Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

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Route of MH17
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Dutch and Australian police at the crash site in 2014

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17/MAS17) was a Malaysian Airlines passenger flight that was shot down in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 people on board.

The plane fell near Hrabove in Donetsk Oblast — territory controlled by pro-Russian separatists at the time. It is widely assumed that the plane was shot down by the pro-Russian separatists in the Donetsk oblast using a "Buk" surface-to-air missile system (such systems are used by both Russian and Ukrainian armed forces).[1][2]

Details of the accident[edit]

The nature of the disaster led to all parties shifting blame to each other, with different degrees of validity.

While the mainstream Western and Ukrainian media have resoundingly agreed on the details of the crash, the Russian media was saturated with different alternative versions of the events,[3][4] which usually blamed the Ukrainian military for taking down the plane. China also attempted to challenge the version of the events.[5]

Did the separatists have a Buk SAM system?[edit]

After the MH17 crash took place, several Russian media outlets[6][7] denied that the pro-Russian forces had access to a Buk missile system, which is the only type of locally available SAM system that could have shot down a plane at commercial airliner cruising altitude. However, these articles contradict earlier ones from other pro-Russian sources, in which the separatists claimed they had captured a Buk complex or parts thereof.[8][9] There is also evidence of Buks crossing Russian-Ukrainian borders.

Prosecutors showed photos and videos of a truck convoy carrying the system as it crossed the border from Russia to Ukraine. It crossed back several days later with one missile missing. The vehicles had serial numbers and other markings that were unique to the 53rd Brigade, an anti-aircraft unit based in the western Russian city of Kursk, they said.[10]

Phone call intercepts[edit]

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) leaked videos with alleged recordings of the phone calls between the separatists shortly after the events. In the video, the separatists admit that they took down a civilian airplane.[11]

This video was quickly declared "fake" on the basis of its "creation date" tag showing a date one day before the plane crashed. This argument turned out to be false, as the mistaken creation date turned out to be a bug in YouTube, which affected all videos.[12]

Russian Ministry of Defense claims[edit]

On July 21st, the Russian Ministry of Defense issued a briefing on the MH17 accident.[13] According to them, the plane was shot down from a Ukrainian-controlled SAM 50 kilometers east to Donetsk and 8 km south to Shakhtarsk. However, third-party attempts to determine the firing location based on the photos available contradict these claims.[14]

Another claim presented during the briefing is that the Russian radars detected a Ukrainian Su-25 close air support aircraft briefly following the Malaysian plane at a distance of 3-5 kilometers, which could only work if the jet defied physics.[15] Anonymous editors with Russian IP addresses promptly edited the Wikipedia article for the Su-25 to claim it could fly higher and faster than it actually can. Conspiracy theorists quickly took over these Russian claims.

Apart from Ukraine having no motive (the world already supported them) it's technically impossible to shoot down an airliner at 10km with a Su-25. The Su-25 is a close air support aircraft (NOT a fighter) made by the Russian design bureau Sukhoi and in use by Russia and Ukraine (the Russian equivalent of the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II). Its maximum altitude is 7km, without weapons. Armed, the maximum altitude is 5km. Furthermore the Su-25, being a low altitude ground attack plane, is terribly unsuited for shooting down planes. Being a ground attack plane, the Su-25 doesn't have a radar suitable for air interception and the only air-to-air weapons it carries are for short range self defense. The Su-25 is also subsonic and too slow to intercept an airliner. If Russia or Ukraine would have wanted to shoot down an airliner with a combat aircraft, the Su-25 would be the last choice. Both have aircraft in their inventory such as the Su-27 and MiG-29 that actually are fighters and could easily do it.

Russia and conspiracy theorists show pictures of MH17 parts with holes as evidence that combat aircraft shot it down, claiming these would have been caused by the 30mm cannon of a combat aircraft. The holes however are different in size and even the biggest ones are too small for a 30mm cannon. They also have no knowledge of how surface-to air-missiles such as a Buk function. These don't hit the target; they have a high explosive fragmentation warhead (HE-FRAG) which explodes close to the target and then sprays the target with an enormous number of fragments. The result is the damage as seen on the debris.

During the commentary after the briefing, the Chief of Staff of the Russian Air Force also mentioned that the videos showing a Buk being moved towards the Russian border after the accident[16] were actually taken in the Ukraine-controlled city of Krasnoarmeysk. The claim relied on the misinterpretation of a billboard in the video — the commentary claimed the billboard advertised a car shop at a 34 Dnepropetrovskaya St., while the actual billboard had no such text.[17] Also, trolley bus wires are visible in the video, while the city of Krasnoarmeysk has no trolley bus system.

Wacky conspiracy theories[edit]

Some of the more outlandish theories claim that the plane was initially filled with corpses[18] (which was lampooned by The Daily Show[19]), or that the MH17 plane was the same one as the missing flight 370,[20][21] or that the CIA blew up/shot down the plane in a false flag operation[22] (or vice versa: the rebels were originally planning to shoot down a Russian airliner in order to pin it on Ukraine, rather than by accident[23]).

The criminal cases[edit]

The ongoing criminal investigation by the Dutch-led joint investigation team (JIT) has so far charged four men in the downing of MH17 as of June 2019:[24]

  • Igor Vsevolodovich GirkinWikipedia (a.k.a., Igor Ivanovich Strelkov) (1970–) — a former colonel in Russia's FSB intelligence service. He was the highest known military officer in the area of the downing and is alleged to have had direct contact with Russia at that time. Shortly after the plane was downed, Girkin posted on VKontakte that "we just downed a plane, an [Ukrainian] AN-26". After it became clear that the plane was not an AN-26, he deleted the post and posted a new entry denying any responsibility for downing MH17,[25] thus indicating a consciousness of guilt.
    In 2023, ultranationalist Girkin was arrested and tried by Russia, not for war crimes, but for what amounts to speaking too harshly of Putin's conduct in the war against Ukraine.[26] For that, Girkin was sentenced to 4 years at a penal colony.[27]
  • Sergei Dubinsky (a.k.a. Khmury) — a deputy of Girkin and a Russian GRU employee
  • Oleg Pulatov (a.k.a. Giurza) — former GRU special forces soldier and head of intelligence service in Donetsk
  • Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian national

In November 2019, the JIT has alleged that a top aide of Vladimir Putin was in direct contact with rebel leaders on a regular basis.[28] The JIT has also alleged that the Kremlin knew what was going on in Ukraine and had influence over "administrative, financial and military matters".[28] The JIT has named two high-level Russian officials were directing the separatists who were linked to the attack:[28] In 2023, Dutch prosecutors also stated that it was strong evidence that Putin had made a direct order to supply surface-to-air missiles used in the downing of MH17, but that the evidence was insufficiently concrete to prosecute him.[29]

  • Vladislav SurkovWikipedia (1964–) — a long-time Kremlin strategist, and a deputy prime minister at the time of the incident
  • Sergey AksyonovWikipedia (1972–) — Head of the Republic of Crimea, following the annexation of Crimea by Russia

In 2022, Girkin, Dubinsky and Kharchenko were convicted in absentia and sentenced to life in prison in a Dutch court. Pulatov was acquitted due to lack of evidence.[30]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Malaysia - Dutch report suggests MH-17 shot down from ground, Reuters
  2. Germany Says Pro-Russian Rebels in Ukraine Downed MH17 With Captured Missiles, Mashable
  3. MH17: Russians fed steady diet of conspiracy theories about crash, Toronto Star
  4. MH17: five of the most bizarre conspiracy theories, The Guardian
  5. MH17: China Defends Russia, Criticizes the West, The Diplomat
  6. Russian Ministry of Defense: "Russia didn't send 'Buk' missile complexes to the rebels"
  7. LifeNews: "The rebel forces have no anti-air missile systems"
  8. Archived ITAR-TASS: DNR rebels took control of an anti-air defense military unit with "Buk" anti-aircraft missile complexes
  9. Flight MH17: The evidence, The Economist
  10. Deutsch, Anthony. Investigators identify Russian military unit in downing of flight MH17. Reuters. May 24, 2018.
  11. July 17 Updates on Malaysia Airlines Plane Crash in Ukraine, The New York Times
  12. "Conspiracy and an off-by-one error" by GitHub user klaufir
  13. Full text of the briefing, in English.
  14. Ukraine@war: "Launch location detected of missile that brought down MH17"
  15. Could This Old Warplane Really Shoot Down MH17?, Popular Science
  16. Video reportedly shows MH17 missile launcher being moved to Russian border, Sydney Morning Herald
  17. Echo Moskvy: "Dreamers from the General Staff" editorial
  18. "The corpses on the fallen 'Boeing' weren't fresh — Girkin (Strelkov)"
  19. MH17: Jon Stewart skewers conspiracy theories, Brisbane Times [dead link]
  20. "Is MH17... really the MH370 Missing Plane?"
  21. "A very strange plane..."
  22. Russian State Media Says CIA Shot Down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, Newsweek
  23. SBU chief: Mercenaries planned terrorist attacks against Russian aircraft on day of MH17 crash, Kyiv Post
  24. MH17: Four charged with shooting down plane over Ukraine (19 June 2019) BBC.
  25. Web evidence points to pro-Russia rebels in downing of MH17 by Arthur Bright (July 17, 2014) Christian Science Monitor.
  26. Arrest of ex-FSB agent signals Kremlin crackdown on pro-war hawks by Francesca Ebel (November 5, 2023 at 1:00 a.m. EDT) The Washington Post.
  27. Igor Girkin shot down a passenger jet, then insulted Putin. Which one put him in jail? by Steve Rosenberg (25th January 2024, 08:36 PST) BBC.
  28. 28.0 28.1 28.2 MH17 disaster: Phone-taps 'show Russia directed Ukraine rebels' (November 14, 2019) BBC.
  29. Dutch probe implicates Putin in 2014 downing of Malaysia passenger jet by Mary Ilyushina (February 8, 2023 at 9:05 a.m. EST) The Washington Post.
  30. Dutch court convicts three of murder in MH17 jet downing over Ukraine by Mary Ilyushina (November 17, 2022 at 9:40 a.m. EST) The Washington Post.