Did the Russians Plant a Cover Story to Hand Separatists the BUK Missile System? (Updated)

The missile system suspected of being used in the suspected shootdown of MH17 over Ukraine is the Russian-made BUK surface-to-air system. Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine are suspected of firing the missile. Fox has reported that the rebels even bragged about the downing on the Russian version of Facebook, before deleting the post. In that post, the rebels wrote about shooting down a Ukrainian military cargo plane. Now they deny shooting it down.

The Interpreter lays out how the rebels may have gotten their hands on such a powerful missile system.

Several weapons, including the Buk, are capable of hitting aircraft at this height. But so far, none of those weapons have been documented as being in the hands of separatists. Not only had it never been filmed or photographer, there were never any reports of the Ukrainian military losing such a weapon.

However, on July 14th we ran a story that one news agency, TV Zvezda, had run a report that a Buk was captured by separatists who stole it from the Ukrainian military. The problem, however, is that TV Zvezda is the official news agency for the Russian Ministry of Defense, and they are the only source for this story. In other words, if the Russian military were going to give the separatists a Buk, they would need to plant a story about how the separatists got the Buk in the first place, and they'd likely use TV Zvezda to do it.

Today, AP reporters did see a Buk in eastern Ukraine -- the first time one has been seen.

The timing makes sense. The Malaysian airliner is the third aircraft to crash in the region in the past couple of days. The first was a Ukrainian military cargo transport. The second was a fighter jet. Both of those were shot down by the pro-Russian rebels. The third would be MH17.

The tactic of handing the rebels such a system but using a cover story alleging that it was stolen makes sense as well, for the very reasons that we are seeing today. If the Russians directly gave those weapons to the rebels, and they turn and kill 23 Americans and more than 200 others either by mistake or intentionally, the Russians are directly linked to the murder of Americans and in civilian aviation. But a cover story gives them a fig leaf to hide behind, and an angle for the US to escape taking any retaliatory action if it so chooses. A cover story is practically standard KGB craft.

Longstanding American policy has been to defend the world's seas and skies for free navigation and trade. That alone could cause a serious crisis over this crash/shootdown. But it may or may not be true of the Obama administration, of course, lack of clarity being its chief principle, with abandonment of longstanding American policy following closely behind. The US also once defended its own citizens first, but that principle no longer applies.

There is, at the moment, a dispute over how and when President Obama even learned of the crash. The Russians are saying that Putin told Obama of the crash during a phone call this morning to discuss a new round of sanctions against Russia. That would suggest a Russian openness that may not exist. The White House is not confirming that or saying how and when exactly Obama learned of the crash.

There also remains a question regarding why the plane crossed the Ukraine war zone. The US FAA ordered American carriers to avoid that region back in May. So did the British government.

The black boxes from the downed aircraft have reportedly been found.


The Donetsk Militia -- that would be the pro-Russian rebels -- say they have found the black boxes, and are sending them somewhere for "expert analysis."

Anyone want to bet that those experts are in Moscow?