November 26-28, 2014
last edits Nov. 28
* "The Russians" here meaning whoever it was that ran and operated the Buk launcher (if it's all one and the same) that we're calling 3x2, blamed for the shoot-down of MH17. Note: it's quite likely they weren't Russian at all...
Shortly after the July 17 crash of the Boeing 777 in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, Eliot Higgins (aka Brown Moses) and the Bellingcat team accurately tracked a certain mystery Buk (SA-11) launching unit across Eastern Ukraine, up to a last point very near a likely launch site for the missile that brought the jet down (while the full implications aren't clear, I concur with their basic findings, as explained here on an ACLOS page where a lot of my other points below are explained out).
More recently, Bellingcat landed another coup in the saga, in early November issuing a new report claiming to link that very launcher, or at least the truck hauling it, to a truck-bound launcher also seen inside Russia a few weeks before the incident, and again just after. If true, it would seem to be a smoking gun. I think it's at least partly true, and the problem is only with the "seem to be" part. And I have no solid alternative at the moment, just verifying part of, and pointing out some puzzling implications of, their findings.
The report and whole site was not coming up when I tried (might be a problem on my end), so I don't even know what's behind their pay-wall. In the interim I checked around. Here's a critical blog article I like that mentions another article praising the report. But what was useful was the Daily Mail's Australian promo article with the cover and a few images from the report as well as a summary. 'There is strong evidence indicating that the Russian military provided separatists in eastern Ukraine with the Buk missile launcher filmed and photographed in eastern Ukraine on July 17,' the on-line report states..."
In this, they identify Buk Telar launcher "3x2," as the report puts it, where the x is a middle digit seemingly painted out for some reason. 3x2 therefore seems a fair name for the thing, and I'll follow suit. From the Mail's graphics, I can see how they link the trucks hauling the launchers by license plate numbers. That looks sound, and minor details support that this is the same truck, apparently in Russia and then in Ukraine. (Or is this not the same famous truck here? It's a side-point.)
The actual launcher link sounds less clear in the Daily Mail report, but in Russia, that truck was hauling a launcher marked on the side with a small, unreadable number and the large number 3x2 (top frame in the below comparison). Seeming to have a number painted over, many will note, smells of a mini-coverup - and it's with a machine that then went (back?) to Ukraine for some secret work Russia denies, before going (back to?) about the Russian border, via everywhere, on a truck advertising a phone number of a guy who swears it was pro-Russian terrorists who stole his truck... (see below for the fuller picture)
However absurd the whole story, there's this compelling, supposed, cross-border match-up. Tying things together more yet, the top frame below shows the relevant part of the Paris Match photo (windscreen dots and all, after being skewed to match as much as possible, and darkened a bit) at the bottom. Again the top image is from Bellingcat via the Mail, with enhanced contrast to make the compositing clearer. The middle is the composite - bottom laid over top with transparency to let us compare). Another layer of just the number box, carefully lined up, had its white spots outlined in black, lining up with white in the other image. All areas of interest highlighted in red.
I noticed earlier the sliver of white paint (or so it seemed) in the blank ID number area in the Paris Match photo, wondering if it was a telltale partly-painted-out number meant to be noticed later and used to blame Russia. It may be exactly that; now we can see it's consistent with the edge of the "2" here, or a couple of other numbers painted at that level. Note also in the bottom image the tiny white dot left of the white sliver, on the cable shadow, that seemed like an artifact. In Russia (if so) we can see it there before - apparently the last part of the first number they also managed to never paint out fully.
That middle digit could well be a one. I thank ACLOS member Resup for bringing this to my attention. As Resup notes, there's the issue with Buk 312 of Russia allegedly seen going back to Russia, put out by the SBU but then pulled, as it was Ukraine's Buk 312 in the photo (the unit's number: bottom image at right). That was also seen in the field not long before this (top image at right), and may or may not be accounted for on the days in question.
Now ... if "the Russians" were smart, what they'd do is paint out the original 312 and then paint over it with Ukraine's style of marking 312, or really any number of a known unit seen in the field (and hope it can't be proven to be elsewhere...) It seems they did not do this. Here, 312 as seen in March (skewed as it was to fit the composite below. That's underlaid by the Bellingcat find, and we can see the lack of the little marking, and the much bigger, bolder, easier-to-spot numbers "the Russians"* had such a hard time hiding (below alone for comparison, not enhanced). Below all, the same area from the SBU pulled photo.
What all this implies, read as the Bellingcat agency reads it, and as the global masses and decision-makers they're informing have read it, is simply that this was all the same unit and clearly a Russian-controlled one. Since it was the same one as seen all around the MH17 crime scene, Putin or top officials almost must have approved something that special. This in turn justifies more sanctions and so forth.
All I can vouch for is the number match and vehicle match, or a complex paint job and bend-mimicking operation. The paint part seems most interesting, with consistent bits remaining of a number ... that might have been falsely painted on, by whoever, to begin with. The June image location I'll credit as likely sound. It seems a troubling challenge for anyone suspecting a Ukrainian and not Russian hand. Proceeding from there...
What Bellingcat probably mentioned but I'm emphasizing is that "the Russians" also, in doing this, made a display of shadiness in the gradual, partial, and traceable erasure of the ID number. Read straight, the alleged coverup is plain silly: they wanted to hide this thing's identity, maybe because they were about to do something secret with it. So first they painted out the number in the middle. Except they left one little corner of white visible. Maybe they just got tired. It's identifiable (in both images). Then before it appeared in Ukraine, it was rendered totally unidentifiable: they boldly blacked out the 3, and perhaps at the same time even, the 2 - except for a larger identifiable sliver. Just got tired, maybe. It's next to the other dot. Haha, no way to connect these now!
- "Now has no number on it AT ALL. No one can say what it is."
- "Brilliant, boss. they will think must have been a Kiev fighter jet! And we will make fake satellite photos to prove. The world will stand behind our invasion!"
That's not just sloppy and stupid like people can be. It's more like something someone else would have them do, in a script they wrote for other parties playing "the Rusians." Its purpose seems to expose, illustrate, or imply a crime, not to cover one up. In fact, it's a bit too obvious to even be a good false flag operation. But maybe that we can chalk up to run-of-the-mill Human stupidity (or worse yet, Neo-Nazi psycho stupidity)
Addendum on Consistency with the Operation, as Known Otherwise:
Whatever one thinks of this graphic comparison and interpretation, the strange and suspect thinking it implies is consistent with what else we know about how this "secret" operation was carried out. If true, it would fit this broader pattern (real or reported clues left by whoever, all open to interpretation, and here couched in the terms of allegations by Kiev and supporters):
- Recalling that this whole weapon itself would have no normal business in the area and would be denied later, it should have been kept secret. Instead, it was driven around in broad daylight on the same day as the crime, just partly covered with a tarp but revealing all clues needed to identify it, its hidden ID number, and its full rack of missiles.
- The truck it was so displayed on was stolen in Donetsk, and kept with the huge sign on its side with the apparent owner's phone number on it. When the media called that number, little surprise, the owner told them pro-Russian "fighters from Slaviansk" who took over his whole trucking company on July 8 (see here) Put lightly, this is a stupid way to secure a rig one intends to use for a secret operation like this was supposed to be.
- They loaded the truck in Donetsk, likely at the commandeered site in the north of Donetsk, near the Ukrainian base with Buk launchers, in a coincidence. This truck then got seen leaving Donetsk on the 17th, parked pointing east at the east outskirts, then seen driving in convoy (a couple civilian cars with the operational crew moved with the truck) past Zuhres and then through Torez to the east. They were seen arriving in Snizhne around noon, then the Buk unit seen off the truck and driving in stand-alone, and it was then seen again driving south out of Snizneh, towards the apparent launch location.
- The people running the convoy made sure AP journalists saw them in Snizhne just before the shoot-down from a bit south of there. The convoy stopped, and a man in unusual uniform "approached the journalists. The man wanted to make sure they had not recorded any images of the missile launcher. Satisfied that they hadn’t" filmed that secret missile launcher there, but had noticed it, and their intention to remain sooper seekrit "the convoy moved on." All this was made quite clear to the media and apparently published even before the news that MH17 was shot down. (AP Via Washington Post)
- After the disastrous attempt to secretly provoke a Russian invasion, with utmost discretion the operators put the smoking gun, its rack of one-less missiles left uncovered, back on the same truck and drove it and the phone number back to Russia - by a strange detour on a long route towards the other easily-recognizable smoking gun rebel capitol, Lugansk ... when government ATO forces had just battled their way to the edge of Lugansk ... and got seen there passing at dawn on the main highway south, apparently having come from the center of town, and then presumably drove to Krasnodon (rebel-held) and to Russia....
The fail delivery here is almost flawless, with no mistake left unmade and hardly any reasonable gaps to call for deduction. Letting multiple camera views on both sides of the porous border capture and track the gradual move to this stealth mode seems pretty consistent to me.