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Did This Ukrainian Soldier Prove Ukraine Shot Down MH17?

January 2, 2015

By Eliot Higgins

In the debate over who was responsible for the shooting down of flight MH17 in Ukraine on July 17th two different weapon systems have been linked to the attack. On one hand we have various claims about a Ukrainian jet shooting down MH17 (generally described as an SU-25); with the other theory being based around the use of a Buk surface to air missile launcher. In the Bellingcat investigation Origin of the Separatists’ Buk the Bellingcat MH17 investigation team matched a Buk filmed and photographed travelling through separatist territory on July 17th to one filmed in a convoy travelling through Russia towards the Ukrainian border in late June.

However, a recent video has been used to claim the Buk that downed MH17 was actually Ukrainian.

The video is an interview with a man claiming to be a Buk missile operator who claims to have operated a Ukrainian Buk numbered 312. Buk 312 initially came to prominence when the SBU released a press release on July 19th claiming a Buk missile launcher had shot down MH17. One of the images included in the press release showed a Buk numbered 312.

SBU Buk 312

Various sites and individuals (including Bellingcat) discovered the image was from March 2014, showing an Ukrainian Buk, with other images of the same vehicle shared on Facebook at the time. After this the SBU press release was modified to remove the image of Buk 312. The current version of the press release can be found here, with the original version archived here. It’s unclear why the SBU used this image, it could have just been a reference image showing a Buk, or they could have been attempting to claim the specific Buk shown was the Buk used on July 17th, and they’ve never made a statement clarifying the situation.

This led some to claim that the Buk filmed and photographed on July 17th must have been the Ukrainian Buk 312, with other images of Ukrainian Buks numbered 312 discovered by various people and used to support those claims.


However, the only link between the Ukrainian Buk 312 and the July 17th Buk was that one image on the original SBU press release. Regardless of the claims made in the new video of the soldier talking about Buk 312 the Bellingcat investigation established there was no link between the Buk filmed on July 17th and Buk 312. As part of the Bellingcat investigation we compared markings and damage to the rubber side skirts of Buks in Ukraine and Russia to the Buk filmed and photographed on July 17th. This included Buk 312 shown in the SBU photograph.



In the above image it’s clear the markings and damage to the rubber skirt of Ukrainian Buk 312 do not match the one seen on July 17th and filmed in Russia in late June. As the only link between Buk 312 and the downing of MH17 is the one image posted by the SBU it seems there needs to be far more compelling evidence of it being used to shoot down MH17 before that theory can be taken seriously.

Eliot Higgins

Eliot Higgins is the founder of Bellingcat and the Brown Moses Blog. Eliot focuses on the weapons used in the conflict in Syria, and open source investigation tools and techniques.

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  1. Victor

    Please question why exactly on the day of the shooting 4 vids / photo’s were placed (and taken?) on internet of the voyage of a BUK seemingly from the Russia border to the supposed place of crime, and one from its retour from SBU with clearly 1 rocket missing (you would expect a picture hunt on the retour not on the arrival also the shooting itself with no witnesses is kind of weird – not impossible though).
    Than ask yourself why the pro Russian rebels would need this BUK if they already had BUK 312 since March 2014 – which now strangely enough seems to be undermined by a witness saying it was under Kiev control?
    Finally ask your self why Ukraine left its air space open for civilian flights in an area where they were executing bombardment flights and where one of there planes was downed on an altitude above 6 km and while they knew that BUK 312 was in possession of the rebels in March 2014. Than finally try to explain why the rocket with which the first plane was downed was immediately known and why we still do not know for sure what downed MH17. I think the bellingcat report is a quite elaborate attempt to find out the truth but is not really asking all the questions that should be asked. It seems that it relies to much on one hypothesis while there may be more (civil shielding is a very serious one and cannot fully be excluded, while it could also just have been negligence) , The side marks on the BUKS are really not convincing, my car has also a different scar than 5 months ago. Anyhow I think SBU is for the moment as (un)reliable as the intelligence from Russian side. Both sides come up with changing versions and so called proof, the scary thing is that both probably are not aware what in the field happens. We can only hope that we can find out more from what happened by analysis of the wreck (air to air missile is lighter and cam from other angle than BUK ) or hearing key witnesses under oath (with preferably lie detectors.) the pro Russian rebel leader or field commander who claimed and withdraw his claim as well as the accused Ukrainian pilot would be a good start)

      • Victor Libre

        Hi Rob, I tried to comprehend it, so first the picture was used by SBU to show the rebels had a BUK in March (just north of Donetsk) and than it was one of themselves.
        Complicated like a hot potato. I think the posts on one 17th of July are not so convincing, were the pictures taken on the 17th of July or just placed on the 17th of July . Was it really the first BUK passing by, that also on that particular day hit the wrong target while there were no military planes of Ukraine in the sky? or were there more BUKS around? and did the Ukraine planes try to use the civil planes as shields? did the Ukrainians know of the BUK presence? I am afraid that we cannot trust anyone. Hopefully the investigation of the wreck will give some clue , perhaps some remains of the rocket used can be found back serial numbers?. White or red may mean the difference between BUK 312 and the one supposedly tracked on its retour? Also the distinction between an explosion of an air to air(probably heat -so engine seeking missiles and a BUK must be clear)
        Truth will prevail

        • Rob

          If you “cannot trust anyone” as you assert, then trust reason and logic :

          It is clear that the person who produced the picture of Ukrainian BUK 312 knew it was a Ukrainian BUK and knew it was taken in March.
          So it is thus also clear that the SBU did NOT produce this picture themselves, but it was provided TO them by some source that they (incorrectly) trusted.

          So there is (was) a “mole” or at least some counter-productive forces at work at the time within the Ukrainian SBU.

          • Mark

            Oh they are not as smart as you think. Ukraine shot down civilian planes in the past and Officials came up with most retarded excuses at the time. Sadly No apologies or condolences until now

          • Piotr

            Can I ask you one simple question: why you assume that it was not Ukrainian Army who did it? First of all, both SBU, UAF and ESPECIALLY Ukrainian MSM is well known to produce false information, trying to shift blame on others or denying responsibility… Few examples… Going back to 40s and Volhynia Massacre in which UPA and incited peasants slaughtered over 120 thousands of Poles – Ukraine keep denying responsibility to this day and trying to pin responsibility either to Nazi Germany or Soviets NKVD.
            But going to more recent times. How long they kept in secret, paying up witnesses to be quiet about accident that happened few years ago when SAM missed its target and hit building near Kiev killing several people?
            How long they were lying/denying responsibility for downing Siberia Airlines Flight 1812? There is several more similar examples. Sorry man, but throughout my life I learned one thing: don’t trust Ukrainian officials and media.

    • Rob

      Nobody has been able to show that the ParisMatch picture is a forgery.
      Would you like to give it a try ?

  2. AnonymousDefender

    This man dont know about TELAR and crew.
    Crew is
    1st operator
    2nd operator
    Man is wrong with his only one operator. Anyone who see TELAR know:
    Commander work with Search Radar screen, 1st Operator work with Tracking screen, 2nd operator work with FineTuning screen. Only russian TELAR have one operator.
    312 – wrong designation by this man, 3rd division, 1st battery BUT 2nd machine in battery.
    Circuit in TELAR have different power source, all wiring which pronounce this man never used during driving, for that u need stop TELAR and run auxilary power unit with 80 kiloWatt power output
    So commander (which man wrongly called as maintenance crew chief) cannot burn all wiring (especially circuit of radar and launcher parts, it eat more then 10 kiloWatt power without any problems).
    TELAR dont have handbrake (ruchnik), this man dont understand how friction work on TELAR.
    IFF dont work by pressing button – it work when computer lock target.
    In his paper i see civilian profession – junior financial specialist.
    Conclusion – this man know nothing about BUK and TELAR, probably he serve as clerk in Ukrainian Army.
    About ukrainian TELAR 312 – any 3rd division, 1st battery have 2nd machine. Need to see other signs then 312.

    • muchandr

      This guy verifies on two occasions. He said their 3rd battalion only had 2 loaders/cranes. It is normal to have 3 TELs ( xx3 vehicles ) Here are the vehicles
      of 156th regiment. There are only 5/6 TELs, with #313 missing

      He says they had to leave their barracks in Luhansk and relocate to fields in the middle of nowhere near Kramatorsk without their loaders/cranes (TELs) Here they are. Most launchers, generic trucks, no TELs. Taken of the road Gorlivka-Soledar.

      This explains seeing them ever being towed without full complement of missiles. If the TELs are with them, they can reload in the field indefinitely.

      I presume the IFF works differently in newer vehicles that have a digital computer and older ones which have some analogue thing.

      The story about a wheeled tractor made by Russians having a manual brake is weird indeed and requires clarification. It is known to me that a lot of wheeled vehicles used by US military do have drive-by-wires controls emulating car’s, because they experience severe shortage of people with experience of properly driving a heavy dozer or similar vehicle which can control both tracks separately. The source of this info is (non-fictional) book “Armed Cavalry” by Tom Clancy. Possibly similar logic at work here?

      Anyway, that part of the story is used to clear his #312 of suspicion

  3. Kenneth G. Roby

    The Russians had little reason to shoot down an airliner marked in colors similar to Russian colors. I t would only ruin their world image further. The Ukrainians had every reason to shoot down an airliner marked in colors similar to Russian colors since Putin
    reportedly was in the area on another plane. It is unfortunate that it is told as fact that the Russians shot down the airliner. I believe the Ukrainian Buk missile operator when he says the Ukrainians shot down the airliner. It is a sorry state of affairs that it is reported in much of the western press that the Russian shot down the airliner.
    These repeated mistakes by the west, If these mistakes are not stopped, general European war will result .

  4. Pete

    Of course, the Ukraine shot this plane down. That’s not even debatable any longer. The US fell silent after Russia held its press conference proving (A) Russia had nothing to do with the shoot-down, (B) that neither Russia or the so called “Separatists” had anything to gain from doing this, (C) that the US and its Kiev stooge government most certainly DID have a huge propaganda coup to gain, (D) that witnesses on the ground who saw MH17 fall to the ground and crash did NOT see any surface to air missile launch (an impossibility), (E) witnesses DID report seeing Ukrainian fighters working the area right before the crash, and (F) that several pieces of the wreckage showed “bullet holes.”

    Add to this the fact Russia invited the US/Kiev to display the evidence they said they had proving Russian/”Separatist” guilt, and – instead – the US and Kiev have fallen silent for nearly 8 months. Also add to this the fact the Ukraine signed a non-disclosure agreement with the Netherlands, Australia, and Belgium agreeing to censure any data gained from any investigation into MH17.

    All of this points to the Ukraine as the perpetrator.

    • Piotr

      Sadly, but history shows Ukraine have very bad record regarding telling truth. From all the way back to 1943 and Volhynia Massacre in which UPA and incited peasants slaughtered over 120 thousands of Poles – Ukraine keep denying responsibility to this day and trying to pin responsibility either to Nazi Germany or Soviets NKVD.
      But from more recent times: Few years ago they accidently killed several people near Kiev when SAM that missed its target hit block. They paid significant money to witnesses to keep it secret. How long they were lying/denying responsibility for downing Siberia Airlines Flight 1812? And there is several more cases like this.
      Not to mention all the mass media and their fakes with using old photos or cropped and spliced videos and recordings – just like this one here.

    • Will

      You Russians are ridiculous trying to scavenge to find ideas to blame an opponent country. Just because this idiotic soldier says something does not mean all the evidence and facts that have proved that Russian rebels shot down MH17 is wrong. This soldier is probably not even Ukranian i am uterly sickened. I ask you to question yourself do you really think Ukranians shot this plane down not the people who starved 10 million people or who locked and tortured a frale old women just for being a political opponent who stood for all things right and true.Or the country that is lead by a criminal and former agent who lets face its job was to shoot and assasinate people. You people who sit behind a computer and pretend and fake that you have any education or knowledge on the topic of Ukraine and their militairy aggender disgust me. Plus you are probably just scared of Russia and its ruler. Russia is a country not a good country nor a bad one. A country that has ruled with an ironfist and intimidation this is about to stop we have had enough of Russias crap. They have raped us of our heritage and culture and now they are tryng to take our land. In ukranian we have a phrase meaning dont stir shit and you wont get on your hands well Russia you stirred the shit and now your gonna get not only on your hands but your face. And for all the people out there Russia does actually not have its own culture as stole ukraines they originally had Mongolian background. No words can describe the complete corruption and manipulation of Russia but do not fret God has ways of dealing with bad and sinful people.

  5. DJ russia

    Today i found this beautifull plane mh370 found to be south of Maledives.. ( i hope it is the one) And i have found myself 20 hours as passanger above Russian air space. I enjoyed the fire lights about Tomsks and Novaserbiwsrsk in my road to Beijing. Thank Russia in what contrary belief in my planes were no Putin rocket 🙁 How bad can you think?

  6. Hector reban

    Only 1 photo doesn´t count when the Ukies themselves could be indicted. But that conveniently vague picture of Paris Match – the only ¨proof¨ of a linkage between murder weapon and Russian june convoy – is of course an outstanding peace of solid evidence.

    • Robert Johnson

      A mysterious image indeed. Who took it, and why was it originally claimed to be in Schnize?

  7. Pete G

    I have to think that Ukrainians shot down the flight. Putin was due to fly out of Moscow around that very time, and tragically, the Dutch flag tricolor is similar to that of Russia.
    Moreover, one has to consider the mathematics. The Russian rebels have a 50k wide strip of land. Simply consider the fall parabola, and one can realize that the plane must have been shot in Ukrainina airspace. Given that these Russian rebels are farmers/ peasants, i don’t think they were flying any MIGS over Kyiv.


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