Moscow fends off allegations that pro-Russian rebels shot down MH17


High-ranking Russian officials on Wednesday fended off allegations that pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine were responsible for shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 last year.

Federal Air Transport Agency deputy head Oleg Storchevoi said the Dutch-led investigation failed to disprove Russia’s evidence that the airliner could have been shot down by the Ukrainian military.

“It seems the commission was cherry-picking evidence,” Storchevoi told reporters, adding that Russia “categorically disagrees with the report’s conclusions,” state news agency TASS reported.

He emphasized, however, that Russia agrees with the investigation’s conclusion that Ukraine should have closed its eastern airspace before the crash.

More than a dozen military aircraft were shot down in the conflict zone in the three months preceding the crash, according to the investigation.

Storchevoi said Russia was initiating a new investigation with the United Nations civilian aviation authority, the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova suggested that the past investigation’s true goal was to substantiate prior accusations that the rebels were responsible.

The Dutch Safety Board concluded on Tuesday, after 15 months of investigating, that a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile was used to shoot down the airliner.

The board’s head, Tjibbe Joustra, said the missile came from an area under the control of pro-Russian rebels.

MH17 was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it went down in rebel-controlled territory on July 17, 2014.

All 298 people on board were killed: 193 Dutch, 43 Malaysians, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, 10 Britons, four Germans, four Belgians, three Filipinos, a Canadian and a New Zealander.

The Dutch Safety Board said the front section of the plane was penetrated by hundreds of high-energy objects coming from a warhead. The result of the impact and massive pressure wave instantly killed the crew in the cockpit, according to the investigation.

The Russian producer of the Buk missile system, Almaz-Antey, said Tuesday that the missile was likely a Soviet-made Buk taken out of service in Russia in 2011.

Storchevoi rejected that claim on Wednesday, saying Russian investigators do not have “clear-cut data and facts that would confirm it was a Buk-type missile.”

“Our investigation continues despite the publication of
the final report,” Storchevoi said, according to TASS.

He added: “I would like to stress that Russia never promoted any definite version in order not to exert pressure on the [investigative] commission. But unfortunately the Russian side was excluded from the full-fledged investigation.”

Relations between Ukraine and Russia have sunk to an all-time low since Ukraine ousted its former pro-Russian president last year during mass protests calling for closer ties with the West.

Soon afterward, Russia occupied and annexed Ukraine’s southern Crimea peninsula, and a pro-Russian separatist rebellion broke out in Ukraine’s two eastern-most regions.