UN Ambassador Samantha Power said at the United Nations today that the shootdown of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 came on the heels of discoveries by Ukrainian officials of Russian arms transfers to separatists.
Power said three infants were among the 283 passengers killed.
“Of the operational SAM systems located near the border, only the SA-11, SA-20, and SA-22 SAM systems are capable of hitting an aircraft at this flight’s altitude of 33,000 feet. We can rule out shorter-range SAMs known to be in separatist hands, including MANPADS, SA-8 and SA-13 systems, which are not capable of hitting an aircraft at this altitude,” she said. “Early Thursday, an SA-11 SAM system was reported near Snizhne by a Western reporter and separatists were spotted hours before the incident with an SA-11 system at a location close to the site where the plane came down.”
“Separatists initially claimed responsibility for shooting down a military transport plane and posted videos that are now being connected to the Malaysian airlines crash. Separatist leaders also boasted on social media about shooting down a plane, but later deleted these messages. Because of the technical complexity of the SA-11, it is unlikely that the separatists could effectively operate the system without assistance from knowledgeable personnel. Thus, we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel in operating the systems.”
Power said the Ukrainian government does also possess the Buk missile system, or SA-11, but “we are not aware of any Ukrainian SAM systems in the area of the shoot-down.”
“And, more importantly, since the beginning of this crisis, Ukrainian air defenses have not fired a single missile, despite several alleged violations of their airspace by Russian aircraft,” he said.
However, Russian separatists shot down a Ukrainian transport plane, carrying 40 paratroopers and nine crew, on June 13. On June 24 separatists downed a Ukrainian helicopter, killing all nine on board.
Separatists claimed credit for the downing of a Ukrainian military cargo plane on July 14 and a Ukrainian fighter jet two days later.
“If indeed Russian-backed separatists were behind this attack on a civilian airliner, they and their backers would have good reason to cover up evidence of their crime. Thus, it is extremely important that an investigation be commenced immediately,” Power said.
She stressed that “in the last few weeks, Russia has increased the number of tanks, armored vehicles, and rocket launchers in southwest Russia. More advanced air defense systems have also arrived.”
“Moscow has recently transferred Soviet-era tanks and artillery to the separatists and several military vehicles crossed the border,” Power continued. “After recapturing several Ukrainian cities last weekend, Ukrainian officials discovered caches of weapons long associated with Russia stockpiles, including MANPADS, mines, grenades, MREs, vehicles, and a pontoon bridge.”
“Ukrainian forces have discovered large amounts of other Russian-provided military equipment, including accompanying documentation verifying the Russian origin, in the areas that they have liberated from separatists in recent days. Recruiting efforts for separatist fighters are expanding inside Russia and separatists have openly said that they are looking for volunteers with experience operating heavy weapons such as tanks and air defenses. Russia has allowed officials from the ‘Donetsk Peoples’ Republic’ to establish a recruiting office in Moscow.”