The international community has increasingly settled on the U.S. government's assertion that pro-Russian rebels are responsible for downing Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
And while senior U.S. intelligence officials said on Tuesday they have no evidence of direct Russian government involvement in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, officials said that Russia "created the conditions" for the downing by arming the separatists.
Putin, as a result, is a pariah as the European Union imposes additional sanctions against his inner circle.
"It's pretty clear that this is a system that was transferred from Russia in the hands of separatists," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on a Sunday appearance on Meet the Press. "We know with confidence that the Ukrainians did not have such a system anywhere near the vicinity at that point in time. So it obviously points a very clear finger at the separatists."
But Moscow's not so convinced of the separatists' malfeasance.
The Russian Ministry of Defense presented its initial findings on the downing of MH17 on Monday. And Russian leaders really want answers to a few of their questions.
Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Andrej Kartapolova gave a briefing in which he laid out Moscow's evidence and asked questions that counter the narrative that the pro-Russian rebels fired the missile in eastern Ukraine.
Russian counterpoint #1: Why did MH17 deviate its route?
The below map, produced by the Russian Ministry of Defense, shows MH17 following a standard air route along a series of waypoints: Bulig, Makak, Abola, Goned and Tamak. However Russia said the plane deviated from that path, turning northward shortly after passing waypoint Makak.
Kartapolova alleged that Flight 17 attempted to turn back toward the established corridor before it was downed from the skies, saying it stayed within the corridor until it reached Donetsk but then deviated north.
“The reason for going beyond the limits of the route — a navigation error crew or command execution manager Ukrainian air traffic control in Dnepropetrovsk — can only be answered after deciphering the flight data recorders,” Kartapolova says, alleging that Ukrainian air traffic controllers may have told the pilots to turn north towards Horlivka.
Nico Voorbach, president of the European Cockpit Association and a pilot who has flown the route with KLM, said MH17's pilots may have been rerouted due to poor weather.
"I heard that they were diverting from some showers," he told The Guardian. "I think there were thunderclouds. You would ask air traffic control to divert left or right, and they would give you the permission."
Russia, clearly, thinks something else may have been up with that northwardly turn.
Russian counterpoint #2: Missile launchers near Donetsk
According to the Russian Ministry of Defense's data, Ukraine's military had three or four Buk-M1 missile launchers based near the embattled eastern city of Donetsk on the day the plane was downed.
The first satellite photo, reportedly taken on July 14, 2014, shows a radar station near the city of Donetsk. Kartapolova said you can see two radar stations, as well as various equipment and technical facilities notated on the image.
The alleged launcher is missing in the second image, which Russia claims was taken July 17, 2014 — the day the plane was shot down.
After displaying a similar series of satellite images showing a missile battery east of Donetsk, Kartapolova said: “The question is why the system happened to be near the area controlled by militiamen shortly before the tragedy. Images of the area taken on July 18 show that the system was no longer there."
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, however, has denied his government forces could have been behind any downing of the jet. “We stress that the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not take action against any airborne targets," he said.
Russian counterpoint #3: Ukrainian radar activity
Ukrainian radar activity in the days leading up to the crash gradually increased in the nearby area, according to Russian officials.
"July 17 saw increased activity on the part of Ukraine’s Kupol-M1 9S18 radars, which are part of the Buk system," Kartapolova said.
The above chart allegedly shows the three days worth of radar activity leading up to the July 17 crash (each number represents a station). On July 15, there were seven working stations. On July 16 there were eight. There were nine on July 17. But on July 18, the number declined to two to three per day.
"What is the reason?" Kartapolova asked. "We have yet to understand."
Russian counterpoint #4: A Ukrainian fighter jet
There were two other civilian flights in the area around the time the plane was shot out of the sky: a flight from Copenhagen to Singapore and a flight from Paris to Taipei.
And, according to Russia, there was a Ukrainian Air Force aircraft flying — presumably — in the direction of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
Although the aircraft’s service ceiling is 22,965 feet — which drops to 16,000 feet with weapons — Russia said the fighter jet can reach 32,000 feet and easily hit a target nearly three miles away. Curiously enough, the Kremlin was caught editing the specifications on the Su-25’s Wikipedia page to increase its ceiling of 23,000 feet. It's also not an interceptor fighter jet — it's more of an attack plane for hitting targets on the ground.
Still, Russia wants to know: "For what purpose combat aircraft was flying on airway civil aviation almost simultaneously and at the same level with passenger aircraft?" Kartapolova asks. “Ukrainian officials earlier claimed that there were no Ukrainian military aircraft in the area of the crash that day. As you can see, that is not true.”
U.S. officials, however, dismissed the second-plane theory as “desperate" propaganda. “The Russian government has a propaganda machine second to none, as these latest conspiracy theories demonstrate,” one U.S. official told the Wall Street Journal.nam-
“This is not true,” said Poroshenko, denying Russia's claims on CNN Monday night. "When the Russian [Defense] Ministry makes such a statement, they should present evidence of that. The sky over Ukraine is monitored by many satellites, by lots of anti-aircraft positions. Everyone knows that all Ukrainian planes were on the ground several kilometers away,” he said, calling the accusation an irresponsible and false statement.
Russian counterpoint #5: Video of the Buk missile system
In the days after MH17 was downed, Ukrainian security services released a video that purportedly shows a Buk missile launcher driving through an eastern Ukrainian town.
The video was referenced in the United States' assessment of the downing of Flight 17 and its aftermath, posted on the website of the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine:
Video posted on social media yesterday show an SA-11 on a transporter traveling through the Krasnodon are back to Russia. The video indicated the system was missing at least one missile, suggesting it had conducted a launch.
But Russia disagrees.
“This is clearly a fabrication,” said Kartopolov. “This video was made in the town of Krasnoarmeysk, as evidenced by the billboard you see in the background, advertising a car dealership at 34 Dnepropetrovsk Street. Krasnoarmeysk has been controlled by the Ukrainian military since May 11.”
Several witnesses have since told The Guardian they saw what appeared to be a Buk missile launcher in the vicinity of the crash site last Thursday.
"We were inside and heard a noise much louder than usual," one shopkeeper said. "We came running out and saw a jeep disappearing into the distance with something much larger in front of it. Later, customers said it had been a missile carrier."
(Amateur investigators on social media said it wasn't Krasnoarmeysk, but Krasnodon, a town that's about a 20-minute drive to the Russian border and well in control of the rebels. However, that is unconfirmed.)
Russian counterpoint #6: U.S. satellite imagery
U.S. officials have said they possess satellite images proving the Malaysian airliner was shot down by a missile launched from a specific location.
So where are the images? And was there a satellite overhead at the precise time the airliner was downed?
"If our U.S. colleagues have imagery from this satellite, they should release it for the international community to examine it in detail," he said, calling it a coincidence that the satellite was over Ukraine at the exact time the plane was shot down.
Intelligence sources have said that a U.S. spy satellite was, in fact, over the area — and it actually picked up the heat of the missile launch.
“They would have known exactly where it was launched, where it was headed and the rate at which it was traveling,” Riki Ellison, founder of the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, told the LA Times.
The satellite, however, is one that's built for spying — so it's doubtful the U.S. would show the Russian government that data.
"What's clear is that there is a picture that's coming into focus," Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, said after Russia presented its counter-narrative. "Russian claims to the contrary are getting both more desperate and much harder to believe."
Tags: MALAYSIA AIRLINES, MALAYSIA AIRLINES FLIGHT 17 IN UKRAINE, Ukraine, US & World, WORLD