MH17: The Truth Will Come Out

Less of a puzzle.

Photographer: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

To the families of the 298 passengers who died over Ukraine on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 more than a year ago, a long-awaited Dutch investigation into the cause of the crash must be satisfying and frustrating in equal measure. The report confirms that the plane was shot down by a Russian-built surface-to-air missile, as long suspected, but not by whom or from exactly where.

Still, the report is far more comforting and reliable than the report the Russians released on the same day. Their investigation, by the missile system's manufacturer, claims a different model of the warhead, no longer in Russian arsenals, shot down the plane, and that it was fired from an area under Ukrainian control.

Those claims are not to be believed, and shouldn't be. Russia has already offered several versions of this story, including one (since discredited) in which a Ukrainian jet shot down the plane with an air-to-air missile. The Dutch Safety Board's tests, including analyses of metal and paint samples from missile fragments, conclusively debunk Russia's claims about the missile.

Ukrainian officials, meanwhile, go too far the other way. They claim that the missiles were fired not only from rebel-held territory, but in "a planned operation of the Russian special services." There is as yet no evidence to support this. The government's time would be better spent answering the report's criticism that it failed to close the skies over eastern Ukraine to civilian air traffic, even though 16 military planes and helicopters were shot down before MH17.

A separate Dutch investigation, this one criminal, is looking into who fired the missile, which detonated just a few meters from the cockpit of the airliner, shattering the Boeing 777 in midair. That investigation should conclude next year.

The meticulous nature of the Dutch inquiries, into both what happened and who's responsible, inspires confidence in the findings. This is the value of due process. Russia's "investigation" is simply an attempt to undermine that confidence, and should be seen for what it is. 

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.