Ukraine is calling for a criminal investigation following a Dutch report identifying a Russian-made Buk missile as the cause of last year’s Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister said in a United Nations press conference Tuesday. Pavlo Klimkin also called on Russia to cooperate with any future criminal probe.
The 15-month investigation by the Dutch Safety Board claims the Buk missile was fired from an area held by Russian-backed separatists. It also identifies the site where the Boeing 777 crashed in Eastern Ukraine as belonging to the rebels. The July 17 crash killed all 298 on board.
Missile fragments found in the cockpit crew's bodies, as well as paint traces, enabled investigators to identify the Buk.
"This report validates what Secretary Kerry first said more than a year ago, MH17 was shot down by a BUK surface-to-air missile," State Department Spokesperson Mark Toner said Tuesday. "Secretary Kerry also made clear that the United States detected a missile launch from separatist-controlled territory at the moment of the shootdown and drew attention to verified conversations among separatist leaders bragging about shooting down an aircraft in the immediate aftermath of this tragic event."
The report did not consider who launched the missile. However, it identified an area of 217 square miles from which the launch must have taken place. All the territory within the area was in rebel separatist hands at the time of the crash, according to daily maps of fighting released by the Ukrainian National Security Council.
The Netherlands has headed the investigation into the disaster because 196 victims on the flight were Dutch, and Ukraine agreed to let the Netherlands take the lead role. It is also leading a separate criminal investigation into the crash.
"Our investigation showed that all parties regarded the conflict in eastern part of Ukraine from a military perspective. Nobody gave any thought of a possible threat to civil aviation," Safety Board chairman Tjibbe Joustra said.
But Russia is denying the conclusions.
“There is an obvious attempt to draw a biased conclusion, and carry out political orders,” Russian news agencies quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying on Tuesday, according to Reuters.
The missile's Russian-state controlled maker, Almaz-Antey, denied these claims in its own report released Tuesday trying to clear Russian-backed separatists or Moscow of any involvement.
Almaz-Antey says its experiments refute claims that the missile was fired from Snizhne, a village that was under rebel control. Almaz-Antey also said in June that a preliminary investigation suggested that the plane was downed by a model of Buk that is no longer in service with the Russian military but that was part of the Ukrainian military arsenal.
The Dutch investigation additionally found Ukraine should have closed its airspace to civil aviation and found states in civil conflict must do more going forward to protect passenger planes.
“No one at that time was aware… of the possible threat and possible ejection” of sophisticated Russian weapons, Kimkin responded Tuesday. “We couldn’t have imagined” such a situation could even be possible, he added.
The Buk missile exploded less than a meter from the cockpit, the report states. The missile killed three cockpit crew members on impact and broke off the front of the plane. The rest of the crew and the passengers died due to decompression, reduced oxygen levels, extreme cold, powerful airflow and flying objects.
“It cannot be ruled out that some occupants remained conscious" during the 60 to 90 seconds before the plane crashed, the report added.
The Dutch Safety Board shared the report’s conclusions with family of those who died.
Also Tuesday, Dutch investigators unveiled a reconstruction of the forward section of MH17. Some of the nose, cockpit and business class of the Boeing 777 were rebuilt from fragments of the aircraft recovered from the crash scene. Much of the reassembled wreckage was twisted and riddled with holes.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.