Skip to Content

Coffee House

Who shot down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17?

US Intelligence has confirmed that a surface-to-air missile shot down a Malaysian Airlines plane, flight MH17, en route from Amsterdam. Pictures of the wreckage have now appeared, yet no one has a clear idea of who fired the missile. Here are the three most prominent explanations:

Pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists

In the past month separatists have shot down a number of Ukrainian military aircraft. On Sunday, separatists used rocket launchers to bring down a Ukrainian Air Force Il-76MD military transport plane. But planes have all been flying lower than a commercial aircraft would have been – the range is about 10,000 feet, and the Malaysian aircraft was flying at about 30,000 feet. Airlines have been aware of the risk in Eastern Ukraine, and were all operating on the assurances of Ukraine’s government that they’d be safe at that height.

Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, has said:

“I would like to note that we are calling this not an incident, not a catastrophe, but a terrorist act.”

Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, has told the Wall St Journal that it was pro-Russian separatists:-

“They clearly thought that it was a military transport plane that they were shooting at. They were the ones who did this.

But with what? To hit an aircraft flying so high requires a more advanced radar-guided missile, and there has so far been no indication that the rebels have such a thing. Andrei Purgin, deputy prime minister of the so-called ‘Doinetsk People’s Republic’, has made this point: “We don’t have the technical ability to hit a plane at that height”.

But then again, as David wrote earlier: ‘BBC Monitoring says that, moments before news of this incident was reported, some separatists claimed that they had downed a Ukrainian plane. Several websites (see here and here) appear to confirm this account.’

The Ukrainian government, mistaking it for a Russian aircraft

In a statement, the Ukrainian government has said:

‘We do not exclude that this plane was shot down, and we stress that the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not take action against any airborne targets.’

It would not be the first time Ukrainian forces have shot down a civil aircraft. In 2001, Siberia Airlines Flight 1812 was accidentally shot down by an errant missile from the Ukrainian military when it was on an exercise, killing 78 people.

Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 19.59.21

Russian missiles

The official Ukrainian line seems to be that Moscow is to blame. Earlier today, it blamed the Russian air force for shooting down a Ukrainian fighter. In its statement, Ukraine’s government says its military has no long-range missiles in the area, and went on to say:

‘The plane was shot down because the Russian air defence systems was affording protection to Russian mercenaries and terrorists in this area. Ukraine will present the evidence of Russian military involvement into the Boeing crash.’

An Ukraine Interior Ministry adviser has claimed that the weapon was a Russian-made Buk antiaircraft system.

President Putin rang President Obama today to discuss the incident. The telephone call was allegedly made at the request of Moscow. The US and European states have just imposed new sanctions on Russia over its aggression in the Ukraine. These sanctions include financial penalties against the oil producer Rosneft, and other Russian companies.  


Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments


The Spectator Comment Policy

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.