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By Eric van de Beek and Max van der Werff, Amsterdam*

Max, a year ago we looked back extensively on three years of MH17. Which are for you the most important events and developments over the past year?

Without any doubt the liability of the Russian Federation claimed by the Netherlands and Australia and then the first real firm denial by President Vladimir Putin. The positions on what really happened can no longer be reconciled and both parties cannot go back any more.

Has your view on the disaster changed since last year? Are there any scenarios that you have ticked off? Or maybe there is a scenario that you want to defend?

Everyone seems to know exactly what has happened. But on the basis of what has been disclosed publicly as evidence, I still cannot draw any definitive conclusions. If you find that strange, first examine my article MH17 – 1448 Days  before making any judgment.

Max van der Werff and his website, Kremlin Troll.

In that article I analyze all the evidence which the JIT [Joint Investigation Team] has presented, ranging from the first press conference on September 28, 2016 until present.  I do not exclude the possibility that MH17 has been shot down by rebels with a BUK system  supplied by Russia. But other scenarios than the one of the JIT are kept explicitly open by me as long as not everything is known about the exact cause and all relevant circumstances. Like the possibility that the rebels have brought down MH17 with a weapon captured from the Ukrainian army. Or that an exercise by a brigade of Ukrainian air defenses got out of hand. The latter is a real possibility. Ukraine is capable of such a thing. In 2001, during a military exercise, a Russian charter aircraft was shot down over the Black Sea. Kiev initially denied being responsible.

On the rough radar images that Russia delivered in 2016 and 2017, no other aircraft can be seen in the vicinity of MH17. Would this be by now a reason to exclude the scenario that MH17 has been shot down by a fighter jet?

On the raw radar imagery supplied by Russia not only no other planes are seen, there is also no missile to be seen. It is certain for me that fighter aircraft have flown just before MH17 came down. There are just too many people who have seen that. That they flew low is probably the reason that they cannot be seen on radar images. I am not an expert and therefore do not make any statements about that. But I did speak with dozens of people in the disaster area who have seen or claim to have seen something. One of those persons is Lev Bulatov from Petropavlovka. Lev saw fighter jets flying over at low altitude. Not one, not two, but three. He was standing during the interview  I did with him in the same spot where the wreckage of the Boeing fell into his garden.

How do you know if Lev Bulatov (right) speaks the truth?

Of course I am not sure if he is telling the truth, but he appears to me as being very credible. He is willing to make a statement under oath and with a lie detector. But unfortunately to date the JIT has not interviewed him. If Lev speaks the truth and all those many others who have seen fighter planes just before or during the shot down of MH17, then of course it is not proven at all that a fighter plane is the murder weapon, but Kiev is lying about the fact that the air force that day was grounded. And then you can ask yourself: why would Kiev lie about the Air Force remaining grounded on July 17th 2014 when fighter jets were not involved in the incident in any way, not even indirectly?

Russia blames Ukraine for knocking down MH17. Has Russia ever provided serious evidence for that claim, apart from the fact that Ukraine has kept the airspace open inside a war zone?

Russia has not presented a convincing scenario about what happened. Russian information management in the MH17 case is embarrassingly bad.

Minister Stef Blok of Foreign Affairs has accused Russia in the UN Security Council of a lack of cooperation in the MH17 investigation. Is it clear to you what he meant by that?

It seems that Blok meant that Russia does not send the JIT any information which would confirm that Russia is guilty. I have asked the JIT about this lack of cooperation from Russia. The reaction I received showed that Russia is being accused of not admitting that Russia has deployed a BUK-Telar in the east of Ukraine and that it would have downed MH17.

Is that a justified accusation?

Minister Sergei Lavrov of Foreign Affairs states that Russia has responded to all legal aid requests from the JIT and the Dutch Safety Board. He stated that during a joint press conference with Minister Stef Blok in Moscow. Blok did not contradict that at the time.

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on April 13, 2018.

On the Russian side, several objections have been raised that the JIT did not include any of the investigation data supplied by Russia. Is that right?

I think so. JIT head of investigation Fred Westerbeke pointed out in an interview that he did not include in the research the report from BUK manufacturer Almaz Antey. He literally said: “Their conclusion is the total opposite from our own conclusion. We do not agree with it. However, I am not going to judge whether their conclusions are wrong or right.” I found it rather disconcerting to read this, because Westerbeke is actually claiming the only information we want from Russia is information that would demonstrate their guilt, the remainder does not interest us and we will not be bothered to falsify any data when that would benefit Russia.

The Netherlands has held Russia liable for the demise of MH17. Do you have any idea why the Netherlands did not also hold Ukraine liable? After all, Ukraine has kept its airspace open after military planes had been shot down earlier.

According to Pieter Klein of RTL News, the government would have told the surviving relatives that holding Ukraine responsible for the open airspace might disrupt cooperation with Ukraine inside the JIT. That could in turn damage any investigation of the perpetrators. The word ‘blackmail’ comes to mind when I read that the Netherlands is afraid of offending Ukraine.

Malaysia and Belgium have not joined the claim of the Netherlands and Australia that Russia was guilty. Is that, you think, because they really think there is insufficient evidence, or is there something else at work?

The newly appointed Malaysian minister of transport Loke Siew Fook (right) said after the JIT press conference of 28 May 2018 that there is ‘no indisputable evidence’ for Russian responsibility for the taking down of MH17 and that Malaysia for that reason is not in line with the liability claim from the Netherlands and Australia. But of course there are different things going on as well. This has all to do with geopolitics. The countries which are working together against Russia in the investigation into the MH17 disaster are the same ones which are working together in the case of the poisoning of the Skripals. I call these countries ‘the Yellow Team’, after the picture that the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs distributed displaying the countries that expelled Russian diplomats because of the poisoning of the Skripals. These 26 countries like to call themselves ‘the international community’, but fact is that over 80 percent of the world’s population is not part of this.

Malaysia does not belong to this group of countries. And so can they afford to hold a different view in the MH17 investigation?

Certainly. Their interpretation of international law is also very different. What hardly anyone knows in the Yellow Team area is that a Malaysian court in 2011 convicted former US President George W. Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for war crimes and genocide committed in Iraq. Also do not forget that Malaysia was initially not admitted to the official investigation. I can imagine how that must have been unpalatable for the Malaysians. Imagine that a plane from KLM with 43 Dutch on board was shot down above Burma and we were not allowed in the investigative team. How would that feel? Another important factor and possible game changer is that the 92-year-old Mahathir bin Mohamad recently became prime minister of Malaysia. In 2015, when he was still in the opposition, he voiced strong criticism of the official investigation. It is not for nothing that the Netherlands and Australia only informed Malaysia at the last minute that they were going to hold Russia legally responsible. Malaysia is not being trusted. The Netherlands and Australia suspect Malaysia of leaking to Moscow.

Why did Belgium not join in holding Russia legally responsible?

RTL-News has submitted this question to the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but has received no answer. The role of Belgium is interesting. Because why is Belgium part of the JIT at all? The country lost four citizens. Just as many as Germany. Other countries which  are not in the team, Indonesia and Great Britain, lost more citizens, twelve and ten respectively.

You have been researching the MH17 disaster for four years now. To what extent is it possible as a citizen to falsify any claims of the JIT? You cannot gain access to all the evidence they submit such as anonymous eyewitnesses and the remains of a BUK missile.

Falsifying is indeed difficult if you do not have access to the underlying data. But that the MH17 research is faulty remains clear to me. From the very start the suspicions went to Russia and the rebels.  Just look at the composition of the JIT. There Ukraine is a member,  but not Russia. Of the five countries included in the JIT, four belong to the Yellow Team. Add to this the fact that the JIT ignores evidence provided by Russia and that it does not make any statements about the liability of Ukraine in connection with the non-closure of the airspace. Also revealing — all telephone taps which the JIT has presented as proof of the guilt of the rebels and the Russians come from the Ukrainian secret service SBU. No serious court will value any evidence provided by this organization.

The telephone taps delivered by the SBU to the JIT —  have you been able to falsify those?

Immediately after MH17 was shot down, the Ukrainian secret service SBU released an audio tape in which rebels allegedly admitted to shooting down MH17. Virtually all media in the world presented the audio as authentic, without reservation. Analysis of the audio clearly shows that the voices have been tampered with and that there have been all kinds of cutting and pasting. I have extensively covered this forgery in November 2015 in my article ‘MH17 – Lying for Justice‘.  The SBU is not just the supplier of counterfeit tap calls. It is also the organization suspected of the robbery in the Westfries museum;  they have spread fake news   about an attack on former minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders and recently they have staged a murder scene with a journalist.

In a response to a broadcast from Zembla, the JIT has stated that two former SBU executives have never been involved in providing any evidence. How do you see that? Does the JIT indirectly disqualify the telephone taps supplied by the SBU?

I think so. The two former SBU top people are Valentyn Naleyvaichenko and Vasyl Vovk. They left the SBU in 2015. But in 2014, during the shoot-down of MH17, Naleyvaichenko was at the head of the SBU and Vovk was head of investigation. Because of that they were responsible for the evidence that was delivered to the JIT.

Left, Valentyn Naleyvaichenko; right, Vasyl Vovk.

Naleyvaichenko is the man who in August 2014 was lying about rebels in Eastern Ukraine having tried to shoot down a Russian passenger aircraft in order to provide Russia with a casus belli. The SBU removed that lie from its own website, but it has been archived and there is also a video from the press conference. It would also be good to understand that the JIT does not want to be associated with Vovk, the former MH17 principal investigator of the SBU. He has said that Jews are not Ukrainians and that they must be destroyed. He also said that JIT researcher Wilbert Paulissen is a friend of his and that he stayed at his house. His view of the disaster is also different. According to Vovk, MH17 may have been shot down with a BUK which the rebels had captured from the Ukrainian army. With the new SBU head, Vasyl Hrytsak, they will not be happy in the Netherlands either. That is the person responsible for the murder of a Russian journalist, which was staged with pig’s blood. And yet he was still present at the last press conference of the JIT. You can see him sitting to the right of leader of the investigation Fred Westerbeke. I think the Netherlands made a big mistake when they became so close with Ukraine. People have underestimated how corrupt and criminal the current regime is. It now even appears that Kiev has spied on the Dutch MH17 mission.

The British investigative collective Bellingcat plays a remarkable role in the MH17 research. Many of their findings have been taken on board by the JIT. They have severely attacked you several times. You would be a “useful idiot” of Putin, you criticize only Western research but no Kremlin propaganda.

You forget the word truther. There is not really any Dutch equivalent, but it comes down to it that a truther rejects the official version of an event and distributes conspiracy theories instead. The word is mainly linked to people who question the official version of 9/11.

Eliot Higgins, founder of Bellingcat, recently still called me a truther and an idiot. That was because of my correspondence with the Russian representative at the United Nations. I asked [Russian UN representative Dmitry] Polyanskiy why Russia does not provide satellite data and other data to support its claim that Ukraine had BUK installations in the vicinity of the crash site. Polyanskiy replied that Russia has done this and will add data, but that the JIT ignores it. Higgins then completely twists Polyanskiy’s words. Higgins turns “delivering satellite data” into “Russia admits it submits MH17 Truther websites and blogs about #MH17 to the JIT as evidence.” And then he adds: “Russia admits to supplying conspiracy blogs to the JIT as #MH17 evidence. If they have to resort to that then they really are totally fucked.”

When I challenge Higgins on this, he tweets: “I don’t deal with idiots like Max who still think MH17 was a false flag.” Here I still get away easy. “Suck my balls” is how Higgins addresses Russian diplomats. Shortly after the publication of an article about this vulgarity, Higgins quietly removes three tweets, but fortunately they were archived online. 

Left: Dmitry Polyanskiy at the UN Security Council. Right: Eliot Higgins at the NATO government funded think-tank, Atlantic Council.

Obviously, the rough language of Eliot Higgins cannot be justified. But it was a reaction to an allegation from Polyanskiy. He said that Bellingcat and JIT base their claims on counterfeits. When Higgins asked him to prove this, he did not respond. That is not good, is it?

Not good indeed.

You have followed the route which, according to the JIT and Bellingcat, the Volvo low-loader with the BUK-system would have taken. You came to a place near a bridge, and you asked yourself if the low-loader would fit underneath. Does that demonstrate, or any other findings from you, that the route indicated by the JIT cannot be correct?

When in 2015 I drove the route H21 from Donetsk to Torez, I had serious doubts whether the combination Volvo trailer with Buk-Telar could fit under a certain bridge.   Higgins reacted almost immediately. Again the slur truther, with the reprimand that the Buk could have driven via ‘the really obvious turn’ if it wouldn’t have fitted under the bridge.

After the tweet from Higgins I went back to the spot and made a video. This shows that the ‘really obvious exit’ cannot be used at all because of the concrete blocks which have been there for years. The issue here is not whether the Buk fits under the bridge or not, because the Telar can be driven from the low-loader before the bridge, and after having passed the bridge back on it again. The issue here is that Higgins from his sofa claims something with absolute certainty, and that then the refutation of his claim by someone who does research on location does not lead to withdrawal. It is typical of the Bellingcat process. And it is also worrying, given Bellingcat’s large influence on journalists who do not perform any investigation at all, not even into the financing of that group.

The faked photograph of the Volvo Buk-carrier as originally published by Paris Match on July 23, 2014.

The bridge across Route H21, to the left of the photo frame, and to right, the concrete block barrier preventing access by the alleged Buk carrier. Source: https://vimeo.com/145941009

Bellingcat states that you have never faulted and corrected MH17 investigative results from the JIT and Bellingcat. What is your reaction to that?

This is a typical Bellingcat approach. They make the frame, and others are forced to respond. I am now setting my own frame for this: the Ukrainian intelligence service SBU is the main supplier of the evidence to the JIT, and Bellingcat acts as a conduit. I’m doing an article on this. Get ready.

[*]NOTE: This English translation is an edited version of the Dutch publication in Novini.nl; click to read the original.  
Eric van de Beek studied journalism at Windesheim School of Applied Sciences and Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam and worked as a journalist for the weekly magazine Elsevier. Max van der Werff has been conducting independent research on the MH17 case through his website Kremlin Troll,  and coordinating the case work of an international group of independent investigators, lawyers and a retired German prosecutor. The latest detailed presentation of the evidence by van der Werff was published in Dutch on July 4. For the MH17 investigations archive, click to open.  THE LIE THAT SHOT DOWN MH17 – THE TRUE STORY OF WHO DID is a book by Max van der Werff and John Helmer which no publisher in London, New York, Amsterdam and Frankfurt has agreed to publish. The publication this month by Manchester University Press is unprecedented and courageous: Kees van der Pijl, FLIGHT MH17, UKRAINE AND THE NEW COLD WAR.

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