the home of online investigations

You can support the work of Bellingcat by donating through the following link:

Is this Ukrainian Buk a Clue in the MH17 Investigation or a Red Herring?

January 5, 2015

By Aric Toler

On July 19, two days after the tragic shoot down of Malaysian Airlines flight 17, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) publishedan image in a press release that showed two Buk-M1 anti-aircraft systems. One of them was the Buk-M1 that likely shot down MH17, transported on a truck eastward through Luhansk on July 18. The other was a Buk numbered 312 operated by the Ukrainian military that was videotaped on March 19 at the Yasinovatsky post just north of Donetsk, Ukraine. While the SBU did not explicitly claim that these two Buks were one in the same, it is very easy to assume this from the juxtaposition of the two images, and much proverbial ink has been spilled establishing the significance of Ukrainian Buk 312.

SBU-Buk-312

Recently, photographs of Ukrainian Buk 312 uploaded on the Russian social media site VKontakte (VK) on August 17, 2014  have surfaced, allowing us to finally settle the significance—or insignificance—of this anti-aircraft system.

A number of Russian social media users and bloggers have recently shared their findings of Buk 312 and established that it was at the Kramatorsk airfield in August 2014. This reaction from the Runet has been intensified due to a recent interview between Ukrainian journalist Anatolii Sharii and a Ukrainian soldier attesting that Ukrainian Buk 312 was redeployed from Luhansk to Kramatorsk. You can read a previous Bellingcat article on the (in)significance of the new information from this interview here.

Two images of Buk 312 were first posted on the VK page of Ukrainian soldier Igor Polulakh. The original images have been deleted, but you can find archived images here, here, and, thanks to Ukraine@War, here.

JJTLj0LGifc 43264_original

The blogger “militarizm” geolocated the image of Buk 312 to government-controlled Kramatorsk airfield, particularly to the coordinates of 48.7045442, 37.6280022. This geolocation is likely correct. The Google Map imagery from August 23 shows a number of helicopters and two heavy military vehicles around these coordinates. While the helicopters in the Google imagery are not present in the images, many other features are, including the similarly colored path (red lines), lines separating the concrete tiles (purple and blue lines), two particular structures (yellow/green circles), two trees (black 1 and 2), and a tree to the left of the camera (orange arrow):

 

1-5-2015 11-05-25 AM 1-5-2015 11-04-09 AM

As noted by the blogger Ukraine@War, what appears to be a Buk with four white-tipped missiles is located at roughly the same site as the Buk in the VK images. It is impossible to tell if the particular vehicle in the satellite imagery is the same as Buk 312, but considering the position of the vehicle and the four white tips, it is likely a Buk of some kind, if not 312 itself.


Polulakh posted these two images on August 17, 2014 along with a batch of other photographs from various other locations. Therefore, it is difficult to be certain when these photographs were taken without additional metadata or indicators of time. However, the Kramatorsk airfield was under heavy attack throughout the spring of 2014 (especially in April and May) and Polulakh posted a previous batch of images on June 27, 2014, making it most likely that the photo was taken in July or August. Additionally, a series of historical imagery of the Kramatorsk airbase shows us the difference between the base on July 12 (above) and August 23 (below), indicating rapid mobilization at the site.

pasted_image_at_2015_01_04_09_53_pm

From this, it is extremely likely that the photographs were indeed taken in late July or early/mid August.

Some have claimed that pro-Russian separatists seized this particular Buk in June in Donetsk, following a report from the Zvezda channel on June 29 and a comment from a Ukrainian official that a “non-operating” Buk was left behind.  Others, including the “militarizm” blog referenced at the beginning of this report, have accused Ukraine of using its Buk 312 of downing MH17.

The latter scenario—laying the blame on Ukraine—is extremely unlikely to be true for a number of reasons that are immediately evident: the 35km range of the Buk while Kramatorsk is located over 80km from the crash site, the angle at which MH17 was struck by fragments of an anti-aircraft missile indicates that the missile came from the southeast, and the improbable logistics of transporting a government-controlled anti-aircraft system through the heart of separatist territory, firing it, then extracting it without even a whisper on social media.

The former scenario—separatists seized Ukrainian Buk 312 and used it to down MH17—can now be considered extremely unlikely. As documented in Bellingcat’s earlier report “Origin of the Separatist Buk,” the “side-skirt damage fingerprint” of Ukrainian Buk 312 has little resemblance to that of the Buk being transported out of Donetsk on the morning of July 17. Additionally, with firm confirmation that Ukrainian Buk 312 was photographed in late July/August 2014 in a government-controlled airfield, we can safely say that pro-Russian separatists never seized, let alone used, this particular anti-aircraft system.

Considering the confirmation of the presence of Ukrainian Buk 312 in government-controlled Kramatorsk in the summer of 2014 and the lack of evidence that this particular Buk was anywhere near Snizhne on July 17, we can safely say that 312 had nothing to do with the downing of MH17 and a different Buk was used.

Aric Toler

Aric Toler started volunteering for Bellingcat in 2014 and has been on staff since 2015. He currently heads up Bellingcat's training efforts and its Eastern Europe/Eurasia research.

Join the Bellingcat Mailing List:

Enter your email address to receive a weekly digest of Bellingcat posts, links to open source research articles, and more.

45 Comments

  1. Ivan

    I agree with investigation. Anatolij Sharij seeks popularity in pro-Russia YouTube watchers. His goals are not objective and true evidence.

    Reply
  2. GSOBJC

    All this Buk hunting is time wasting. Ukrainian Security Service’s version is a complete fail. Neither Ukrainian nor Russian Buk crew could do this by error. There are many hindrances stemmed out of the operational logic of any air-defense unit.

    The crew is habitual to how civilian planes behave. Their speeds, altitudes, specific electromagnetic reflection are very well known to the crew. Because it is their routine training to search and track them (with ensuring the launch part is off).

    On the other hand every military aircraft has electronic warfare systems on board. The military pilot would know that he is a subject of some radar tracking and would deploy electronic counter-measures. Some systems of that kind do that automatically once TELAR’s radiation is detected. So the TELAR operator expect a true military target looking very differently from a civilian plane passively passing unaware of tracking.

    MH17 had speed 910 km/h. That is 50 km/h faster than IL-76 not to mention An-26. It headed towards the Russian border and was not more than 6 min from reaching it when could be detected by TELAR. A military transport with supplying mission near the border would have begun descending already. So TELAR operator saw a plane 10000m altitude, 910 km/h, no descending, no slowing, passively not-evading, no chaffs and electromagnetic countermeasures. Would it fire a missile?

    Reply
    • Rob

      If you are right and the BUK operators DID know what they were shooting at, then why did Strelkov post that they downed a AN-26 ?

      Was Strelkov unaware (and not in control) of what these BUK operators were doing ? Or was Strelkov set-up by another SBU operative (so as to put the blame on him and not the actual guy(s) in control) ?

      Either way, your post suggests that there was intent, and awareness, that these BUK operators were shooting at a civilian airplane.

      And that is a completely different perspective and theory, one that has so far not been explored much, nor does it have much evidence in it’s support yet.

      Would you care to elaborate ?

      Reply
      • GSOBJC

        It was not Strelkov’s personal post. A champion of the rebel’s case heard/saw/read “a boom in the sky” and hastened to share. No guilt just vanity.

        If it was Buk’s missile then the MH17 was THE target.

        Reply
      • Steve

        Tue interesting question is, why do we have video footage of a BUK with 3 rockets leaving, apparently recorded by SBU, but not a single further view of the vehicle later?
        Did they not bother continue to track the unit ?

        They must have been smart enough to find a hideout behind windows at the exact time of passing by…so I guess they could have provided some more status….

        Reply
        • Rob

          It is unlikely that it was produced by the Ukrainian SBU itself.

          For starters, if SBU took this video and wanted to show that it was taken in separatist controlled area on the morning of the 18th, then why does the metadata in the video show the wrong date and time, and why does the cameraman restricts its view to the billboard, so does not reveal the place where it was taken (even though from his window, he had a perfect 180 deg view of the road).

          If the SBU took this video (turned out to be in separatist-controlled Luhansk) then why does the cameraman reveal his exact location by showing (in the first second) that he taping from INSIDE an apartment that can be exactly located if you know that he is in Luhansk ? Is he crazy ?

          Besides, the BUK in that video WANTS to be seen :
          It had its netting pulled back, so that the missiles were clearly visible.
          If the BUK was in such a rush to get out of the country, then why did they take the time to put the netting on, but had no time to cover the missiles ?

          Also, Just like the BUK 312 picture, the Luhansk video was promptly used to implicate Ukraine publicly, and up till today Russian media is incorrectly stating that it was taken in Ukraine controlled area.

          Thus, it is much more likely that the video was made by a Russian security officer, or a separatist, and then provided to the SBU (or the interior ministry), via a source that the SBU (incorrectly) trusted.

          Just like they did for the BUK 312 picture.

          Reply
          • Rob

            Besides, if GSJOBC is right that MH17 was knowingly (deliberately) taken down, then video in Luhansk in Luhansk may have been taken BEFORE the 18th, with intent to use it to implicate Ukraine.

            That way, neither the BUK nor the truck had to drive back to Russia after the missile launch, and stayed in the Snizhne area.

            Which explains why nobody else documented this BUK after MH17 went down.

            And it also explains why the truck was found in Makiivka later (Aug 8) driving back to Donetsk from Snizhne.

            Food for thought.

          • Steve

            Interesting theory, thank you. But I doubt that any pro Russian side would tape a possible piece of evidence and hand it over to their enemy. Especially if they tried to ensure the AP journalists did not take any pictures…
            It would not really matter if the position of the cameraman was known, as he would have left the scene before publishing the data.

            The point I try to make is, we don’t really know the source of the video. So we also don’t know if its timestamps are genuine.

            What puzzles me is that Ukraine army is using normal white trucks to transport their equipment.

            How do we know who was driving all these trucks?
            Do we expect the region and frontline to be so tightly monitored, that each vehicle is stopped and analyzed ?

            Furthermore, we are talking about systems in approx. 80km distance, but do not consider their ability to move out and travel for deployment ?

    • Marco Nase

      Good point, GSOBJC! In light of the ever-present air-traffic over the area, the crew must have been aware of what a civilian liner looks like. But what about the following scenario? The Russian units in this area (and we have to assume that at least the Buk was manned by Russian regulars) only operate the launcher unit, without radar and command section. It`s still capable of shooting down aircraft on its own and you don`t have to burden yourself with the other vehicles. I have not yet seen images of the radar and command sections in Eastern Ukraine.

      Anyway, let`s assume they acquire a track on the SU-25, whose presence in the area at the time of the shooting has been confirmed, or maybe an AN-26, which might or might not have been nearby. They fire a missile. After a short while the missile loses its track and, unsupported by the radar and command section, tries to re-acquire the target on its own. With only the launcher unit present, the ground crew has no influence over what the missile does. Could the missile`s bird-brain instead acquire a track on a civilian plane?

      I`m only an amateur in these matters and would welcome the comment of an expert.

      Reply
      • AnonymousDefender

        Mr. Liar, dont know where TELAR crew can see SPEED, ALT, RANGE?
        Because you are lier!
        TELAR crew dont see ALT.
        TELAR crew can see SPEED OR RANGE!
        And SPEED is RADIAL SPEED – part of speed, which directed on TELAR.
        If target will fly around then TELAR cannot see target.
        So crew can dont separate Il-76, An-26 and B777 just by 9S35M1 radar info.
        On war is enough to see status of target – enemy or friendly and then destroy enemy target – it why TELAR designed for. But all civilian planes is enemy for russian SA-11.

        Reply
      • AnonymousDefender

        Another christmas story.
        Where is Su-25 which targeted BUK? Why archaic TELAR can detect target but 4 modern radars (and unknown amount of russian air defense radars) – cannot?
        How Su-25 drop a track?
        Why TELAR crew choose Su-25, not B777?
        Why TELAR crew broken a manual rule and fired only one missile instead of 2?
        Questions, questions…
        Im know answer on all these questions – TELAR dont see any Su-25 and dont fired to it. Target was B777 and it killed. Simple target and irresponsible separatist which closed sky above their terrorists area.
        Birdfall.
        http://i.imgur.com/X7TzQNG.jpg

        Reply
    • David

      Please check a complete article of:
      http://www.anderweltonline.com/wissenschaft-und-technik/luftfahrt-2014/shocking-analysis-of-the-shooting-down-of-malaysian-mh17/

      The main point is, that nobody can deny that the following image of the cockpit sheet metal shows particels going in and out (check the holes):
      http://www.anderweltonline.com/fileadmin/user_upload/PDF/Cockpit-MH017.pdf

      I don’t believe that this image of the cockpit is not faked because they were taken from OSCE and also published also in the OSCE premilinary report.

      The only leaving explanation is that something exploded inside the cockpit.
      The single bullets of the sharpnel ammunition of a BUK M1 missele does not explode.
      It is much more likely that this happend by the mix of explosive ammunition and armor-piercing ammunition like the one used with 30mm guns of SU-25.

      After a have read this article and wikipedia to compare ammunition effects i was confident that this airplane was not shot down by a BUK M1.

      But please check yourself!

      Reply
      • Sohy

        If you look closely at the holes that look like something was exiting as if coming from an internal explosion you will find that actually the outer layer is curled outward and the internal layer at the same hole curls inward. I am not an expert but I suspect that at the velocity that the missile fragments were passing through that air trapped between the two layers became pressurized upon impact and as the shrapnel hit the second laver the trapped high pressure air now behind the fragment pushed out to the outside as the fragment continued through the second layer. Considering the speed that the fragments were flying through two layers some unexpected results are probably being observed. Talk of an explosion inside the cabin are not substantiated by the evidence. For example the pilots seat is not all twisted out of shape, just signs of high velocity shrapnel penetrating. The only “explosion” that took place in the cabin is the disintegration that took place from the rapid depressurization that took place when the structural integrity of the cabin was compromised by the amount of shrapnel that it received. I don’t believe that there is evidence of canon fire as some of the holes are too small and inconsistent, also square holes and other shaped holes can be better explained by the shape of the fragmenting modules that make up the warhead of a Buk missile.

        Reply
  3. joffa

    This is all supposition as the investigators have not released any info as to who was responsible. Because of the agreement by the Netherlands, Australia Ukraine and whoever else is involved in the investigation that if the findings implicate any of the investigative Countries then that information will not be released, so if no info regarding who was responsible are not released one can only assume that it was not Russia. Also why aren’t Malaysia and Russia part of the investigation.

    Reply
    • AnonymousDefender

      Malaysia included in investigatin, Russia – dont because dont have any victims or dont her territory.
      So why terrorist-country should be involved in investigation?

      Reply
      • joffa

        Malaysia asked to be part of the investigative team but were refused. Why are Ukraine part of the investigation when they are one of the suspects in the shooting down of MH17. Russia has been accused by the West of being involved but it is clear that they were not involved, the only ones that are accused are Ukraine and Ukraine rebels who want to be part of Russia.

        Reply
        • AnonymousDefender

          Malaysia is part of both investigation after agree with NDA.
          Russia dont have any chance to be a part of investigation – dont have victims and dont her territory.
          MH17 was to fly over Ukraine so by Chicago Convention of ICAO must lead investigation but delegate leadership to country with most victims (Dutch).
          http://i.imgur.com/xWjgMDr.jpg

          Reply
  4. el

    Is there any situations when buk missle is flying and there is no white line behind it “cloud”?
    Haven’t seen any pictures/videos which were taken right after the crash which would have that line…they don’t just dissapear, line stays in the sky up to 5 min…

    Reply
    • AnonymousDefender

      9M38M1 have rocket engin which burn only first 20 seconds from total 45 seconds of flight time. So impact point missile-MH17 stay up to 20km from last point of smoke. Also cloudy sky was present so you have a good luck with serach white line on white clouds.

      Reply
      • el

        20 sec is a long time, I think white tall pole would be visible at least at some angles.

        Btw here’s interesting video, taken year before maidan…

        Reply
        • AnonymousDefender

          Do you read my post?
          Distance between impact and last smoke – near 20km.
          Cloud sky mask any white smoke.
          Also here war area so people dont wonder on smoke trails.

          Reply
        • karlis

          How November 2013 can be “year before maidan” if Euromaidan started on 21st November 2013?

          Reply
  5. Jeroen

    The international JIT Joint Investigation Team has studied all imaginary made available to them and checked for authenticy. The film of a Buk on a Volvo trailer was by them identified and verified as taken around 0500, July 18th Lugansk.
    They used that tape to ask wittnesses with any information concerning Buk sightings in Eastern Ukraine on 17 & 18th Juli 2014
    https://www.om.nl/actueel/nieuwsberichten/@88796/getuigenoproep/
    or see that call for assistance directly at

    Reply
  6. muchandr

    “Considering the confirmation of the presence of Ukrainian Buk 312 in government-controlled Kramatorsk in the summer of 2014 and the lack of evidence that this particular Buk was anywhere near Snizhne on July 17”

    This argument is wrong way around, as the main supporting argument for Snizhne site is the very presence of of “Separatist Buk” with no board numbers in Torez. 312 works just as well, as it was in range. In favor of it.

    a) The plane was hit on the left top side of cockpit pointing in NE direction, for example Kramatorsk. Snizhne site was SE of the plane, requiring the missile to cross over to another side of the plane. Not impossible, just less likely. Overall, if 312 did it, than from this very site in Kramatorsk most likely.

    b) Obvious pretense of the radar vehicle nearby. The original M1 TELAR guiding the missile on its own is very restricted in vertical dimension, to as little as 7 degrees I heard. The 1986 missile shown by the JIT lately is passively homed and requires radar guidance all the way to the target.

    Against this vehicle is the Sharij’s interview with the soldier, who tells that the 312 had an electrical fire and was non-operational. That would be a reason to leave it behind at Kramatorsk for repairs. Was it repaired in time? Did the failure concern only the traction part, after all. The dude said somebody joyrided the vehicle with manual brake on. Strange that they have one, but I’ve been able to verify a couple of other things that guy said as truthful.

    Reply
    • EM

      “The plane was hit on the left top side of cockpit pointing in NE direction, for example Kramatorsk.” – why are you so stupid? Is this the deficit of qualified personnel in Olgino? Kramatorsk is in the north-WEST from the crash site , not north-EAST.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buk_missile_system Buk missiles range is 35 kilometers. Kramatorsk airfield is located at the distance more than 80 kilometers from the place where missile hit the Mh17. The MH 17 could not have been shot down from Kramatorsk. This is physically impossible.
      P.S. First learn how to use Google maps before bullsh*ting. https://www.google.com/maps

      Reply
      • muchandr

        Last few minutes of known positions of the plane

        http://tumetuestumefaisdubien1.sweb.cz/MH17flightpath-last7minutes.png

        28 km to SW ping, 26 km to straight S from Kramatorsk airfield, consistent with damage to left side of the plane. From a plane to Kramatorsk airfield is NE and N, respectively. Most interesting is where the radar vehicles were. Because a single Buk-M1 is restricted to 7 degrees elevation and cannot guide a missile to a plane flying 10 km high in any of these position on its own. The required elevation for a 26 km shot is about 22 degrees. Interesting in a trivial trigonometric proof using interactive applet? The external radar vehicle can do 160 km up to 55 degree elevation.

        Reply
        • EM

          “Based on the preliminary findings to date, no indications of any technical or operational issues were found with the aircraft or crew prior to the ending of the CVR and FDR recording at 13.20:03 hrs.”
          http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2014/images/09/09/mh17.report.pdf
          last flight data recording at 16:20 local time (13:20 UTC), located west of the settlement Rozsypne.
          Kramatorsk airfield is located at the distance more than 80km (about 90 km) north-WEST from the Rozsypne. Do you understand, moron? >80km north-WEST from the place where MH17 was hit by missile. The MH 17 could not have been shot down from Kramatorsk by Ukrainian Buk. This is imposible.

          Reply
          • muchandr

            Which part of the map with flight recorder data plotted don’t you understand, moron? I took the start coordinates from

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kramatorsk_Airport

            You claimed to be great with Google maps? Go make yourself busy. You don’t have to believe me. The shortest distance from Kramatorsk airfield taken at coordinates given by Wiki to M17 flight path is only 26 km and passed about 6 minutes before the crash. Of course I don’t know exactly when the plane was hit, but it was certainly several minutes ahead of 13:20 UTC which turned out to be the actual moment the plane crashed near Hrabove. Maybe there was no voice traffic to record, because the pilots were dead instantaneously? It does not record pilot’s vital signs. Any actual hit on the plane must have come a few minutes ahead of 13:20 UTC when it actually crashed.

          • EM

            “Any actual hit on the plane must have come a few minutes ahead of 13:20 UTC when it actually crashed.” – you are degenerate!!!! read report, moron!!!
            http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2014/images/09/09/mh17.report.pdf
            “Based on the preliminary findings to date, NO INDICATIONS OF ANY TECHNICAL OR OPERATIONAL ISSUES WERE FOUND WITH THE AIRCRAFT OR CREW PRIOR TO THE ENDING OF THE CVR AND FDR RECORDING AT 13.20:03 HRS”
            “All engine parameters were normal for cruise flight. No aircraft system warnings or cautions for this flight were detected on the flight data recording until the recording ended at 13.20:03 hrs.”
            “No aural warnings or alerts of aircraft system malfunctions were heard on the cockpit voice recording, which ended at 13.20:03 hrs. Crew communication gave no indication that there was anything abnormal with the flight.”

            the plane was flying NORMALLY until 13.20:03 when it was hit by a missile. It happened near Rozsypne. Kramatorsk airfield is located at the distance more than 80km (about 90 km) north-WEST from the Rozsypne. About 90km north-WEST from the place where MH17 was hit by missile. The MH 17 could not have been shot down from Kramatorsk by Ukrainian Buk, because Buk missile range 35km.

          • muchandr

            The 13:20 timestamp is also the timestamp when external air traffic systems lost the plane. A missile hit most certainly does not shut down flight recorders, deliberately so. They are customarily placed into tail section BTW

            https://www.quora.com/Flight-Data-Recorders-Where-is-the-black-box-inside-a-plane

            Maybe you are reading too much into a technicality you do not understand? Though it is strange they have found nothing, it is not entirely impossible with there being no damage to control surfaces or the engines. I think the autopilot takes over and does something somewhat meaningful if the pilots suddenly let go of steering. So all they are saying is that the plane did not stall, but descended maintaining good amounts of aerodynamic lift and engines idling, at least for a while. Indeed, every reconstruction of the flight path I’ve seen shows the plane continuing close to its normal course by inertia. It does not include a sharp turn NE between Rozsypne and Hrabove, where the official epicenter of the crash is. Given that there is only 8.5 km between Rozsypne and Hrabove, the missile hit so late is impossible, because 777 cruises at around 250 m/s, covering the distance involved in less than 40 secs. Now the epicenter is of course designated fairly loosely and it seems they even found aircraft parts in Rozsypne, but those must have gotten there on their own when the plane disintegrated. Regardless of what your report says, it is not possible for a plane flying at 0.84M to loose 10 km height within 8 km even if you break its wings off. For some perspective, the recommended runway length for landing a 777-300ER is 1920 m, but that’s with no fuel left and using engine reverse. Takeoff minimum with fuel is 3260 m. So, your scenario involves a missile hitting a plane immediately overhead near instantaneously and plane dropping to the ground also near instantaneously. This is not how it works, dictated by physics. It is a higher source of authority than whatever Dutch Safety Board is. If they actually do say missile hit over Rozsypne, the report is sloppy or deliberately covering up Ukranian ass. Faulty either way. More likely is your misinterpretation of what counts as normal parameters for a flight recorder. Otherwise, do find an earlier missile hit location along the flight path for a credible story.

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

You can support the work of Bellingcat by donating through the following link:

TRUST IN JOURNALISM - IMPRESS