Dueling logics Meduza examines Rosaviation’s biggest gripes about the Dutch MH17 report
The Russian authorities have been very critical of the Dutch Safety Board's report on the Boeing MH17 disaster in eastern Ukraine. Rosaviation, the Russian Federal Air Transport Agency, has offered some of the sharpest commentary, calling the work of Dutch experts illogical, biased, and incoherent. Rosaviation also directly accuses the Dutch of falsifying key evidence. Following Rosaviation's October 14 press conference, where Deputy Director Oleg Storchevoy attacked Dutch investigators' work, Meduza tries to find answers to Storchevoy's objections in the text and appendices of the DSB report itself.
Objection No. 1
Rosaviation: The analysis was inconsistent. The evidence was gathered according to a predetermined explanation.
The Dutch report: The commission considered in detail many different explanations of what happened to MH17, from a missile launched from a portable anti-aircraft system to the plane colliding with a meteorite or space debris. Investigators considered a lightning strike, an onboard explosion, the ignition of the plane's fuel or baggage, engine failure, aircraft machine-gun fire, an air-to-air missile strike, and a missile fired from the ground or from a MANPADS missile system. Each explanation comes with a description of the research methods and arguments "for" or "against."
The text shows that investigators even treated improbable hypotheses quite seriously. For example, to rule out a collision with a meteorite, investigators turned to the Dutch Royal Astronomical Society, which stated they had not registered the specific noise that accompanies a falling meteorite near the crash. The particular nature of the plane’s damage also did not support this hypothesis. In regard to space debris, the database of the American Aerospace Corporation shows that no space debris was registered in the atmosphere from July 10 to July 19, 2014. (The MH17 catastrophe occurred on July 17, 2014).
Objection No. 2
Rosaviation: The investigation does not comply with the regulations of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
The Dutch report: Rosaviation did not specify in what way the investigation violates ICAO regulations. However, the international commission’s report does complain about the Russian side. According to ICAO regulations, Russia should keep "raw" radar data. The commission's requests for the data were denied: the Russian authorities claimed that the crash occurred outside the territory of the Russian Federation, and therefore, internal aviation rules on the storage of “raw” data were applied. A video recording of the radar screen replay was eventually passed to the commission, but the Dutch say it cannot be verified.
Russia insists that its complaint was ignored in the crash investigation report.
As a result, the members of the Dutch Safety Board appealed directly to the ICAO and received its support: the ICAO confirmed that Russia was required to provide the “raw” data, or else give prior notification in cases where such information will not be provided.
Objection No. 3
Rosaviation: Several bomb fragments were “discovered” only to push the investigation in the desired direction. From the beginning, the commission wanted to convince everyone that MH17 was hit by a missile from the Russian Army’s arsenal. In fact, Rosaviation has accused the commission of falsifying important evidence.
Explanation: Buk surface-to-air missiles use various warheads; they particularly differ in the composition of their submunitions. The submunitions in the newest models (9N314 M) are shaped like so-called I-beams (or “butterfly”). They are found in both the arsenals of the Russian and the Ukrainian army. Warheads without I-beams (9N314) are only used in the Ukrainian army.
Rosaviation implied that the I-beams were planted to make it impossible to rule out definitively the involvement of Russian military equipment in the crash. Rosaviation says that the number of discovered I-beams is suspiciously small (two in all), and their discovery was not appropriately documented. Earlier, Russia demanded that the report clearly state how and where all types of submunitions were found. Rosaviation says I-beams account for about a quarter of the submunitions from the detonation of a 9N314 M warhead.
The Dutch report: Investigators have no doubt that the missile that brought down MH17 used modern warheads (9H314 M) with I-beams. The report said that not two but at least four of these submunitions were found in the cabin wreckage and in the bodies of the crew. The report described in detail where, when, and what kind of submunitions were found. It notes that—since the detonation occurred at an altitude of 10 kilometers (6.2 miles)—finding all the warhead’s submunitions is simply impossible. In addition, the data on the ratio of different munitions (I-beams and others) is still incomplete. Further, the report states that in this model of warhead the number of I-beams varies from sample to sample according to information provided to the commission by the defense company "Almaz-Antey," which produces the Buk.
Objection No, 4
Rosaviation: The shape, chemical composition and mass of the I-beams found at the crash site do not match the composition of the components that remain after the detonation of 9H314 M warheads. Dutch investigators did not conduct an examination of the steel grade from which the submunitions are produced.
The Dutch report: The commission members insist that after considering all the changes after detonation, the discovered I-beams match those contained in 9H314 M warheads. In regard to the chemical composition, the report states that the submunitions in this type of warhead are made from several different alloys, making it impossible to determine the warhead’s model based on an analysis of its steel grade.
Objection No. 5
Rosaviation: Dutch investigators did not take into account Russia’s comments on the interim report. The commission's members did not explain why they did not agree with certain remarks, but simply objected. Also, the commission did not take into consideration the findings of experiments conducted by Almaz-Antey, the developers SAM Buk. Almaz-Antey detonated a 9H314 M warhead in a test facility, which showed the type of holes I-beams left. Such holes are not found in the shell of MH17.
The Dutch report: The Dutch side responds to all of Russia's comments and argues its position on every comment in Appendix V. Commission members refused to take the results of Almaz-Antey’s experiment into account, because, in their opinion, the tests were invalid. In particular, the testers did not consider widely accepted properties in the ballistics of submunitions: these elements change direction when passing through obstacles. The Dutch did not accept some other tests conducted by the Russian side because the tests were not monitored by representatives of other countries. The report does not comment on the possibility of determining the shape of the holes submunitions make.
Objection No. 6
Rosaviation: The assumed firing zone was calculated from a misinterpretation of the conditions of the missile’s impact with the aircraft. Almaz-Antey conducted tests and found out that if a SAM Buk shot down MH17, the launch could only have been made in the vicinity of the village Zaroshchenskoye.
Explanation: According to the Dutch, Zaroshchenskoye is far from the area from which a missile could have been fired. The Russian authorities claimed that there were Ukrainian Buks in Zaroshchenskoye in July 2014.
The Dutch report: In response to this claim, DSB members noted that Russian investigators have not considered many factors that could have affected the missile’s flight path. According to investigators, if the missile were launched from Zaroshchenskoye, it would have brought down the plane elsewhere and the damage would have been different. The Appendix states that Almaz-Antey's experts first calculated the expected launch zone on the basis of the Dutch data on the probability of the missile’s point of impact with MH17. Then the results coincided with the conclusions of the Dutch investigators—there was no mention of Zaroshchenskoye. After the report’s publication, Almaz-Antey stated that it had never tried to calculate the area of missile launch based Dutch investigators’ data.