donetsk militia was in possession of a Buk (the overall scenario presented is plausible), that does not necessarily imply that it was the murder weapon, so to speak. The question needs to be asked: were the Ukrainians or Americans aware that the rebels had a Buk? If so, it is at least possible that they would stage an attack in order to blame on the rebels. Notably, the JIT does not focus any attention on Ukraine's possible role: the location of Ukrainian Buks in the region, for example.

This leads to the second problem: the type of missile used. Even if the rebels were in possession of a Buk in Pervomayskoye at the time of the attack, an analysis of the actual physical evidence and an inference as to which type of missile and warhead were used are required before being able to say if they actually fired it. The JIT ignores the issues brought up by Almaz-Antey questioning the type of warhead used - they don't even specify the type of warhead, sidestepping the issue entirely. They are unequivocal in their conclusions, but the data they present is not so convincing.

What we find most curious is that the Russians are no longer discussing the Ukrainian jet in the vicinity. Both they and the JIT are now essentially saying there was no jet. Either the information Russia initially provided was fraudulent, or they have agreed to go along with the established narrative. This too may be political, reflecting some behind-the-scenes 'negotiations'. As Ukraine is part of the JIT, it's possible that both sides have agreed to lay the blame on some of the Ukrainian rebels - even to write it off as a mistake. Several such mistakes have happened in the last 50 years, and usually no one is held accountable.

Syria update

Moon of Alabama has conveniently collected a bunch of the most important stories here: U.S. miffed that Syria & Russia are mopping up their jihadists, sends more weapons, and more recent developments. South Front summarizes the major developments from the last few days:

So according to an "anonymous U.S. official", the U.S. has kindly restrained its Gulf allies from providing MANPADS to the rebels, but they won't be able to restrain them much longer. Sounds like another thinly veiled threat.

And speaking of threats, State Department mouthpiece John Kirby had this one for Russia:
Extremist groups will continue to exploit the vacuums that are there in Syria to expand their operations, which could include attacks against Russian interests, perhaps even Russian cities. Russia will continue to send people home in body bags, and will continue to lose resources, perhaps even aircraft... If the war continues "more Russian lives will be lost, more Russian aircraft will be shot down.
Kerry via Kirby also offered this one today:
[Kerry] informed the Foreign Minister that the United States is making preparations to suspend US-Russia bilateral engagement on Syria — including on the establishment of the Joint Implementation Center — unless Russia takes immediate steps to end the assault on Aleppo and restore the cessation of hostilities
Yawn. Real U.S. coordination would have been nice, but the U.S. has proven itself to be an abusive partner. No loss there. Russia is already doing all the things the U.S. pretends it wants to do, and more, including its ceasefire work with the Khmeimim reconciliation center. The 100+ militants that agreed to leave Homs did so because of that work. The province's governor, Talal Barazi, told Sputnik:
"Russia's participation filled the gap left by the United Nations and provided logistics and field conditions that ensured withdrawal of militants and their families from the El Waer neighborhood toward the north of the Homs province," Barazi said.
And even then, the U.S.-Russian Memorandum of Understanding on airspace deconfliction remains in effect, and StD mouthpiece Toner even says it's "important that stays."

The U.S. blames Russia for the crisis in Aleppo, but they don't mention that it is their very own terrorists who took the city hostage against the residents' will
. Italian journalist and former MEP Giulietto Chiesa told Sputnik:
...the truth is that the terrorists have taken the city hostage and Western advisers from Israel, the United States, Qatar and Turkey are helping them. Why? Because if Aleppo falls, they will all lose this war. This is why it is in their interest to help terrorists keep the city under siege at the expense of civilian lives."
"I will remind you, who sparked the war in Syria. Do you remember Obama's 2011 presidential order in which he called the Syrian government a threat to America's interests? Who created Daesh' terrorism, who supported terrorists, including 'moderates' (who chopped off heads and ate the hearts of Syrian soldiers)?" he asked.
"Who wanted to undermine the [Lavrov-Kerry] agreement? Clearly members of the 'Western' alliance (or their intelligence services) do not want any ceasefire," the Italian journalist noted. "Meanwhile, a chorus of Western media outlets blames Russia."
And finally for today, the latest video from Hezbollah leader Nasrallah, whom Norman Finkelstein once called "the only political leader in the world whom you learn from":