There have been countless shootdowns of Ukrainian planes previously, and MH17 was the wake-up-call. Only then they knew rebels (or their Russian helpers) had access to weapons with which they can shoot down planes at such an altitude.
An An-26 was shot down on the 14th of July at an altitude of 21.000 ft. Thats 3 days before MH17. FYI, there is no SAM system that can reach an aircraft at 21.000 ft, but not reach 33.000 ft. Shoulder launched missiles can't reach anywhere near 21.000 ft. This incident was a clear indicator that the rebels had some seriously powerful stuff in their hands, and should have been a wake-up call to any competent authority.
Further, just the day prior to MH17, a Russian MiG-29 shot down a Ukrainian Su-25 with a BVR missile. Again a clear red flag that airliners should stay far, far away.
I have never seen a paratrooper or cargo drop airplane fly at the altitudes and speeds of a 777. They typically operate quite low and fairly slow, which is why shoulder launched missiles had been successfully used against them. I'm not even sure if most common paratrooper aircraft could exceed 30,000 ft in altitude if they tried.
While I understand that errors can occur; the radar for a BUK system does indicate altitude and speed; and likely flight path (direct into Russia); and MH 17 was clearly not a paratrooper or ground support cargo drop aircraft based on altitude and speed, and Ukraine had not been known to fly aircraft into Russian airspace..
During ingress and egress they would be flying high and fast, and an Il-76 (which Ukraine does operate, and did use in the ATO) certainly would look a lot like a 777 in that regard. Fastmovers like MiG-29s or Su-24s would also fly very similar profiles, as would reconnaissance planes. Thats assuming the operator even knows how fast or high an aircraft would be capable of flying.
Contrary to what some other posters wrote, these systems don't require highly trained operators. They were designed to be operated by mere conscripts, and tens of thousands of conscripts got trained on them over the years. I did a training course for an airline in Eastern Europe some weeks ago. A surprising amount of the participants had worked on SAM systems with no prior experience as conscripts, 3 of them on BUKs. There are a lot of people in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union who know how to operate a BUK in the most basic modes, should they ever get hold of one. Which probably makes the whole situation much worse, since the training is probably too spotty and outdated to allow them to distinguish between a 777 and an Il-76.
Lets not forget that it was also "professional" Ukrainian SAM operators who accidentally shot down that Tu-154 back in 2001 as well. These are far from failsafe systems operated by competent organizations.
That is a bit naive dont you think?
Ukraine was dropping paratroops by the border trying to surround rebel forces. In such cases the transports behaving like an airliner would be one of the obvious tactics.
Knowing that SAM's were active in the area, all airways above the area should have been closed.
Ukraine was probably keeping the airways open to use airliners as lures for the SAM's, hoping the paratroop transporters would be able to go unnoticed among them and assuming that the rebels would hold their fire if in doubt.
I don't think we can completely discount this theory. If the airspace was closed for civilian flights, it would have turned the entire airspace into a free-fire shooting alley.
For all the blame Russia is receiving, we must not forget the responsibility Ukraine had in this case for pure negligence. The western intelligence agencies who undoubtedly knew about the prior shootdowns too deserve criticism too. These organizations did not act in the interest of aviation safety
. Situations like these must not become a precedent in future conflicts. Unfortunately, this point seems to have gone completely missing in the mud-throwing competition between Russia and the US.