Russian Officials Challenge Dutch Report On Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17

Russian Officials Challenge Dutch Report On Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17

7:54pm Oct 13, 2015

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Russian officials are already saying that the Dutch investigators report we just heard about is biased. Before it was even released, the state-controlled Russian company that builds the BUK missile system gave a presentation of its own. The company says its experiments prove that neither Russia nor its separatist allies launched the missile that downed MH17. NPR's Corey Flintoff joins us now from Moscow. And Corey, what exactly does this Russian report contend?

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Well, two things, really. I mean, the first is that although it was a BUK missile that hit the plane, it was an old model of that weapon that hasn't been used by the Russian military for several years. So they claimed that the model is still used by the Ukrainian military, so that would suggest the Ukrainians must have fired it.

The second thing the report claims is that the flight path of the missile shows it came from territory that was controlled by the Ukrainian army at the time.

CORNISH: But what are they offering as proof?

FLINTOFF: It wasn't clear how they established the flight path of the missile. You know, they say it's based on elementary geometry. But this is a missile that can correct its own flight path, so it seems to be a lot more complicated than what they're saying. The Russian group also says that they analyzed photos of the wreckage from the plane and they were able to figure out from the shape of the shrapnel holes that the weapon was a BUK and that it was an older model of the missile.

CORNISH: Now, that's not the same as doing the kind of hands-on investigation that the Dutch did, though, is it?

FLINTOFF: No. It's looking at the evidence from second hand. But the Russians say they also conducted field tests. You know, they took the forward section of an old Russian passenger jet that's similar to the Boeing 777, and they set it up on a testing ground. And then they detonated a BUK missile on a wooden platform that was close to the fuselage, and they analyzed the damage.

CORNISH: All right. So they're saying that a staged explosion on the ground would accurately replicate what happened to MH17 in the air.

FLINTOFF: Well, independent investigators who've studied this crash are saying that this experiment is pretty meaningless 'cause it doesn't even take into account the fact that the plane was traveling more than 500 miles an hour when this happened. One analyst I know says that the Russian presentation today was just an effort to cause confusion and uncertainty on the part of the public.

CORNISH: You know, Corey, obviously, you've traveled around this region many times during the conflict, and you were at the wreckage site in the days after MH17 went down. What's your take on everything that's known at this point?

FLINTOFF: Well, the separatists actually seem to have boasted at one point that they had a BUK. We reporters saw purported photos of it online, and we managed to geo-locate one of the places where one of those photos was taken. I went there, and the location matched the photos. But I have to say, I was unable to find an eyewitness who could positively say that they'd seen a BUK there on the day MH17 was attacked.

But based on everything I saw and independent investigations I've read since then, I think the Dutch investigators are right. It was a BUK fired from separatist territory. And because the BUK is a pretty complex military system, I think it was beyond the capacity of the separatist militia fighters to operate. So that would make it likely that the BUK was operated by a trained Russian crew. You know, but Russia can't admit that because to admit that would be to admit that Russian officials have been lying for more than a year about their involvement in Ukraine.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Corey Flintoff in Moscow. Corey, thanks so much.

FLINTOFF: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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