Russia Only Needs To Create Doubt Over MH17
Updated: 12:50pm UK, Tuesday 22 July 2014
By Katie Stallard, Moscow Correspondent
From a cavernous situation room inside the Russian Ministry of Defence, the Lieutenant-General set out Russia's version of events.
The briefing was carried live on Russian state TV and handed out on DVDs by Russia's ambassador to Malaysia.
They claim to have detected a Ukrainian military aircraft within 3-5km of the Malaysian Airliner on Thursday.
"The SU-25 fighter jet can gain an altitude of 10km, according to its specification," Lt Gen Kartopolov explained (which happens to be the exact altitude at which MH17 was flying).
"It's equipped with air-to-air R-60 missile that can hit a target at a distance up to 12km, up to 5km for sure.
"We would like to get an explanation as to why the military jet was flying along a civil aviation corridor at almost the same time and at the same level as a passenger plane."
They also claim to have detected an unusual increase in Ukrainian radar activity leading up to the incident, and that the airliner came down "within the operating zone" of Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile defences.
He showed satellite images of a Ukrainian base close to Donetsk, pointing out that its surface-to-air missile units were missing on the day of the crash.
He then appeared to claim that one of the units had moved into rebel-controlled territory on the morning of the crash.
Finally, Russia categorically denied supplying the rebels with Buk surface-to-air missile systems, or indeed any other weaponry.
Now, firstly, it's worth saying there is a propaganda war in both directions here, which has been going on for several months, and that both sides are pursuing interests beyond the immediate tragedy of MH17.
But the questions Russia presents "that Kiev must answer" raise a few questions themselves.
The SU-25 "fighter jet" Russia claims to have identified close to the airliner is a ground attack aircraft - according to its manufacturer its maximum service height, without weapons, is 7,000m - 3km short of MH17.
As Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer pointed out, it's also too slow: "They should have at least claimed it was an SU-27," he said.
And if the rebels don't have the Buk missile system, or indeed any other Russian-supplied weaponry - how did they target the dozen Ukrainian military aircraft they have previously boasted of shooting down?
This included an Antonov-26 transport aircraft, flying at an altitude of 6,500m last week.
It is possible of course that the rebels have acquired weapons from Ukrainian military bases, although the government in Kiev insists it can account for all of its missile systems.
And what exactly is the case Russia is setting out? Is it suggesting the Ukrainian SU-25 (despite its technical limitations) shot down the passenger jet in mid-air?
And why? The plane would seem to have been travelling in the wrong direction for Ukrainian forces to have perceived it as a hostile aircraft coming from Russia, and the rebels don't have an air force.
So are they seriously suggesting the Ukrainians deliberately moved their missiles on to rebel-held territory and shot the airliner down as part of some sort of nefarious plan to frame the rebels and turn world opinion against them?
But then Russia doesn't need to prove its case - all it needs is to create one, to insist that there are different versions of events, that there is credible claim and counter-claim.
In much the same manner as a criminal defence barrister, Russia doesn't have to demonstrate that its alleged client is innocent - just to establish enough doubt in the minds of the jury - in this case the international community - that they can't be completely sure.