Wednesday, at 2:28 EST Reuters published an exclusive interview with Alexander Khodakovsky of the so-called Vostok battalion – or eastern battalion: Khodakovsky Acknowledges Rebels had BUK Missiles.
In an interview with Reuters, Alexander Khodakovsky, commander of the Vostok Battalion, acknowledged for the first time since the airliner was brought down in eastern Ukraine on Thursday that the rebels did possess the BUK missile system and said it could have been sent back subsequently to remove proof of its presence.
Khodakovsky blamed the Kiev authorities for provoking what may have been the missile strike that destroyed the doomed airliner, saying Kiev had deliberately launched air strikes in the area, knowing the missiles were in place.
“I knew that a BUK came from Luhansk. At the time I was told that a BUK from Luhansk was coming under the flag of the LNR,” he said, referring to the Luhansk People’s Republic, the main rebel group operating in Luhansk, one of two rebel provinces along with Donetsk, the province where the crash took place.
“That BUK I know about. I heard about it. I think they sent it back. Because I found out about it at exactly the moment that I found out that this tragedy had taken place. They probably sent it back in order to remove proof of its presence,” Khodakovsky told Reuters on Tuesday.
“The question is this: Ukraine received timely evidence that the volunteers have this technology, through the fault of Russia. It not only did nothing to protect security, but provoked the use of this type of weapon against a plane that was flying with peaceful civilians,” he said.
“They knew that this BUK existed; that the BUK was heading for Snezhnoye,” he said, referring to a village 10 km (six miles) west of the crash site. “They knew that it would be deployed there, and provoked the use of this BUK by starting an air strike on a target they didn’t need, that their planes hadn’t touched for a week.”
“And that day, they were intensively flying, and exactly at the moment of the shooting, at the moment the civilian plane flew overhead, they launched air strikes. Even if there was a BUK, and even if the BUK was used, Ukraine did everything to ensure that a civilian aircraft was shot down.”
Khodakovsky is a former head of the “Alpha” anti-terrorism unit of the security service in Donetsk, and one of the few major rebel commanders in Donetsk who actually hails from Ukraine rather than Russia.
There has been friction in the past between him and rebel leaders from outside the region, such as Igor Strelkov, the Muscovite who has declared himself commander of all rebel forces in Donetsk province.
Khodakovsky said his unit had never possessed BUKs, but they may have been used by rebels from other units.
“What resources our partners have, we cannot be entirely certain. Was there (a BUK)? Wasn’t there? If there was proof that there was, then there can be no question.”
Khodakovsky said it was widely known that rebels had obtained BUKs from Ukrainian forces in the past, including three captured at a checkpoint in April and another captured near the airport in Donetsk. He said none of the BUKs captured from Ukrainian forces were operational.
I asked Jacob Dreizin, a US citizen who speaks Russian and reads Ukrainian to comment. Jacob responded …
At least one part of the story is not credible: “Khodakovsky said it was widely known that rebels had obtained BUKs from Ukrainian forces in the past, including three captured at a checkpoint in April and another captured near the airport in Donetsk. He said none of the BUKs captured from Ukrainian forces were operational.“
Three “BUKs” captured at a checkpoint in April? The war was was only starting in April, and the Ukrainians would have made a huge fuss of losing an air defense battery at that time. The takeover of three BUK launchers with the attendant command-control vehicles, radar trucks, and other associated vehicles, operational or not, would have been front-page news here in the States, especially back in April when news reports covered the takeover of police stations. Is there is a translation issue regarding the specific meaning of BUK?
Khodakovsky has been locked in a power struggle with Igor Strelkov and the other Russian transplants, especially after Strelkov evacuated Slaviansk and moved in to his turf in Donetsk city. He is not too popular in the movement, as he was responsible for the failed attack on the Donetsk airport on May 26th, which cost the lives of 60-70 militia and achieved nothing. In a subsequent interview, he admitted having MANPADS in advance of that attack, but said he made a decision not to field them as he did not think the Ukrainians would use helicopters. (They did, leading to the 60-70 deaths.)
He also stated that he does not care for the governments set up by the separatists in Donetsk and Lugansk. And, he claims to have good ties with his old friends in the Ukrainian security forces, and that he wants to cut deals with them rather than kill anybody. It is, in fact, unclear if he is a true “separatist” at all, or merely someone with warlord aspirations. But at the same time, as you can see in Reuters’ last paragraph, he likes to promote himself as the intellectual alternative to the other rebels.
Curiously, Khodakovsky is getting further out ahead on this issue than US intelligence and the Ukrainian Security Service. Without a doubt, he is aiming for something
The conclusion of the Reuters article is interesting. Khodakovsky clearly has misgiving about his role, and the war in general.
“I’m not going to say Russia gave these things or didn’t give them. Russia could have offered this BUK under some entirely local initiative. I want a BUK, and if someone offered me one, I wouldn’t turn it down. But I wouldn’t use it against something that did not threaten me. I would use it only under circumstances when there was an air attack on my positions, to protect people’s lives.”
He added: “I am an interested party. I am a ‘terrorist’, a ‘separatist’, a volunteer … In any event, I am required to promote the side I represent, even if I might think otherwise, say otherwise or have an alternative view. This causes real discomfort to my soul.”
Is Khodakovsky seeking forgiveness for his role and deaths in the conflict?
Please note that the Reuters article contains various contradictions.
For example: “Khodakovsky said his unit had never possessed BUKs, but they may have been used by rebels from other units.“
Now look back at the opening Reuters lead-in: “Alexander Khodakovsky, commander of the Vostok Battalion, acknowledged … the rebels did possess the BUK missile system and said it could have been sent back subsequently to remove proof of its presence.“
Nowhere does Khodakovsky state an “operational” system. In fact, he denies his unit has one, while questioning if other units did.
Here is the major contradiction: “What resources our partners have, we cannot be entirely certain. Was there (a BUK)? Wasn’t there? If there was proof that there was, then there can be no question.”
Khodakovsky never saw a Buk. Here is the precise statement as reported by Reuters: “That BUK I know about. I heard about it.“
Question of the Moment
I am racking up questions of the day faster than there are days. Here is the question of the moment:
If Khodakovsky’s unit did not have a Buk and if he wonders whether or not his partners have them, then how can he possibly tell Reuters “rebels did possess the BUK missile system”?
He can’t. It appears to me Reuters may have stretched this interview quite a bit.
Yet, if one takes the interview entirely at face value, with quotes exactly as reported, while ignoring hearsay, the most damning allegation is this entirely believable snip, captured on Russian radar as well:
“And that day, they were intensively flying, and exactly at the moment of the shooting, at the moment the civilian plane flew overhead, they launched air strikes. Even if there was a BUK, and even if the BUK was used, Ukraine did everything to ensure that a civilian aircraft was shot down.“
Once again, I am looking at all sides, hoping the truth finally emerges from disingenuous statements, outright lies, suppositions, and accusations from every corner.
If that interview was supposed to make the rebels look bad, closer analysis suggests it makes Ukraine look far worse.
As for Reuters, you be the judge.
Mike “Mish” Shedlock