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VIDEO: Arms maker looks at Middle East amid MH17 investigations

Company that bears the financial brunt of the sanctions imposed by the European Union is looking toward the Middle East for new customers

By Atique Naqvi, Moscow

Russian defence equipment manufacturer Almaz-Antey seems to be caught in the cesspool of politics surrounding the crash of Malaysian Airlines’ passenger aircraft.

The company is bearing the financial brunt of the sanctions imposed by the European Union and is looking toward the Middle East to get new customers.

Both Russian and international investigations suggest Almaz-Antey’s BUK missile was used to down the MH17 passenger flight, but the difference in opinion is over the version of the missile.

The CEO of Almaz-Antey, Yan Novikov, says the unfair sanctions are affecting the business of his company, even when it has been proved beyond doubt that the missile fired over Ukraine to shoot down MH17 was a 9M38 from the BUK series launched from Zaroshchenskoye. “We have filed a lawsuit in the EU Court over illegal sanctions,” says Novikov.

Speaking to TRENDS in Moscow, the Russian firm’s spokesperson, Valery Jarmolenko, says: “Although our biggest customer is the Russian defense department, unjustified EU sanctions have definitely affected our global business.”

Jarmolenko says his firm is in talks with some Middle East countries to negotiate arms deals. “The EU sanctions are not applicable in the Middle East and we are at an advanced stage of discussions. The nature of the discussion is classified due the involvement of the defense departments of various countries in region,” he says.

Almaz-Antey is very close to signing a multi-million dollar contract with Iran for the Antey-2500 air defence system.

Jarmolenko was speaking on the sidelines of a press event, which was organized in Moscow to share the results of experiments conducted to unravel the mystery surrounding the MH17 crash.

A Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, crashed on July 17 last year, killing close to 300 people. The fingers of suspicion were pointed at both Ukrainians and Russian-backed rebels. Most of the victims – 196 people – were Dutch, including some with dual nationality. The other passengers and crew were nationals from ten countries.

But even before the investigations were complete, the European Union slapped sanctions on Almaz-Antey, because the surface-to-air missile that was used to attack MH17 was manufactured by the Russian firm.

Investigations conducted by Dutch authorities and Russia’s state-backed Almaz-Antey have concluded that a BUK-series missile was responsible for the crash. The missile exploded a few meters above the bulkhead of the aircraft mid-air.

Almaz-Antey and the Netherland’s Dutch Safety Board presented their versions of findings on October 13 in Russia and the Netherlands, respectively.

The Dutch report did not say who fired the missile, but said it was fired from the rebel-controlled area of Ukraine. However, Almaz-Antey is of the view that the version of the BUK missile that was used to shoot down MH17 was phased out years ago and only Ukrainian army had the older version of the BUK missiles.

The Almaz-Antey investigation states that the exact type of missile was a 9M38. However, this version of the missile has been out of production for almost 20 years.

“Ukraine Armed Forces still had 991 of those missiles in its arsenal in 2005, when it held talks with Almaz-Antey on prolonging their lifespan,” the firm says.

Almaz-Antey’s head engineer Mikhail Malyshevsky says the shape of the fragments does not match the damage caused to the aircraft.

“The version of BUK used against MH17 has been out of production before the company was even founded in 2002,” says the engineer making a case against the European Union sanctions.

Almaz-Antey conducted two experiments, one in July and one this month, to challenge the international version of the crash story.

According to the preliminary report of the international commission, the MH17 was shot down by a 9M38M1 warhead with “I-beam” submunitions.

According to a statement from the Russian firm, Almaz-Antey, as an experiment, fired a modified 9M38M1 rocket with I-beam components, to mirror what the international commission insists took place. A characteristic feature of detonation of a 9M38M1 missile is the formation of two fronts of damage from the submunitions.

“The first contains lighter fragments, while the second has the heavier “I-beam” elements, which have maximum kinetic energy. As a result of contact with I-beam submunitions, the body of the aircraft should display a pattern similar to that of a butterfly,” says the statement.

“It is important to note that earlier versions of the 9M38 missile do not have “I-beam” submunitions; its damage appears in the form of a quadrilateral. In Soviet times, Ukraine was supplied with these earlier versions of 9M38 missiles. Precise data on the number of such munitions remaining in the Ukrainian army today is not available.

“It is important to emphasize, though, that Russia no longer uses this kind of 9M38 missile. They have not been issued to the Russian armed forces since 1986, and the last of them expired in 2011.

“During the experiment, after the detonation of the missiles, the remnants of a ‘butterfly’ pattern from I-beam submunitions were detected on the body of the aircraft. However, we know that none of these butterfly holes were found in the body of the downed MH17 Boeing 777.

“Rather, the damage was in the form of a quadrilateral, caused by an earlier generation of the 9M38 missile. Thus, the full-scale experiment not only refutes the Dutch version that the rocket was launched from Snezhnoye, but also that the missile used 9M38M1 ammunition,” says the statement from Almaz-Antey.

Though the Russian firm submitted its findings to the Dutch panel investigating MH17 crash, the Almaz-Antey’s results were ignored, raising concerns among the Russians that this whole episode is one more effort by the West to corner them on a global stage.