The intercepted phone call that Ukraine alleges explains the demise of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17


Pro-Russian separatists stand at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which went down in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, killing 298 people. Ukraine says it intercepted a phone call that shows separatists shot down the plane. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

As the world struggled on Thursday to grasp how Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 tumbled from the sky and exploded in eastern Ukraine, the Kiev government posted a video online that it said demonstrated that pro-Russian separatists backed by Moscow shot it down.

The video, including English-language subtitles, can be seen here:

Ukraine's government released what it says are intercepted telephone conversations that reveal pro-Russian rebels were responsible for shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17. U.S. intelligence analysts have confirmed these were authentic conversations between known separatist leaders. (Ukrainian Security Service/YouTube)

U.S. officials have not said whether they believe the recording to be authentic, and The Washington Post is unable to verify its authenticity. If the Ukrainian claims are legitimate, the recording would seem to bolster the narrative that separatists shot down the plane without realizing it was a civilian airliner.

As noted on The Post’s live blog yesterday, three Russian language speakers working for the newspaper independently verified the English translation used. One voice on the tape says either “we have just shot down a plane” or “they have just down the plane.” (This Russian statement could be translated in either way in the context of this conversation.)

This screenshot, circulated widely on social media Thursday, purportedly showing Igor Girkin, a man said to be aligned with the Russian military, bragging about his men shooting down to planes over Ukraine. IT was posted on VK.com, Russia’s version of Facebook:

The man is also known as Igor Strelkov. A journalist in Ukraine reporting for Buzzfeed highlighted earlier this month the heavy hand that he has used to keep order in Slovyansk, a city of about 119,000 in eastern Ukraine.

“I warn all fighters and commanders of the DPR militia, and also residents of Slovyansk and the Sloviansk area, that any grievous crime committed in the zone of military activity will continue to be punished ruthlessly and decisively,” according to an order issued by Girkin and published by Buzzfeed. “The command of the DPR militia will not allow unchecked criminality. Punishments for crimes will be unavoidable, regardless of the status and service of the criminal.”

Executions over relatively petty crimes have been common under his watch, Buzzfeed reported.

UPDATE: July 18, 11:35 a.m.: This post has been updated to reflect The Post’s translation of the video.

Dan Lamothe covers national security for The Washington Post and anchors its military blog, Checkpoint.
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Dan Lamothe · July 17