The outlines of what happened today in Ukraine are starting to emerge.
Pro-Russian rebels recently obtained Russian-made BUK surface-to-air missiles. These missiles have a vertical range of 72,000 feet, making them more than capable of shooting down a civilian airliner, and also of shooting down most military aircraft.
The rebels have in fact shot down two Ukrainian military aircraft this week, a cargo transport and a fighter jet.
Today, they fired on another aircraft and brought it down. They bragged about it on social media, and warned Ukraine not to fly in that area again.
They had a video crew on hand to capture their moment of triumph.
Then they arrived at the scene, expecting to find trophies of war.
Instead, they found horror. The rebels had used Russian gear to shoot down a civilian airliner.
The rebels called Russia to report what happened. That phone call and a subsequent one between two rebels was intercepted by Ukraine. Kyiv Post has translated both.
One phone call apparently was made at 4:40 p.m. Kyiv time, or 20 minutes after the plane crash, by Igor Bezler, who the SBU says is a Russian military intelligence officer and leading commander of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. He reports to a person identified by Ukraine’s SBU as a colonel in the main intelligence department of the general headquarters of the armed forces of the Russian Federation Vasili Geranin regarding the shot down plane, which is about to be examined by the militants.
The second intercepted conversation released by the Security Service of Ukraine was apparently between militants nicknamed “Major” and “Greek” immediately upon inspection of the crash site.
“It’s 100 percent a passenger (civilian) aircraft,” Major is recorded as saying, as he admitted to seeing no weapons on site. “Absolutely nothing. Civilian items, medicinal stuff, towels, toilet paper.”
In the transcript, one of the rebels appears to hope that there are no Russian fingerprints on the shootdown.
“Major”: The plane fell apart in the air. In the area of Petropavlovskaya mine. The first “200” (code word for dead person). We have found the first “200”. A Civilian.
“Greek”: Well, what do you have there?
“Major”: In short, it was 100 percent a passenger (civilian) aircraft.
“Greek”: Are many people there?
“Major”: Holy sh__t! The debris fell right into the yards (of homes).
“Greek”: What kind of aircraft?
“Major”: I haven’t ascertained this. I haven’t been to the main sight [sic]. I am only surveying the scene where the first bodies fell. There are the remains of internal brackets, seats and bodies.
“Greek”: Is there anything left of the weapon?
If there are no traces of the weapon left, Russia can claim that someone else shot the aircraft down, to create confusion if nothing else.
That’s just what Russia is doing. Russia’s western mouthpiece, Russia Today, reports that Ukraine deployed BUK systems in the region recently, suggesting that Ukraine fired the missile.
Fox reported earlier that the Russians are saying that the missile was a Ukrainian fire aimed at Putin himself. Obviously that would absolve Russia and become a causus belli for Russia to fully invade Ukraine. If it was true, which it isn’t.