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Flight MH17 – The Russian Connection?

Igor Sutyagin
Commentary, 14 October 2015
Aerospace, Air Power and Technology, Ukraine, Russia, Military Sciences, Global Security Issues
Despite Moscow’s vehement denials, serious questions remain over the involvement of Russian authorities in the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 in 2014.

On 13 October 2015, investigators from the Dutch Safety Board confirmed that Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, which crashed over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, was struck by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile launched by a ‘Buk’ mobile air-defence system.

The crash, which killed 298 people, has been blamed on pro-Russian rebels by the Ukrainian government and the West. The Russian government, meanwhile, blames Ukrainian forces. Reacting to the revelations of the Dutch Safety Board, the firm Almaz-Antey, which manufactures the missiles, argued that the 9M38M missile used to intercept the MH17 could not have been used by Russian forces, claiming that they were retired by 2011 and have been replaced by the newer 9M317 model.

However, this analysis suggests that that the 9M38M (M1) surface-to-air missiles for Buk air defence systems are still hardware that are very much part of Russia’s military arsenal.

The photo (below) shows the older 9M38M (M1) missile (left), which has distinctive long fins, and the newer 9M317 missile (right), with shorter, more prominent fins.

Russian 9M38M (M1) and 9M317 missiles

Image courtesy of

Photo evidence, however, confirms that the 9M38M1 (9M38M) missiles were still in active use by the air-defence element of the Russian military after 2011.

The photo below shows the well-publicised accident in Chita, Transbaikal Province on 9 May 2015, in which a SA-11 'Buk' launcher caught fire during the Victory Day parade. Clearly visible on the launcher are 9M38M1 missiles – the type which brought down flight MH17.

SA-11 'Buk' launcher

Image courtesy of

The two missiles can also clearly be seen in this photo of Vladimir Putin visiting the 102nd Russian military base in Gyumri, Armenia, dated 2 December 2013. The photo shows 3M317 (left) and 3M38M (M1) (right) missiles on the 'Buk' missile-loader launcher seen in the background. The photo was taken two years after all 9M38M (M1) missiles had been retired, as stated by Almaz-Antey.

Image courtesy of the office of the president of the Russian Federation

Image courtesy of the office of the president of the Russian Federation

The Russian response to the Dutch Safety Board's investigative report therefore raises additional questions which will be examined in the coming days.

(This article was updated at 14:30, 14 October 2015)

*Header image courtesy of the office of the president of the Russian Federation


Dr Igor Sutyagin
Senior Research Fellow, Russian Studies

Dr Igor Sutyagin's research is concerned with US-Russian relations, strategic armaments developments and broader nuclear arms control,... read more

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