Cross-posted from Consortium News
Contrary to the Obama administration's public claims blaming eastern Ukrainian rebels and Russia for the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, some U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded that the rebels and Russia were likely not at fault and that it appears Ukrainian government forces were to blame, according to a source briefed on these findings.
This judgment -- at odds with what President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have expressed publicly -- is based largely on the absence of U.S. government evidence that Russia supplied the rebels with a Buk anti-aircraft missile system that would be needed to hit a civilian jetliner flying at 33,000 feet, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Given the size of these missile batteries -- containing four 16-foot-long missiles -- the absence of this evidence prompted caution among U.S. intelligence analysts even as senior U.S. officials and the U.S. mainstream media rushed to judgment blaming the rebels and Russians.
In making that case, Kerry and other senior officials relied on claims made by the Ukrainian government along with items posted on "social media." These snippets of "evidence" included ambiguous remarks attributed to rebels who may have initially thought the shoot-down was another of their successful attacks on lower-flying Ukrainian military aircraft but who later insisted that they had not fired on the Malaysian plane and lacked the longer-range Buk missiles needed to reach above 30,000 feet.
If the U.S. intelligence analysts are correct -- that the rebels and Russia are likely not responsible -- the chief remaining suspect would be the Ukrainian government, which does possess Buk anti-aircraft missiles and reportedly had two fighter jets in the vicinity of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 at the time of the shoot-down.
Some independent analyses of the initial evidence from the crash site suggest the jetliner may have been destroyed by an air-to-air attack, not by an anti-aircraft missile fired from the ground. Yet, the working hypothesis of the U.S. intelligence analysts is that a Ukrainian military Buk battery and the jetfighters may have been operating in collusion as they hunted what they thought was a Russian airliner, possibly even the plane carrying President Vladimir Putin on a return trip from South America, the source said.
The source added that the U.S. intelligence analysis does not implicate top Ukrainian officials, such as President Petro Poroshenko or Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, suggesting that the attack may have been the work of more extremist factions, possibly even one of the Ukrainian oligarchs who have taken an aggressive approach toward prosecuting the war against the ethnic Russian rebels in the east.
Obviously, a successful shoot-down of a Russian plane, especially one carrying Putin, could have been a major coup for the Kiev regime, which ousted Russian ally, President Viktor Yanukovych, last February touching off the civil war. Some prominent Ukrainian politicians, such as ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, have expressed the desire to kill Putin.
"It's about time we grab our guns and kill, go kill those damn Russians together with their leader," Tymoshenko said in an intercepted phone call in March, according to a leak published in the Russian press and implicitly confirmed by Tymoshenko.
The Shoot-Down Mystery
The Malaysia Airlines plane, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was not expected to be over the eastern part of Ukraine on the afternoon of July 17, but was rerouted to avoid bad weather. The plane was nearing Russian airspace when it was shot down.
Some early speculation had been that the Ukrainian military might have mistaken the plane for a Russian spy plane and attacked it in a scenario similar to the Soviet shoot-down of Korean Airlines Flight 007 in 1983 after misidentifying it as a U.S. spy plane.
In the two-plus weeks since the Ukrainian air disaster, there have been notable gaps between the more measured approach taken by U.S. intelligence analysts and the U.S. politicians and media personalities who quickly rushed to the judgment blaming the rebels and Russia.
Only three days after the crash, Secretary of State Kerry did the rounds of the Sunday talk shows making what he deemed an "extraordinary circumstantial" case supposedly proving that the rebels carried out the shoot-down with missiles provided by Russia. He acknowledged that the U.S. government was "not drawing the final conclusion here, but there is a lot that points at the need for Russia to be responsible."
By then, I was already being told that the U.S. intelligence community lacked any satellite imagery supporting Kerry's allegations and that the only Buk missile system in that part of Ukraine appeared to be under the control of the Ukrainian military. [See Consortiumnews.com's "What Did US Spy Satellites See in Ukraine?"]