Last night MSNBC's Rachel Maddow reminded audiences that NATO had warned weeks ago that the Russian military was supplying Ukraine's separatists with advanced vehicle-borne anti-aircraft missiles. The Raw Story reports:
Two weeks ago, on June 30, Air Force Gen. Phillip Breedlove spoke at the Pentagon.
Maddow reported, “And in that press briefing, he said that surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft systems, not just the shoulder-fired ones, but the big, vehicle-borne surface-to-air missiles that are designed to shoot down airplanes, those had been observed in eastern Ukraine and just across the border in Western Russia.”
NATO had observed in the early part of the summer, that Russia was moving heavy anti-aircraft equipment over the border into Ukraine and training the rebels there to use them.
“This was sort of a dry Pentagon briefing from two-and-a-half weeks ago,” said Maddow, “talking about something that wasn’t getting all that much attention at the time, but all of a sudden, what he just said there was maybe the most important thing in the whole world.”
June 30th is an important date, and here's why. On June 29th Russian state-operated news agencies posted stories about how separatists had captured a Buk missile system, the main suspect in the downing of flight MH17. That report appears to have originated from Russian network TV Zvezda, the official news network for the Russian military. At the time there was no evidence that the separatists ever captured a Buk. Ukraine also denies that they are missing a Buk missile system. But the separatists themselves tweeted a picture on June 29th claiming that they had indeed captured a Buk. That picture has since been deleted. Could this be what NATO Commander General Breedlove was referencing?
But beyond all this we have very strong evidence to suggest that sometime before July 3rd the Russian military gave the separatists a different vehicle-based surface-to-air missile system, the Strela-10. The SAM system was prominently videographed by Russian news agencies and civilians in eastern Ukraine. The videos appear to show the vehicle headed away from the Russian border and toward the separatist positions in Donetsk.
There is no indication that a Strela-10 was ever captured by separatists, and the camouflage on the vehicle does not appear to match videos we've analyzed which show Ukrainian military vehicles. There is a very strong possibility that this vehicle crossed the Russian border in late June or early July, and that this vehicle is part of the Russian military stockpile.
In fact, back in May a group of separatists were stopped by the Ukrainian security services (SBU). As we reported at the time, an independent arms research company, Armament Research Services (ARES), says that there is strong evidence that the main body of a Polish PPZR Grom surface-to-air (MANPADS) missile carried by the separatists originated from a stockpile of weapons that was captured by the Russian military during the 2008 invasion of Georgia, and other parts of the weapon were only manufactured inside Russia.
While the Strela-10 and the PPZR Grom do not have the range to have shot down Malaysian Flight MH17, they help establish a pattern -- Russia has been
providing the separatists with advanced anti-aircraft weaponry for many months, and the evidence has been there all along.