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 Lite blogging

 Saturday 26 July 2014

EUreferedum is on the road. Tomorrow is Yeovilton International Air Day where we shall be watching Sea Kings blowing things up and other misadventures in aerospace. Normal service will be resumed later this weekend. Meanwhile, have a read of this.

Peter North 26/07/2014 link

 Ukraine: the selectivity of the of the media

 Friday 25 July 2014

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Something I meant to do yesterday, except it was too hot to concentrate, was this report from Russia Today on the Ukranian Security Service (SBU) and fabrication of evidence on the transport of BUK missile launchers to the Russian border.

After happily peddling the ever-more ludicrous Russian propaganda, which has ranged from the Ukrainians shooting down MH17 with their own launchers, to the absurd proposition of an Su-25 shooting down the airliner, this English-language Russian broadcaster has at last happened upon a story which is factually correct.

This attacks the foundation of the SBU claim that three launchers were in the possession of the separatists, which had been spotted heading for the Russian border in the small hours of 18 July, immediately following the downing of MH17. And crucially, it relies on two photographs, until recently displayed on the official website of the SBU as their evidence (see below).

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Following publication of the facebook photograph which suggested that part of the SBU "evidence" was of a photograph of a Ukranian Army BUK-M1 taken on 18 March 2014 in the northeast of Donetsk, however, and a number of websites carrying the same information, we see the response of the SBU. Without a word of explanation, it has removed the photographs from their website. Their "evidence" has disappeared.

Nevertheless, the website is still claiming that on "July 18 at 2 am in the Luhansk region crossed the border with Russia two trucks, each of which was launcher 'BUK-M'", despite the use of one photograph as supporting evidence now known to be fraudulent.

What particularly firms this up is, at the time the original photograph was taken, in early March, there was something of an invasion scare, leading to some high profile manoeuvres by the Ukrainian Army, including the deployment of at least a battalion of BUK launchers, some of which were filmed many times, in many different places, including a film which RT has found, and is now posted on YouTube (below).

Interestingly, the facebook photograph was also published several times on the web, on 19 March 2014, including here and, ironically, here.

On this site, ironically, is carried an appeal from the Ukrainian defence department "to journalists, bloggers and, in general, ordinary citizens to not to talk about the movement of Ukrainian troops to not [give] advantage [to] the enemy" (machine translation).

From this, two three points emerge: firstly we have the SBU willing to use such obviously falsifiable "evidence" in a fraudulent manner, in circumstances where it must have known its claim was false. Secondly we have the Western media and intelligence agencies willingness to believe this false information and, thirdly, even when it is disproved, it stands on the record with no attempt to remove or correct the falsehood, while the underlying lies continue to be perpetrated.

Even in terms of the future, this is quite important. In months and year to come, historians other others will be looking up the accounts of the period. Legacy sites such as The Times, which conveyed this false information when it was released, are giving no clue that the information they convey is false, and known to be so at the time it was published. 

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This then brings us to the second low loader hauling a BUK M1, and the now quite famous video grab from the YouTube clip (pictured above) supplied by the Ukrainian authorities, the vehicle said to be heading for the Russian border (even though the shot is in daylight). But the location of the vehicle has now been now identified as in the separatist-held town of Luhansk (see picture below).

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However, the location is in a residential part of the town (pictured above and located on the map below - click to enlarge). It is inside the ring road and not on any route directly leading to the Russian border. Furthermore, the nearest border crossing suitable for a heavy low loader (marked on map below) is over 30 miles away. 

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Without a verifiable time of filming, and more detail, it is actually not possible to tell the origin of the launcher, whether it is coming from or going to the border, or indeed whether it had been anywhere near the border.  It may even be on its way to the launch site. 

In other words, from an evidential point of view, the video clip tells us nothing about the origin of the BUK launcher, or its destination after the shooting down of MK17. In fact, it raises the question of why, if the launcher was being transported from the firing site in Snizhne to the Russian border, it was then seen in the suburbs of Luhansk, off the main route to the border?

But what now emerges is a fourth point. All sides have either been falsifying the evidence, misrepresenting it, or generally muddying the waters. As has been observed, there is an information war going on. Yet, when it comes to pointing fingers, we see exactly the same sort of selectively from the Western media as we are getting from the likes of RT. They are all at it. 

Hot off the press from the Economist, for instance, we have a piece entitled, "A web of lies", telling us that "Vladimir Putin's epic deceits have grave consequences for his people and the outside world". Mr Putin has blamed the tragedy of MH17 on Ukraine, the Economist complains, and not without justification does it dismiss his "lies".

Says the magazine, "A high-court's worth of circumstantial evidence points to the conclusion that pro-Russian separatists fired a surface-to-air missile out of their territory at what they probably thought was a Ukrainian military aircraft", yet we are told Putin was the author of the destruction of MH17:
Russia's president is implicated in their crime twice over. First, it looks as if the missile was supplied by Russia, its crew was trained by Russia, and after the strike the launcher was spirited back to Russia. Second, Mr Putin is implicated in a broader sense because this is his war. The linchpins of the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic are not Ukrainian separatists but Russian citizens who are, or were, members of the intelligence services. Their former colleague, Mr Putin, has paid for the war and armed them with tanks, personnel carriers, artillery - and batteries of surface-to-air missiles. The separatists pulled the trigger, but Mr Putin pulled the strings.
In terms of evidence, though, the magazine relies on its own news story, where we see written:
Since late June small convoys of Russian heavy weapons had been flowing into the Luhansk region of Ukraine from a deployment and training site set up near Rostov by the separatists' Russian military helpers, according to Western intelligence sources. On July 13th, at about the same time that Mr Putin was sitting down to watch the World Cup final with Angela Merkel ... American sources say that a much bigger convoy of around 150 vehicles made the journey. It is said to have included tanks, artillery, Grad rocket launchers, armoured personnel carriers and Buk missile systems. Russia flatly denies having sent any such missiles.
But then comes the priceless statement, where it is conceded: "Whether it was a missile delivered by that convoy that brought down MH17 is unknown" - more priceless when you appreciate that there is no evidence that there were BUK launchers in the convoy, much less that they had been supplied by the Russian government. 

So, the mighty Economist doesn't have any evidence that the BUK launcher was delivered by the Russians, and the Russians deny supplying it. It thus has to pay lip service to "reports in late June that the rebels had captured such missiles from the Ukrainians".

Here then lies the key sleight of hand. The Russians are, of course, "liars" so their denials can be discounted. But, when it comes to the separatists capturing a launcher from the Ukrainian Army, we get: "… the Ukrainians deny this and it may well have been deliberate Russian misinformation". Therefore, because the Ukrainians deny it, it is discounted by the Economist.  

Never mind that the Ukrainians too have been indulging in their own form of "misinformation", up to and including the fabrication of evidence. "Successful attacks on aircraft started straight after the convoy's arrival" so, despite the separatists having had a launcher since 28 June, and possibly having got it repaired (even having had it delivered by the self-same convoy), the Ukrainian narrative prevails.

Skewed, distorted, one-side, partisan, incomplete and flawed – the Economist typifies Western media coverage and captures absolutely the mindset of the Western intelligence analysts. Counterpuch has it as "Russia-bashing, hatred, hysteria and humbug", while Paul Craig Roberts states the obvious, that there was no evidence that Russia "did it", and Tony Cartalucci notes:
The abject failure of the United States to once again put forth credible evidence amid a firestorm of propaganda and rush to judgement - and subsequent action - echoes the attempted rush to war after NATO-member Turkey and Saudi Arabia assisted terrorists from the Syrian Al Qaeda franchise, Al Nusra, in carrying out a false-flag sarin gas attack in Damascus in August 2013. It also echoes the fallacious, fabricated evidence peddled before the United Nations regarding Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction" that in fact did not exist - but led to the invasion and nearly decade-long occupation of Iraq and over a million dead.
Anyone who now accepts that anything the legacy media has to say on such weighty matters is genuine, or even useful without very careful checking, or who again accepts an official "intelligence" assessment as unbiased, has only themselves to blame. The value in such reports is mainly in identifying the narrative. But if you want to know what is happening, you are going to have to go elsewhere.


Richard North 25/07/2014 link

 Ukraine: the EU is failing the test

 Friday 25 July 2014

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We pinned down the provocative role of the EU in relation to the Ukraine and Russia, way back in February, and Booker put the lid on it the following month.

Now, four months later, from a newspaper that seems determined to cast Putin as the spawn of Satan, pinning every ill it can imagine on the Russian President, we have in Steven Glover, what can only be the token contrarian, hired to argue the case that "the EU is guilty of precipitating this crisis, and arguably of causing it".

A fatal combination of vanity, hubris and naivety characterised EU policy towards Ukraine before its elected President, Viktor Yanukovych, was removed in a popular uprising earlier this year.

Now, writes Glover, the same EU, which recklessly attempted to lure Ukraine out of the Russian sphere of influence, reveals itself as being feeble and divided, and utterly incapable of dealing with the alarming consequences of its actions.

On that basis, the piece's headline asserts that, if it wasn't for the blundering EU, MH17 might not have been downed. Glover himself argues that, if Putin were really as crazy and militaristic as Adolf Hitler, as some commentators have suggested, he would presumably have sooner or later helped himself to the Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine.

Hence, we have a "divided, cowardly and unprincipled" EU set against a not quite so bad Putin, putting the EU seriously on the naughty step, Now that Russia is blatantly misbehaving, Glover writes, "the same European nations that thoughtlessly baited the Russian bear are running for cover in the most undignified way".

Glover doubts he is another Hitler. It seems much more likely that he is a nationalist and an opportunist who regarded the wooing of Ukraine by the EU, and the removal of President Yanukovych, as a sufficient provocation, while the EU is engineering its own downfall by its "such a timid response", which comes after the "needlessly aggressive" provocation of Russia.

However, while Glover might have fingered the EU correctly, I don't think he is anywhere close to understanding the Russians. And even if Putin himself is not a cold, calculating homicidal maniac, some of the people around him, such as his economic advisor, Sergei Glazyev, are barking mad, people who make paranoia sound normal.

Glazyev (see YouTube video) who characterises Ukraine as a US occupied country, with the "Kiev Nazis" intent on the genocide of the people of Eastern Ukraine (Donbass). Thence will the Americans, and their puppets in Kiev, militarise Ukraine and launch an invasion on Russia. They are intent on the construction of a Nazi dictatorship and the total mobilisation of the people against Russia.

By the end of the year, says Glazyev, there will be any army of half a million men ranged against us, with military equipment being brought out of storage, making a very powerful military machine targeting us, fired up by Nazis ideologically indoctrinated against Russia.

This is not something we can "sit out", the man says. After Donbass, the next target is Crimea, creating the pretext for a war against Russia – and regional war in the first instance and ultimately a "fourth world war".

Thus, within a six-month window of opportunity – after which he thinks it will be too late – Glazyev believes Russia should mount a pre-emptive strike, taking out the Ukrainian military capability. And, although he doesn't spell it out, he's thinking in terms of shock and awe. This is a man who is apparently ready and willing to go to war.

In this comfortable country of ours, it is hard to get inside the minds of the Russians and the Ukrainians, but the very fact a senior political figure can so readily talk about the need for war – and apparently have a strong following – tells us that we are dealing with something unimaginable in British politics.

Back in Ukraine, though, the leader of the "Kiev Nazis", prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk announced his resignation today, after the parliament blocked legislation on tighter controls over the energy sector in the face of dwindling natural gas supplies from Russia.

Stresses in the system are growing, and can only intensify. And there, Glover makes the very same point were making those months ago. In the face gowing threats to peace and stability, the EU has been exposed as a wayward toddler passing itself off as a world power.

The truth is, he says, that most European countries do not want to jeopardise their trade with Russia. Many of them are reliant on Russia for their oil and gas supplies, Germany in particular. Some 35 percent of its oil, and 42 percent of its gas, is imported from Russia.

And for those reasons, it seems the EU is not able to deal with the growing bellicosity of two parties who seem to be leading us inexorably to war. This is far more than the loss of MH17, terrible though that was, and far more then whether a number of EU member states manage to keep their citizens warm in winter.

This is a war that will potentially rip apart central Europe, one that could drag in the larger part of continental Europe, turning the clock back a century or more. It is a crisis which the New York Times says is testing the EU's resolve. And, as it stands, the EU is failing the test.


Richard North 25/07/2014 link

 Ukraine: adding to the sum of human knowledge?

 Thursday 24 July 2014

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Says the Guardian, a top rebel commander in eastern Ukraine has admitted the armed separatist movement had control of a BUK missile system, "which Kiev and western countries say was used to shoot down a Malaysia Airlines plane last week".

This is Alexander Khodakovsky who, we are told, "leads the Vostok battalion" – one of the main rebel formations. And he says the rebels "may" have received the BUK from Russia, which the Guardian helpfully tells us is "the first such admission by a senior separatist".

"That BUK I know about", he adds. "I heard about it. I think they sent it back. Because I found out about it at exactly the moment that I found out that this tragedy had taken place. They probably sent it back in order to remove proof of its presence".

Later on, the paper than tells us "Khodakovsky said he did not know where the missile system had come from but it may have come from Russia". He added the separatists "had seized several BUK systems from Ukrainian bases, but none of them were operational".

Then we get this little gem by the way of a direct quote, with Khodakovsky saying: "I'm not going to say Russia gave these things or didn't give them. Russia could have offered this BUK under some entirely local initiative. I want a BUK, and if someone offered me one, I wouldn't turn it down".

And that quote, it appears, comes from an "exclusive" Reuters report issued on Wednesday evening, and is the only evidential support there is for the claim that the separatists were supplied by the Russians. A "top rebel leader" specifically refused to say whether the Russians supplied the missile and this is taken as proof that the Russians supplied the missile.

The interview with Khodakovsky is the put by Reuters to Eileen Lainez, a Pentagon spokeswoman, who is then cited as saying that his remarks confirmed what US officials had long been saying, that "Russian-backed separatists have received arms, training and support from Russia".

And now, today, today, we have Khodakovsky denying what little substance there was in the Reuters report. "We were discussing theories but one simple phrase was cutting throughout like a red line that I do not have the information on militia possessing such kind of a weapon," he says, than adding that he had told Reuters that he was not an expert and could not comment on the crash.

That is, in fact, what comes over from the interview – a man who has no specific knowledge and is only making guesses on what is not much more than common knowledge. His most pertinent comment is that, if the Ukrainian authorities knew that the separatists DPR allegedly possessed BUKs, they should have banned civilian flights in the Donetsk airspace.

Needless to say, this is too late. The thrust of the Reuters story has already been repeated by other newspapers, and has acquired the status of "truth" by dint of multiple repetition. But would somebody please tell me how this is news, and what it adds to the sum of human knowledge?

Even more so, one must ask what the utility is when another media organ embellishes the story by having Khodakovsky suggest that the missile system had "probably" come from Russia - a word that Reuters doesn't offer in its won report.

This is misrepresentation to the extent of being an outright lie – yet it still apparently qualifies as reputable journalism. One has to give the media ten out of ten for persistence, though. Once the "pack" decides on a narrative, nothing is going to dissuade it from  pursuing it. And if journalists can't get what they want from one source, they keep going until they find one that will give them it - or simply make up what they need.


Richard North 24/07/2014 link

 Ukraine: race to the bottom

 Wednesday 23 July 2014

If one struggles past the firewall on the Financial Times, to read their latest piece on the MH17 developments, one gets a small insight into how precious the "intelligence" communities are, and how once again they have delivered "dodgy" goods.

Yet, together with their professional hangers-on, they seem to be more concerned with protecting their sources and reputations than they are in delivering information.

The FT tells us the "crash" (which is not how I would put it) has "created a quandary for the US intelligence community". While officials express confidence about its conclusions, the intelligence failures in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war still colour its willingness to enter public debates.

At the same time, we are graciously informed, the US is concerned that if it releases too much of the data it has collected from satellites and other monitoring tools, it will give away insights into its intelligence capabilities to the Russians.

The thing is here that there is a huge amount of detail in the public domain about the capabilities of the US satellite systems, and it takes little imagination to work out what information is available to the US – and what it does not know.

With the media grudgingly conveying the US intelligence appreciation that conceded there is no evidence that Russia supplied the missile which shot down MH17, we can take it that if the US did have a "smoking gun" they would be splattering the details over every source they could lay their hands on.

The problem for the US (and the rest of the self-regarding intelligence "community") is that they have made assumptions that were not warranted by the evidence and they have been unable to find anything that stands up the case they have already made.

However, it would seem that their greatest asset is not their intelligent resource but the utter incompetence of the Russian intelligence services. Not only have they sought to reposition the YouTube pictures of the BUK low loader to a location where there are no trolley bus lines, despite the video showing the cables in the shot, they have also assigned magical properties to the Su-25 which even some of the British media have been able to see through.

Thus, this is not a question of the respective intelligence services vying with each other in their appreciation of the evidence. It is more like two blundering, clumsy wrestlers snacking into each other, with the winner declared on points in a contest that looks both pointless and incomprehensible.

One can only sit back and reflect that these are the intelligence services which, had the Cold War ever turned hot, would have been appraising their respective governments on what was going on. By most recent performance, had we been forced to rely on what they were delivering we would have been in very great danger indeed.

Richard North 23/07/2014 link

 Ukraine: propagandised by the slaughter

 Wednesday 23 July 2014

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 I had no idea last Thursday, when I first heard of the downed MH17 that, five days later I'd still be writing about the issue, virtually without break. Thrown into the deep end, with James Delingpol asking me to do a piece for Breitbart, I got just over an hour to research and write it at a time when there was very little published.

At that time, it should be recalled, the Mail was describing the BUK as a "shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile" that "can be packed into a golf bag and assembled and fired very rapidly by one person with minimal training". 

It was only a few hours later that the Sun was coming off the printing presses with the headline: "Putin's missile", setting the scene for the rest of the media which had already decided that the Russians in general and their President in particular were responsible for downing the Malaysian Boeing with the loss of 298 lives.

Why this is so very wrong, of course, is not because we assert, or even believe, that Putin is innocent. Simply, in this country where the rule of law is supposed to prevail, we do not – or should not – do things this way. To decide on guilt before an investigation has even been started is mob rule.

My first full blogpost, therefore, I sought to explore the reasons why MH17 has been so tragically downed, and to establish some of the events that lay behind the incident, something that was never going to be easy.

In the six more blogposts written, here, here, here, here, here and here we have covered a great deal of ground but have yet adequately to express the sentiment in the latest piece by Mary Ellen Synon, who asserts: "Pinning everything on Putin is too easy".

The British newspapers, she writes, like the British government, are pinning the blame for the Malaysian Airlines disaster on Putin. Most Americans, whether Democrats or Republicans, would see things the way these UK headlines do: "Putin is a pariah – he must be treated as such"; "Britain and America implicate Russia in Flight MH17 missile attack"; and "Two British families killed by 'Putin the terrorist'".

Even the politicians are getting in on the act. A column written by Prime Minister David Cameron bore this headline: "This is an outrage made in Moscow".

However, writes Mary Ellen Synon, some well-informed conservatives in Britain are pointing the finger for the war in Ukraine not at Putin, but at the empire builders of the European Union. Peter Hitchens, a leading British conservative commentator, summed up the argument in the Mail on Sunday:
… those who began the current war in Ukraine – the direct cause of the frightful murder of so many innocents on Flight MH17 on Thursday – really have no excuse. There is no doubt about who they were. In any war, the aggressor is the one who makes the first move into neutral or disputed territory.

And that aggressor was the European Union, which rivals China as the world's most expansionist power, swallowing countries the way performing seals swallow fish (16 gulped down since 1995).

Ignoring repeated and increasingly urgent warnings from Moscow, the EU – backed by the USA – sought to bring Ukraine into its orbit. It did so through violence and illegality, an armed mob and the overthrow of an elected president.
As for the question of Vladimir Putin arming the pro-Russian militia with BUK missiles, M E Synon accepts that the evidence points in another direction: the missiles were not supplied by Putin, but were among the arms stolen by the militia from a Ukrainian military unit at the end of June.

That is not to say there is proof, nor even good evidence, but the fact that the BUK missile is on the Ukrainian Army inventory, that it has been reported in the area, that separatists claimed to be in possession of them after Military unit A1402 (Donetsk SAM regiment) was captured on 29 June or thereabouts, and that we have a separate voice claiming that equipment was repaired and delivered to the insurgents, all constitutes a plausible narrative.

On the other hand, the politico-media nexus seems to rely entirely on circumstantial evidence, mainly on the premise that the equipment is so complex that the separatists could not operate it without outside assistance.

To support this assertion, much is made of the difficulty of operating a complete tactical unit, with search radar, the command vehicle and the launcher, while not allowing that the launcher is capable of autonomous operation, and vastly more simple to operate.

No one is asserting that untrained operators could use the equipment to shoot down an aircraft but, as the website quoted notes, "untrained" is a relative term. To be able to fire at a "soft" target such as an airliner, the operator needs relatively little training (a few hours of seeing the system in action and getting some answers to the "why did you push that button?"-type of questions).

With the media trailing behind the curve, though, we have the Guardian striving to prove that which we do not see the need to contest – that there was a BUK M1 launcher in the hands of the separatists on the day MH17 was shot down.

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Nor would we contest the idea that the same BUK, once it had brought down MH17, was moved across the border to Russia. Unlike the 312 launcher, it seems as if the YouTube pictures of the while transporter, with the blue flash on the side of the cab (pictured above),  may have been genuine, despite Russian attempts to muddy the water. 

It appears that the YouTube position has been narrowed down to the rebel controlled city of Luhansk, around 30 miles from the area where it was reportedly sighted earlier in the day, and about 30 miles by road from the Russian border. Strangely, though, the location is in a residential area of the town, off the main route to the border.

That, therefore, is not evidence of Russian government complicity in the supply of the weapon to the separatists and what characterises the entire case against the Russians is that no evidence of any nature has been produced to support such a claim. Five days after MH17 was downed, we've seen assumption, conjecture and assertion, but no evidence.

And, at last, we get official confirmation: via Fox News and others, we are told that senior US intelligence officials will only says that Russia was responsible for "creating the conditions" that led to the shooting down of MH17, but have offered no evidence of direct Russian government involvement.

The intelligence officials were "cautious in their assessment", noting that while the Russians have been arming separatists in eastern Ukraine, the US had no direct evidence that the missile used to shoot down the airliner came from Russia.

As it stands, my best guess remains that a single BUK launcher was seized from the Ukrainian Army on 29 June, but in a non-operational state. It may well have been transported into Russia where it was repaired by "civil society", and then returned to the separatists on or about 13 July and put to use against the An-26 on 14 July. It was used again on 17 July to shoot down MH17 and the taken back over the border that evening, before nightfall.

This is all part of what Hitchens calls a "filthy little war" that has been under way in Eastern Ukraine for many months. Many innocents have died, unnoticed in the West. Neither side has anything to boast of – last Tuesday, eleven innocent civilians died in an airstrike on a block of flats in the town of Snizhne, which Ukraine is unconvincingly trying to blame on Russia.

But, if there is going to be any resolution of this slaughter, we are going to have to work with Putin and the Russians. Unwholesome, unreliable and aggressive Putin may be, but calling him a murderer and accusing him and his government of conspiring to bring down an airliner full of innocent people is got going to help us prevent further slaughter. And neither will further sanctions nor other empty gestures.

"So please", writes Mary Ellen, "do not be propagandised by Thursday's horrible slaughter into forgetting what is really going on". In my view, we owe it to ourselves to assert our own civilisation, and uphold the values that others so freely traduce. We do not do this for Putin. We do it for ourselves.


Richard North 23/07/2014 link

 Ukraine: part of the "evidence" unravels

 Tuesday 22 July 2014

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Some of the evidence adduced by the Ukranian Security Services (SBU), as to the movements of the "BUK" SA-11 missile launchers, and the number in the hands of the separatists, comes from their website on 19 July.

There, the SBU tells us that, on 18 July at 2 am in the Luhansk region, two trucks crossed the border with Russia, each of them carrying a "BUK-M" launcher, said to be in the possession of the separatists. And, by way of evidence, we are offered two sources, one a video of a low loader and another, a still photograph of a similar low loader, hauling a "BUK-M" launcher with the vehicle designation 312 (photograph above).

We remarked on this launcher in our own post, noting that apparently the same unit had been seen as part of a Ukrainian Army convoy on 5 March 2014, to the north of Donetsk - suggesting therefore that the launcher illustrated by the SBU was of Ukrainian Army origin.

However, now flagged up by the Interpreter website is a short note referencing a Facebook page which shows what appears to be the same truck and launcher combination (below). But, for the SBU, there is a slight problem here: the datestamp (which cannot be changed by a user) is Tuesday 18 March 2014, at 10.35pm. This is a "mobile upload" so it could be very close to the time the photograph was taken.

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Furthermore, the location is identified as the Yasynuvata post, just north of Donetsk. It is not so very far from Gorlovka where what appears to be the same launcher was spotted, only 13 days earlier, and only about five miles from the A-1402 regimental base on Stratonavtiv Street.

The Interpreter is of the view that the Facebook photos (there are two of them – the second is below) were clearly taken at the same time and in the same location as the picture released by the SBU. It considers, therefore, that the SBU has "made a mistake" by including this picture in their latest release. It does not appear to show a BUK that was in possession of the rebels – and nor indeed that it was on its way to Russia. 

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Yet, this has not stopped the Washington Post (and many other newspapers, including The Times) accepting the original photograph as evidence of the launcher having "been spotted entering Russia from Ukraine at 2 a.m. Friday".

We don't know whether the SBU was simply mistaken, or deliberately lying, but a service which is offering a four-month-old photograph as evidence of an event that supposedly happened last week is not one to be trusted. And nor, without independent corroboration, can any other evidence they have on offer.

And that is the problem that is blighting the whole of this affair – much of the so-called evidence that has been presented is unverifiable and contradictory, in the context where none of the parties can be trusted to be telling the truth.

But, given that the Western media and intelligence services have been so reliant on the SBU, nothing they have to report – particularly as to the BUK missile launchers - can be taken as read.

When it comes down to it, there is simply no evidence as to the number of SA-11 launchers that have been in the possession of the separatists, from where any were obtained and where they are now.


Richard North 22/07/2014 link

 Ukraine: the plot thickens – Part IV

 Tuesday 22 July 2014

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I really don't know what is more fatuous – the idea that Mr Putin was personally responsible for supplying the missiles that shot down MH17, or the idea that it doesn't matter – that as long as he is supporting the separatists, he bears the ultimate responsibility for the downing of the Malaysian airliner.

The reality, of course, is that Putin is playing a dangerous game, supporting the separatists to an extent, but only to an extent. He has no interest whatsoever in escalating the conflict to a level where it gets out of control, or in causing dangerous international incidents, which can have serious economic and political consequences.

Furthermore, it only takes a very slight knowledge of the situation in Russia and on its border to understand that Putin does not have full – and in some cases even partial – control of events. He must carry the "hard men" with him, and if he steps outside the bounds of the acceptable, his own power base comes under threat.

To a very great extent, therefore, Western leaders have greater control over their own machines than Putin, at least within their own domains. And in that context, people such as President Obama have in certain respects as much power to shape events in Ukraine as does the Russian President.

And it is here that we need to be looking, at whether the United States could have done anything to influence events, and  prevent the loss of MH17.

Here, we have already looked at Ukraine and whether it should have sounded the alarm about the existence of high-performance anti-aircraft missiles in the hands of the separatists. But what applies to the Ukrainians applies in spades to the United States and Mr Obama.

The crucial issue here is that downing of the An-26 on 14 July, and whether it was picked up by US satellite systems. It is now widely acknowledged that the shooting down of MH17 was witnessed by satellites, but there is no evidence that the US intelligence agencies were watching the area on 14 July.

Nevertheless, there is absolutely no question that the SBIRS network is capable of detecting, monitoring and recording the deployment of a surface-to-air missile, and there is also the Defence Support Programme, which launched 23 missile warning spacecraft between 1970 and 2007.

But, as this blog also tells us, several SIGINT and ELINT satellites cover this area, including various MENTOR (ORION) satellites and one MERCURY satellite in GEO, and USA 184, which is both a TRUMPET-FO SIGINT satellite and a SBIRS platform, in HEO.

One does not have to understand the jargon to appreciate the significance of all this. SIGINT satellites amongst others serve to detect and monitor signals from military radar and missile systems. Given the interest of the USA and NATO in closely watching military developments in the Ukraine conflict, it is almost certain that some of these are (and were) targeting the area.

With the flare-up of fighting in eastern Ukraine over June and early July, there is every reason to expect that the US would have deployed satellites to observe the area, and if they picked up the BUK launch which destroyed MH17, then it is entirely reasonable to assume they picked up the downing of the An-26 on 14 July. Furthermore, the equipment could have identified the launch of an SA-11 missile.

From what we know of the way the US administration works, it is also the case that the President is given a daily security briefing. The fact that Ukrainian separatists had acquired a missile system which could threaten commercial aviation, and the lives of US citizens, is surely something he would have been told during such a briefing.

Sadly though, with the media (and Western politicians) obsessed with Putin's role and his degree of responsibility for the actions of the separatists, they have been distracted from events of 14 July. No one is asking, therefore, whether it was possible as a result of satellite intelligence delivered to the US President  to have warned the world's airlines of a potential threat, taking measures to keep them out of harm's way.

Amongst a very few others, one journalist in particular is asking what the US satellites might have seen. Investigative reporter Robert Parry thus comments:
… here we are yet again with the MSM relying on unverified claims being made by the Kiev regime about something as sensitive as whether Russia provided sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles – capable of shooting down high-flying civilian aircraft – to poorly trained eastern Ukrainian rebels.

This charge is so serious that it could propel the world into a second Cold War and conceivably – if there are more such miscalculations – into a nuclear confrontation. These moments call for the utmost in journalistic professionalism, especially skepticism toward propaganda from biased parties.

Yet, what Americans have seen again is the major US news outlets, led by the Washington Post and the New York Times, publishing the most inflammatory of articles based largely on unreliable Ukrainian officials and on the US State Department which was a principal instigator of the Ukraine crisis.
The alarming thing is that, when we look at the State Department and John Kerry - responsible for many of the headlines yesterday, we find that he is very far from offering evidence of Russian complicity. Kerry is asked: "Are you bottom lining here that Russia provided the weapon?", whence he responds:
There's a story today confirming that. But we have not, within the administration, made a determination. But it's pretty clear, when, you know, there's a build-up of extraordinary circumstantial evidence. You know, I'm a former prosecutor. I've tried cases on circumstantial evidence. It's powerful here. But even more importantly, we picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar. We also know, from voice identification, that the separatists were bragging about shooting it down afterwards.
But, when it comes actually to answering the question, all he can say is: "… there's a stacking up of evidence here, which Russia needs to help account for. We are not drawing the final conclusion here".

PressTV picks up this sleight of hand, calling the Kerry accusation a "hoax", remarking that nowhere has he made statements about the source of a missile, noting that dozens of journalists around the world have been "burned" by this type of story.

What has been called a "reckless rush to judgement", however, is more than a matter of shoddy journalism and gullible journalists. The role of US intelligence, its threat assessment of the events of the 14 July and the failure to give a warning to the world's airlines is part of the story. And it is being missed.

Peter Mckay in the Mail is one of those who is beginning to question the consensus and we see some sensible writing from Mary Dejevsky in the Spectator, who argues that the "blame game reflects badly on all of us".

That, though, is the least of it. There is a case to be made that there has been a major system failure here, with the US authorities every bit as culpable in their own way for the MH17 tragedy as the Russians - culpable in the sense that they could have stopped it from happening.

Thus, when Mr Cameron says, as he did yesterday, that the shooting down of MH17 was "a defining moment for Russia", he needs as much re-education as the journalists who report his words. The real story - the whole story - has yet to be told. What did satellite intelligence tell Mr Obama, and why didn't he insist on the world's airlines being warned of the emergent threat? 


Richard North 22/07/2014 link

 Ukraine: the plot thickens – Part III

 Monday 21 July 2014

000a Times-022 Ukraine.jpg

With hardly any more evidence that it had on Saturday – which was none at all - it seems the United States, represented by John Kerry, is prepared to accuse Russia of sending "powerful rocket launchers" to the separatists who shot down MH17.

This is according to The Times which carried the report on its front page, claiming "Damming US intelligence puts Russia in the dock". It is referring to an "American intelligence report" which also alleges that President Putin allowed separatist fighters to receive training inside Russia - including on the air-defence systems apparently used to bring down MH17.

The US report then goes on to claim that three BUK-M1 surface-to-air missile units of the type believed used for the attack were hurriedly taken back into Russia at night, within hours of the incident on Thursday.

The interesting part of that claim is that it relies largely on "intelligence" from the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). However, the evidence suggesting that the origin of the missile launcher(s) was the Ukrainian Army, and that one launcher at least had been in use on 14 July, has been largely glossed over.

In fact, we have the New York Times saying that American officials have ruled out the possibility that the separatists used a captured system from the Ukrainian government's arsenal. The SA-11 unit that the separatists said they captured in June, American officials say, "is not operational and is in a different region of Ukraine".

Thus, the SBU is still asserting that it has "compelling evidence that a Boeing 777 aircraft was shot down with the use of BUK anti-missile system which together with a crew had been transferred from Russia to Ukraine".

Intercepts from mobile phones, it is claimed, have revealed that a BUK missile launcher controlled by an all-Russian crew of between three and six men had crossed the Russia-Ukraine border at 1am on Thursday near the village of Sukhodolsk.

The launcher is said to have been tracked to the rebel stronghold of Donetsk and then escorted by rebel forces to the village of Pervomayski in the battle-torn area around Luhansk. Just after 4pm its radar system detected a large aircraft flying at 33,000ft. According to the official, the BUK's Russian operator reported the size of the aircraft to his commander, a junior rebel officer, who gave the order to launch a missile, believing the target to be a Ukrainian transport.

In a statement issued on Saturday, Security Service then said: "The SBU conducts investigative actions and receives irrefutable evidence that Russian citizens were involved in the act of terrorism", adding that, "the Russian side ordered terrorists to withdraw BUK launchers from Ukraine".

As a result, the SBU says, at 2:00 (am presumably) on 18 July (the day after MH17 had been downed, "two movers each with a BUK missile launcher crossed the Russian border in Luhansk region. At 4:00, another three movers: one of them empty, other carrying a launcher with four missiles and the latter allegedly with a control unit, crossed the state border".

A senior SBU official has also told The Sunday Times that "the missile launcher that shot down the passenger jet was smuggled into eastern Ukraine from Russia on the morning of the attack and hastily withdrawn back over the border hours after the tragedy".

000a BUK-022 night312.jpg

That the launcher was taken across the border to Russia after the attack is indeed possible, as this report suggests. But that does not constitute evidence of the original source of the launchers. And where this gets especially interesting is that the SBU has posted several pictures of one BUK unit, on a low loader with a white tractor cab. The launcher is clearly an M1 model, with the vehicle designation 312 (pictured above).

From an entirely different source, however, we see what appears to be exactly the same launcher, vehicle designation 312 (pictured below), claimed to have been filmed in March in the Gorlovka area, north of Donetsk (outside the separatist area), as part of a Ukrainian Army convoy. The YouTube video is here (see 37 seconds in). 

000a BUK-022 March312.jpg

If these two pictures do show the same launcher, and the March video does indeed show a Ukrainian Army unit, then the SBU have very kindly furnished evidence that supports the case that the launcher used to down MH17 was indeed captured from the Ukrainian Army on 29 June and subsequently repaired.

What is also possibly an issue is that while the Russians and the Ukrainians both use the BUK anti-aircraft missile system, the Ukrainians are equipped with the older M1 version, which pre-dates the break-up of the Soviet Union. Russian forces tend to use the upgraded BUK M2 model (NATO code SA-17 Grizzly), most easily identified by the different radar package (picture below).


There remains little doubt that the separatists did have one or more M1 launchers (possibly up to three). And such that we have reported already is further reinforced by a report from an Associated Press reporter who claims that on Thursday 17 July that he saw a BUK missile system, alongside seven rebel-owned tanks, parked at a petrol station outside the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne.

Then there is this picture of the BUK missile system said to be in the possession of pro-Russian separatists, reported on 17 July, the location now identified as Gagarin Street in close-by Torez, one of the nearest towns to the MH17 crash site.

The appearance of the BUK M1 312 launcher (with the photograph published by the SBU) is of course entirely compatible with assertions made by analyst Sergei Kurguinjan, who has it that a Ukrainian launcher was repaired by Russian "civil society" and put into use by the separatists.

This same report is expanded upon here, with Kurguinjan claiming on 13 July in a video report (now deleted, but possibly this one) that the separatists already had a BUK anti-aircraft missile system and that they were ready to use it.

According to Kurguinjan, styled as a pro-Kremlin political analyst, "Civil society delivers a large number of armoured vehicles and other equipment on private terms". He adds that, "Russian civil society will never cross the line and will supply very modest equipment. They will not supply Iskander or C-300 or other ambitious systems because it is not in [the] competence of a civil society to do so and because it is not needed".

He affirms that the separatists have BUK, which was allegedly "seized from the Ukrainian military". Kurguinjan goes on to say: "Our talented electricians will of course repair it. I think that they seized from the Ukrainian bandits - it is already repaired. They will restore it in the near future. It will be restored. It is possible that there are few of them".

The report closes with Kurguinjan stating unequivocally that the militants are ready to use the weapons. "I do not recommend to Kyiv to make any foolery", he says.

That the separatists had possession of the BUK system on and before 14 July can be triangulated with the SBU mobile phone transcripts, and also the downing of the An-26 which Kiev is now accepting was brought down by an SA-11. Yet part of the US intelligence case is that the launcher which downed MH17 was part of a convoy of 150 military vehicles that secretly crossed into Ukraine "days before the atrocity".

What is turning out to be typical of John Kerry's brand of "intelligence", though, there is no physical evidence offered of the existence of this convoy – much less that it included an M1 launcher. US assertions, it seems, can be believed without the need for evidence, even when made by officials on condition of anonymity, while Russian denials are just denials.

You can see why Putin is not exactly impressed by what the West has to say.


Richard North 21/07/2014 link

 Ukraine: the plot thickens – Part II

 Monday 21 July 2014

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In Part I, we reviewed a specific newspaper report from yesterday which failed somehow to inform us that there is no good evidence that Russia (as in the Russian government) supplied or conspired to supply SA-11 anti-aircraft missiles to Ukrainian separatists.

That does not in any way diminish the evidence that Russian and the separatists are working closely together, but that is not sufficient in itself to assert that the Russian government is complicit in assisting the separatists in what amounts to a major and dangerous escalation in a growing civil war in eastern Ukraine, one far more serious than has been generally appreciated.

But, the media in particular seem to be ignoring the admission that any evidence of Russian complicity is supplying SA-11s is very slender indeed, while CNN is going way over the top in alleging Russian complicity, with no evidence at all other than unsupported statements by anonymous officials.

In the main, the media also seems to be ignoring reports that the separatists obtained the equipment on 29 June from the Ukrainian air defence regiment A1402 in Donetsk. The evidence is not even being contested. Largely, it is simply being ignored.

However, there have been reports to the effect that, while launcher systems were captured, they were non-functional - even "junk" or broken beyond repair - at the time of capture.

What we have now though is an uncorroborated report which tells us that that Russian "civil society" assisted the separatists in repairing a launcher after it had been captured, returning it to a working condition, allowing it to be put into use by the 14 July (see screen grab above).

A point of interest here is that the term "civil society" does not necessarily imply official Russian support. Furthermore, in that the border between the separatist-held territory and Russia is porous, it is quite possible that the launcher, having been captured from the Ukrainians, could have been transported over the border, and than then back into Ukraine, where it was used against an An-26 military transport on 14 July.

What then becomes quite crucial is that, if movement across the border implies complicity of the Russians, we cannot necessarily use this movement as evidence of high-level support from the Russian government, and not can we say that, even if one launcher was seen coming in from Russia (which does not appear to have been the case), that does not necessarily mean it was supplied by the Russians.

What is also extremely significant from the source just cited, though, is that we see confiormation that the SA-11 launcher was used to down an An-26 military transport on 14 July, after the equipment had been repaired to make it usable.

000a Kiev-020 An26.jpg

This is the first Russian language source I can recall which specifically suggests that the Antonov was downed by an SA-11. Nevertheless, this is by no means the only report. We also see it from the Financial Times, which tells us that the aircraft was hit while flying at 6,500m – well beyond the range of a portable missile system.

The attack, we are told, sounded alarm bells in Kiev. And although then it was regarded as "an isolated" incident, we are told that officials in Kiev are now in little doubt as to what caused it – and the crash of MH17. They point the finger at a Russian-made "BUK" missile launcher.

At the time, though, it seems the Ukrainians were keen to blame Russia, charging that "a more powerful missile" than a shoulder-carried missile had been used, "probably fired" from Russia.

David Stern for the BBC even then described the accusation that Russian forces had shot down a Ukrainian transport plane as "potentially a game changer". If Russia was indeed targeting Ukrainian aeroplanes from inside its territory, it was "an act of aggression of the highest order".

However, the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) claims it knew full well from a telephone intecept on 14 July between a pro-Russian militant and a man identified as "Oreon", an intelligence officer with Russia, that the separatists were talking about "avenging for planes today", with Oreon recorded as saying: "We already have BUK, we'll be shooting down them to hell".

Yet, on the day, the SSU did issue a press release about the detection of anti-aircraft missiles, but what it was reporting was the finding of a cache of man-portable "Igla-1" missiles. There was no hint whatsoever, that massively more dangerous missiles were in the hands of the separatists.

However, despite choosing publicly to pin the blame on the Russians, the Kiev authorities that very day imposed a minimum height requirement of 32,000 on all overflights. It was a thousand feet higher than that, on the instructions of Ukrainian air traffic, that MH17 was later to fly.

What has been completely missed, however, is that Ukraine bears the primary responsibility for ensuring the safety of aircraft in its own airspace and, if it had been aware that the separatists had missiles which could reach 72,000ft - and they had already shot down one aircraft - then it had a duty to publish a warning and exclude aircraft from the danger area.

That it kept silent, revealing its knowledge about "BUK" only after MH17 had been shot down, puts the Ukrainian government in the frame as responsible for putting the Boeing 777 in harm's way. 

Not least, Ukraine was protecting the revenue from the overflight fees levied on the 350 aircraft transiting each day, amounting to millions each week. But one can only speculate on further motives. The indications are that the government was looking for a "game changer".

With the separatists in possession of high-performance anti-aircraft missiles, and the air traffic control obligingly routing a stream of airlines over their territory, it could only be a matter of time before the Ukrainian government got its wish.

In fact, it took a mere three days for that "gamer changer", with the "BUK" system intercepting MH17. Things will never be the same again. And that brings us to the conclusion of Part II.


Richard North 21/07/2014 link