What brought down MH 17 – how to analyse data.

Logic is what enables one to draw correct conclusions from established facts. Unfortunately, its use is sometimes in short supply, and coupled with that, facts seem to be adjusted to suit the desired conclusion. A recent example of such analysis came from a report by Bellingcat, an independent team of analysts, on the downing of flight MH 17. The conclusion: it was “highly likely” that Russia, and in particular, Putin, ordered the downing of the aircraft. A British paper also jumped in by finding someone who supported that, and added in MH 370 to the list of Putin’s dastardly deeds. Before going further, I should add that this post is not concerned with “who did it?” but rather was the evidence within these claims justified? So, what was Bellingcat’s evidence?

The first piece of evidence is the 53rd antiaircraft brigade was sent towards the Ukrainian border just prior to the event. Everyone knew the Russian military were carrying out exercises there, so that is hardly a surprise. They then argue that there was a marking on the side of the equipment that is generally on Russian equipment, and “seldom on Ukrainian”, a statement for which no further evidence was supplied. The purpose of this marking appears to indicate the centre of gravity, which is critical for loading onto trailers, and the Buk system that allegedly brought down MH 17 was driven on a trailer. Now, unless Ukrainians want to have a serious control problem in managing their vehicles, they will have some way of knowing where the centre of gravity is, and a marking is clearly the quickest way to manage that. So the presence of any marking may more reflect common sense and experience rather than point of origin.

They then show a video clip of a Russian Buk system headed towards the border (i.e. in Russia) and one at Luhansk about the same time. Both are claimed to have the same loading mark. Actually, the second image is very poorly defined, so maybe a little imagination is required here, but if you know the answer you want, getting it is far from implausible. They also provide an image in which half of a 3-digit number could be seen, so the rest was interpolated (guessed) but the significance of it eludes me. It is hard to say this shows it belongs to the 53rd brigade because there is no evidence the Russian army provides obvious evidence to observers to help foreign intelligence, and 53 is a 2-digit number.

However, for me, the critical part of these images is what is omitted from the comments. The shape of the two units are far different. The latest Russian unit is far more massive, and while the images are difficult to reconcile because the second one is so poor, the second unit is demonstrably shorter. The conclusion I draw is exactly the opposite of these analysts: the short unit is an older unit.

To summarize, the conclusion that MH 17 was brought down by a Buk is indeed highly likely. That it was brought down by a recently supplied Buk 3×2 is postulated without any evidence at all. The image of some other system is simply not relevant. What is even more interesting is the report alleges the Russian soldiers from the 53rd brigade would have pulled the trigger. If that were so, the Russian army would never send in an advanced piece of equipment unsupported by infantry from a motor rifle unit. That is failing military strategy 101, and whatever you may say about the Russian army, it is not incompetent. The image in Luhansk was unsupported.

What evidence should be there? Well, the remains of MH 17 have been all collected and taken away. Assuming everything was found, there should also be remains of the missile that brought it down. Those remains will specify what it was. Images of Russian soldiers would also help, but are far from necessary. Once you know what brought it down, the case is closed apart from who pulled the trigger.

The idea that Putin would order it and to allege that without any evidence other than that he is President of Russia borders on the ridiculous. First, why would he do so? What possible gain could there be? Why pick on MH 17? What has Malaysia done to him? How would the troops know how to pick out MH 17 from the other aircraft flying overhead? (Had it been the 53rd brigade, their equipment would allow them to identify the aircraft as a civilian plane, in which case it would have been deliberate.) However, the older Buk system the eastern Ukrainians would have had access to when the eastern armouries were “acquired” would not have this ability, particularly in the hands of rebels. Recall the east was being bombed regularly by the western Ukrainians so the rebels, when they saw an aircraft on their radar, why would they not let fly? They were hardly skilled.

For me, it is hardly helpful to provide such reports when the obvious evidence is missing, or unavailable to them. Rather than wait for it to become available, they let fly anyway. Why? My guess is simple publicity for themselves. That is hardly encouraging. Nor is the failure to establish facts and use logic instead of rhetoric.

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5 thoughts on “What brought down MH 17 – how to analyse data.

  1. The fact is Putin is an invader, and a liar. He invaded Crimea, which had become part of Ukraine, logically enough, in the Tenth Century, after conquest by Vladimir I of Kiev (who then converted to Christianism). The primitive colony known as Russia was created later.

    Stalin ejected the Crimean Tartars, partly committing genocide against them. Putin is enforcing that further.

    The details are unimportant. Vladimir from the KGB is the first invader in Europe since Hitler (and arguably Stalin, as Stalin invaded Poland shortly after his ally Hitler did). Vladimir from the KGB is a rogue and dangerous man, who also invaded, and occupies 20% of Georgia. In Georgia he was only stopped, because American troops were put in harm’s way, and the French president Sarkozy intervened with whatever Sarkozy does which fascinates other little men.

    In Chechnya, Putin killed at least 10% of the population, and put in place another crazed maniac, Kadirov. Only Depardieu loves it, as Kadirov offered him a luxury apartment on top of a big tower.

    Confronted with an invader and liar, one can only suppose the worst. It’s just cautious and wise, it’s ethical.

    That we are led by rotten people in the West does not mean that we should close our eyes to other rotten people.

    • Hello Patrice. I am not suggesting Putin is good, and my post really has nothing to do with him. What I am protesting about is the almost pathological desire to avoid the obvious aspects of evidence.

      I an a bit suspicious of deep historical claims. You could argue Russia should be part of Ukraine, or Ukraine be part of Russia because the Rus started at Kiev.

      • Thanks Belzebuth that you do not laud Putin! Putin is a real danger, even to himself. I love deep historical claims. Present day Russian, or I should say, Muscovite, mentality is pretty much explained by history. It’s a son, the youngest, of Alexander Nevski, who founded Moscow.
        The rest is history, including the unsavory to and fro with the Tartars…

        The Putinists shot down another plane shortly before, that one a military transport full of elite Ukrainian special forces… All dead. No doubt the Putinists did not realize they were firing on Malaysian civilian plane.

  2. Lenin —->> John Lennon!
    From French Figaro, today
    Ukraine: la rue Lénine devient la rue Lennon
    02/03/2016 à 23:50

    La rue Lénine d’un petit village de la région ukrainienne de Transcarpatie a été renommée rue John Lennon en l’honneur de l’ex-Beatles, dans le cadre des lois sur la “désoviétisation” du pays, ont annoncé mercredi les autorités régionales. Plusieurs rues portant des noms à la gloire de personnalités ou de faits rappelant l’époque soviétique ont été renommées, selon un décret signé par le gouverneur de la région, Guennadi Moskal.

    La rue Chtchors, du nom d’un commandant de l’Armée rouge, dans le village de Mijguiria, a ainsi été renommée rue Viktor Markouss, en l’honneur d’un soldat originaire de ce village tué en février 2015 alors qu’il combattait les rebelles prorusses dans l’est de l’Ukraine. La rue John Lennon se trouve quant à elle dans le village de Kaliny, à la frontière avec l’Union européenne. Dans certains cas, les rues ont changé de nom sur proposition des communautés locales, mais dans d’autres cas, notamment pour la rue John Lennnon, c’est le gouverneur lui-même qui en a eu l’initiative.

  3. Patrie, with such a historical approach you could solve the middle east problems. They could all be governed by the original Macedonia under Alexander’s rule, and Israel would be under Titus Flavius Vespasianus’ descendants. Can’t see it happening, though.

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