The Russian military has made a new claim about the downing of a passenger jet over the war zone in eastern Ukraine in 2014, asserting that the missile that brought Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 down was sent to Soviet Ukraine after it was made in 1986 and never returned to Russia.
Defense Ministry officials made the claim at a news conference in Moscow on September 17, in an apparent attempt to discredit the findings of an international investigation that determined the system that fired the missile was brought into Ukraine from Russia before the Boeing 777 was shot down on July 17, 2014, and smuggled back into Russia afterward.
Kyiv swiftly disputed the Russian assertion, which a senior Ukrainian official called an "awkward fake," while the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) said that it was still waiting for Russia to send documents it requested long ago and that Russia had made "factually inaccurate" claims in the past.
All 298 passengers and crew were killed when the jet, which was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, crashed in an area held by Russia-backed separatists in the Donetsk region.
The tragedy caused an international outcry and deepened tensions between Moscow and the West following Russia's seizure of Crimea and support for the militants in their fight against Kyiv's forces after pro-European protests pushed Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from power.
The JIT also found that the Buk missile came from Russia's 53rd Antiaircraft Missile Brigade and was fired from territory held by the Russia-backed separatists.
Many of the JIT's findings have been corroborated or supported by evidence gathered by journalists and independent investigators, such as the British-based open-source cybersleuthing group Bellingcat.
The Russian Defense Ministry officials claimed that some of the evidence used by the JIT, including videos investigators used to track the path of the missile from Russia to Ukraine and back, was falsified. They cited alleged evidence whose authenticity and accuracy could not immediately be independently assessed.
Citing what they said were newly declassified documents, the Defense Ministry officials asserted that the missile was manufactured in Dolgoprudny, outside Moscow, in 1986 -- five years before the Soviet Union fell apart -- and was sent by railway to a missile brigade in the Ternopil region of western Ukraine in December of that year.
"The missile belongs to the Ukrainian armed forces and never returned to Russian territory," said Lieutenant General Nikolai Parshin, chief of the Defense Ministry's missile and artillery department.
In Ukraine, National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksandr Turchynov said Russia's "statement alleging that the missile that downed MH17 had a Ukrainian footprint was yet another awkward fake [issued] by the Kremlin in order to conceal its crime, which has been proven by both the official investigation and by independent expert groups."
The Russian claim is highly likely to be disputed by many in the West.
Bellingcat founder Eliot Higgins cast doubt on the allegation that video footage was doctored by investigators, writing on Twitter that the Russian Defense Ministry "should probably know we have the original version of the video they're talking about at the moment."
"And we've never published it. And the JIT has it," Higgins added in successive tweets.
In a statement on September 17, the JIT said it would "meticulously study the materials presented as soon as the Russian Federation makes the relevant documents available to the JIT as requested in May 2018" and required under a UN Security Council resolution."
The JIT said that it asked Russia to provide "all relevant information" about the incident back in 2014, and in May 2018 "specifically requested information concerning numbers found on several recovered missile parts."
The investigative body said that it had "always carefully analyzed" information provided by Russia, and in doing so "has found that information from the Russian Ministry of Defense previously presented to the public and provided to the JIT was factually inaccurate on several points."
The new Russian assertions follow several other attempts by Russia to lay blame for the downing of MH-17 on Ukraine, including initial suggestions -- now discredited -- that the jet was shot down by a Ukrainian warplane.
The 298 victims of the crash are among more than 10,300 people killed since April 2014 in the war in eastern Ukraine, where fighting persists and the Moscow-backed militants continue to hold parts of the Donestk and Luhansk provinces despite internationally-backed cease-fire and political-settlement deals known as the Minsk Accords.