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 Ukraine: clarity and mystery in equal measure

 Tuesday 29 July 2014

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The data from the MH17 flight recorders have been successfully downloaded by British experts and, while the information is still being evaluated, Reuters is conveying from a premature news conference in Kiev the claims of Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine's Security Council.

Says Lysenko, analysis of the data show that the aircraft was destroyed by shrapnel coming from a "rocket blast" and went down because of "massive explosive decompression", thus indicating that a BUK surface-to-air missile may have been the weapon which brought the aircraft down.

A photograph of a segment of the fuselage – seemingly including some of the port framing from the cockpit windows (see above) – shows shrapnel penetration compatible with the aircraft having being downed by an anti-aircraft missile, the flight recorder data apparently corroborating physical evidence.

One might, incidentally, aver that the captain may have taken the full force of the blast, with the possibility that he died instantaneously, as it ripped through the cockpit wall.

All of this now builds a picture and, given that the US is also claiming to have satellite data which confirm a missile strike (although the actual data have not yet been released), there are potentially three sources which point towards a missile attack.

Add a photograph showing a dissipating smoke trail from the alleged launch site, and the sightings of a BUK missile launcher in the vicinity on the day of the shooting, and the balance of probability goes towards a missile strike.

This will not, of course, weaken the resolve of the many conspiracy theorists who are determined to show the aircraft was brought down by a bomb, or air-to-air missile. In the years to come, we can expect to see dedicated advocates come up with ever more extreme variations which will concede nothing to reality.

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Nothing of the recent information, of course, helps us determine the immediate origins of the BUK launcher, although the French magazine Paris Match has managed to come up with another photograph of the famous white low loader, this time tracking down the owner by dint of telephoning the number on the side of the truck. 

The owner of the truck company, Stroy-Bud Montage, claims the low loader was stolen "earlier this month", although the date is not specified. The location of the Paris Match photograph, however, has been traced by Ukraine at War to a lay-by on the outskirts of Donetsk – marked (1) on the satellite map (below - click to enlarge). 

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Interestingly, this is not very far from the truck depot where it was supposedly stolen and en route to a location in Donetsk where it was spotted on 17 July (but not photographed). Thence it was driven on the low loader along the H21 highway where it was seen travelling eastwards outside Zuhres – marked (2).

From there, it was seen in Torez, first on the low loader (3) and then, after the launcher was offloaded (4). The launcher was then driven along the road under its own power (5) to a spot close to Snizhne, where the missile was launched (6).

From there, the Russian border is only about 15 miles almost due south, along an unclassified, but metalled road, easily traversable by a tracked vehicle to the border crossing at Marynivki, which is big enough to have its own customs post on the Ukrainian side.

Instead of taking this direct route, though, the launcher is apparently re-united with the low loader, whence, it us is identified in a suburb of Luhansk (7), at the intersection of Korolenko St. and Nechuya-Levitsky Blvd. So far unexplained, the low loader and the BUK were travelling in the direction opposite to that which they had supposedly come, and were not on any direct route to the border.

According to the Ukrainian Security Service, however, the picture labelled as (7) is near Krasnodon (marked 8), the rig close to the Ukraine-Russian border and shortly to cross over (with one other) apparently at 2am, despite the shot showing daylight conditions.

By coincidence, though, Krasnodon is very close to Izvarino where the Ukrainian An-26 flying at 6,500 metres was downed on 14 July, allegedly by an SA-11 missile, possibly from the same launcher that destroyed MH17.

That then is where it stands. On the one hand the indications that MH17 was downed by an SA-11 now firmer than ever but, on the other, the immediate origins of the launcher even less clear.

According to some narratives, the launcher manages to travel from the Russian border to Donetsk completely unobserved. It then pops up in Donetsk on a "stolen" low loader, only a few miles from the Ukraine base from which, earlier, one or more launchers were claimed to have been captured.

Then, on its trip from Donetsk to Snizhne, the launcher is constantly observed, its presence recorded on video or still camera a further five times. It is then filmed once more, in a suburb of Luhansk.

This is apparently after MH17 has been shot down, but without any corroborative evidence which would identify the date and time of filming, the detail can only be surmise. The SBU, who apparently released the film, have lied about the location and the time, so they could just as well be lying about the date.

After that, though, the launcher drops out of sight, 30 miles from the Russian border, and has not been seen again. Discount the Luhansk footage and the launcher has not been seen since it appearance near Snizhne, while no pictures of any other launchers, tracker unit or command module have been seen.

In evidential terms, therefore, it seems we are no closer to pinning down whether the federal Russian government assisted the separatists in obtaining the BUK M1, or took any part in the shooting down of MH17.

Of course, one cannot say that Putin and is government are innocent, but that isn't the point. No one, not even the Americans, have come up with any robust evidence that will support a claim that the Russian government, directly – or even indirectly – helped the separatists take possession of a BUK M1 launcher.

It is thus positively bizarre that the EU tomorrow is set to impose sanctions on Russia, alongside the United States.

It has come to a pretty state that sanctions can now be imposed on an important nation, with significant diplomatic and economic implications, without first furnishing any convincing evidence. This is not the way things are supposed to work.


Richard North 29/07/2014 link

 Flooding: what a difference

 Monday 28 July 2014

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Pete went down to Burrowbridge in early March to have a look at the situation, and sent us the picture above. Yesterday, we revisited the same scene, with the picture taken below – with our Pete in the left of the frame. There is evidence of dredging, although it is not extensive. The work is scheduled to continue to October.

Richard North 28/07/2014 link

 Booker: could Obama have prevented the MH17 tragedy?

 Monday 28 July 2014

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It seems to me that three points need to guide us in our appreciation of MH17 – and generally on contentious issues. The first is that just because one party to a dispute is lying, that does not mean that the other parties are necessarily telling the truth.

The second point is that, just because a party tells lies, everything they say will always be lies. Sometimes, just to confuse the issue, they tell the truth - after all, the best way of lying is to cloak your deceit in the garments of truth.

Thirdly, rather like the first point, just because a party self evidently has something to hide, and is therefore not telling the whole truth, that does not mean that other parties do not also have things to hide. Everybody might have something to hide, albeit they may be hiding different things.

And with that in mind, later than usual – but posted for the record – we have the Booker column, which takes up the very real and important question of whether President Obama could have prevented the MH17 tragedy.

This, says Booker, is the most alarming unanswered question over the shooting-down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, one so fearful to contemplate that it has scarcely even been asked. Was President Obama in fact been better placed than anyone else to prevent that disaster from taking place?

When, in his statement 24 hours after the plane was downed, the President stoked speculation about the involvement of President Putin, did he deliberately obscure the fact that, days earlier, he had already learnt enough from his many intelligence sources to know that the 55 international airliners travelling every day along that flight path over eastern Ukraine faced the threat of precisely such a disaster?

If so, why did the US authorities not make it a top priority to ensure that such flights were immediately halted?

In all the initial confusion over what Mr Obama called "this outrage of unspeakable proportions", there was a hysterical rush to pin the blame on Russia’s president. "Putin's killed my son", as one newspaper front page had it. But, over the days that followed, as ever more information emerged about this story, the US government appeared to be backtracking on its original narrative.

The 30-year-old SA-11, or Buk M1 missile launcher, apparently responsible for the downing of MH17, had not been recently smuggled in over the Russian border, as was alleged. It had almost certainly been in Ukraine all along, as part of the equipment of Ukraine's official armed forces. 

On June 29, several launchers were probably captured from those forces, in a non-operational state, by the pro-Russian rebels. By July 13, at least one was again fully functional, and used the next day to down a Ukrainian Antonov 26 transport aircraft, from a height that only such a missile could have reached.

All this, including the exact position from where the fatal missile was launched, would almost certainly have been detected by the plethora of US satellites that have been closely monitoring that area, and confirmed by other intelligence, including mobile-phone intercepts.

It is inconceivable that this did not ring alarm bells with anyone, including the authorities in Kiev, which should have had prime responsibility for immediately closing their airspace.

But for various reasons, not least the sizeable income Ukraine would have lost from the airlines making 350 flights a day across the country as a whole, they did nothing. No one, then, was in a better position to know the danger that air travellers were being exposed to than Washington. Which also apparently did nothing.

It was three days after the downing of the Antonov that the rebels shot down MH17, almost certainly unaware that it was an airliner. When Mr Obama made his statement, he explicitly mentioned the Antonov, but fogged over the implications of that earlier incident by blurring it with the rebels’ shooting-down of other aircraft from lower altitudes, using much less powerful rockets.

Mr Obama then went on to say that "we know that these separatists have received a steady flow of support from Russia", including "anti-aircraft weapons".

The uncomfortable question, to which the world really does deserve an answer, is why, in the light of all that has emerged as to how much Washington knew in the days before MH17 was shot down, did it not take steps to ensure that civilian overflights were immediately halted?

As so often before in the West's weak and wrong-headed response to the Ukrainian shambles – created more than anything by those vaingloriously provocative moves to absorb that country into the EU – we can begin to understand rather better the way in which Europe sleepwalked into war in the summer of 1914. 

Pray God, Booker concludes, it does not come to that this time. But the hysterical misreading of this latest chapter in the Ukrainian tragedy has hardly inspired confidence in those who rule us.


Richard North 28/07/2014 link


 Sunday 27 July 2014


Good day out. Normal service will resume tomorrow evening. Meanwhile, here is Booker.

Peter North 27/07/2014 link

 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.

000a BUK-YouTube 001.jpg

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