MOSCOW (AP) — The Russian maker of the Buk air defense missile system said Tuesday that it has concluded that Malaysian Airlines flight 17 was downed by an older version of the missile, which isn't in service with the Russian military but is in Ukrainian arsenals.
Controversy continues over who shot down the plane last summer over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people aboard. Ukraine and the West suspect it was destroyed by a Russian surface-to-air missile fired by Russian soldiers or Russia-backed separatist rebels fighting in the area. Russia denies that.
Mikhail Malyshevsky, an adviser to the director general of the missile maker, state-controlled Almaz-Antei consortium, said at a news conference Tuesday that its analysis was based on photographs of the wreckage available to the public. He said the holes in the plane's parts were consistent with a specific type of Buk missile and its warhead.
Each of the Buk subtypes has its warhead rigged with shrapnel of a specific shape. This variation of the missile is in the Ukrainian military arsenals, but not in the Russian, said Almaz-Antei director Yan Novikov.
Novikov said that in 2005 when Ukraine contacted the consortium regarding the maintenance of its Buk systems, it had 991 such missiles.
Rebels have staunchly denied even possessing a functioning Buk missile launcher at the time that MH17 was brought down, although one was seen in separatist-controlled Snizhne by AP reporters a few hours before the plane crashed.
Russian officials and state media have previously said they suspect the airline was shot down by a Ukrainian warplane.
"First they said it wasn't a Buk missile. Now, suddenly, they're saying it is but it wasn't them. So I just think the credibility is not 100 percent here on that," said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf in Washington.
Ukrainian military spokesman Vladislav Seleznev was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying Tuesday that photos and video materials at the time documented the presence of a Buk on the rebel-held territory.
Novikov and Malyshevsky said that the company's analysis of shrapnel impact on the plane's fragments allowed it to pinpoint the location of the missile launcher, which they said was placed near the town of Zaroshenske. A missile launched from Snizhne would have incurred different damage, they said.
The Almaz-Antei officials stopped short of directly blaming Ukraine for shooting down the plane, but their statements hinted at that.
A spokesman for the Dutch Safety Board, which is investigating the crash, declined to comment on the consortium's statement. The Dutch report is expected in October.
Mike Corder in The Hague and Bradley Klapper in Washington contributed to this report.