Within hours of the disaster, Petro Poroshenko's coup regime in Kiev boldly asserted that the plane had been shot down -- either by the separatists in eastern Ukraine or by Russia.
The separatists quickly denied having any role in the disaster, claiming that their weapons were capable only of reaching targets flying below 4,000 feet -- which was well below the 33,000 feet at which Flight 17 was flying. The Russians dismissed Kiev's allegations as "stupidity."
The Obama administration remained wisely agnostic about Kiev's assertions until later in the afternoon, when it concluded that the Malaysian airline was, indeed, shot down. As reported in the Kiev Post, "a senior U.S. official told CNN's Barbara Starr"[that] one radar system saw a surface-to-air missile system turn on and track an aircraft right before the plane went down on July 17"A second system saw a heat signature at the time the airliner was hit"The United States is analyzing the trajectory of the missile to try to learn where the attack came from." On Friday, the Obama administration would claim that a surface to air missile was fired at the airliner from somewhere in Ukrainian territory occupied by the separatists. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, asserted: "We cannot rule out Russian technical assistance."
Unfortunately, America's mainstream news media ran far ahead of the facts. Within hours of the catastrophe, ABC and CNN were not only emphasizing the allegations made by Ukraine, they also stopped discussing the possibility that the plane might have been shot down by Ukraine. People who should have known better (clowns like Jim Sciutto at both networks) would claim, on the one hand, that the separatists were known to have captured antiaircraft missiles from Ukraine's inventory and yet, on the other hand, speculate about how bad it would be for President Vladimir Putin and Russia, were the world to discover that Russia had supplied the missile that shot down the airliner. Later in the evening, MSNBC's Chris Matthews -- who almost always seems to be in over his head -- said something similar.
Like the separatists and Russia, Ukraine had no obvious motive for downing Flight MH17. But, like Russia and, perhaps, like the separatists, it certainly had the capability. Yet, ABC and CNN inexplicably dropped Ukraine from the list of suspects.
But, if anti-Russia and anti-separatist bias began to permeate the discussions on ABC and CNN, pro-Russia bias became equally apparent on RT. Personally, I found it a bit much to see RT suggest that Ukraine probably fired the missile, thinking that it was about to bring down President Putin's plane, which had colors and markings similar to MH17, as well as a similar flight path.
Yet, RT correctly reported that it was Vladimir Putin, who first informed Barack Obama about the crash. It also reported statements made by Russia's Defense Ministry. According to the Defense Ministry, the Malaysian Airliner was flying outside the air defense capabilities of Russia. According to the Defense Ministry, Russian air defense systems were not deployed on Thursday near the Ukrainian border and no Russian air-force planes were flying over the area.
Significantly, the Defense Ministry asserted that 27 "Buk M1" launchers are deployed by the Ukrainian forces in the Donetsk region, with the capabilities to shoot down targets at an altitude of more than 30km. The Russian Ministry also said that Ukrainian fighter jets are constantly patrolling the skies over Donetsk.
Kiev's statements that Ukraine's forces did not fire over its airspace raise serious doubts, because, "In such a short time with fierce fighting in the area it is impossible to come to such an unequivocal conclusion. Such responsible statements that involve serious legal consequences, require a comprehensive investigation."
Even more significantly, on July 18th RT reported that Russia's Defense Ministry knew about a Kupol radar deployed as part of Ukrainian Buk anti-aircraft battery in the village of Styla, outside of Donetsk. Thus the Buk battery was operational on the day that Flight MH17 was shot down.
On July 17th RT reported that "The self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, which controls the area around the crash site, says that it will pass the flight recorders of the downed plane to Russian authorities. Yet, ABC reported on July 18th that "the location of the black boxes from the downed Malaysia Airlines plane in Ukraine has still not been confirmed."
During the course of the day on July 17th the claims and counter-claims went on without end. The AP quoted Igor Sutyagin, a research fellow in Russian studies at the Royal United Services Institute, who said both Ukrainian and Russian forces have SA-17 missile systems -- also known as Buk ground-to-air launcher systems. Mr. Sutyagin said "Russia had supplied separatist rebels with military hardware, but he had seen no evidence 'of the transfer of that type of system from Russia.'"
According to a report by RT retired Brig. Gen. Kevin Ryan, the director of the Defense and Intelligence Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs thought it "unlikely that the self-defense forces could've used Buk surface-to-air missile systems to down the Malaysian plane." He told CNN, "It takes a lot of training and a lot of coordination to fire one of these and hit something. This is not the kind of weapon a couple of guys are going to pull out of a garage and fire."
"According to Ryan, if the plane was really taken down then it was done by a professional military force."