Did this man shoot down MH17?

MH17 PRIME SUSPECT: Self-proclaimed Minister of Defence of  "Donetsk People's Republic", Igor Girkin, centre, walks with his bodyguards in the eastern Ukrainian city earlier this month.
MH17 PRIME SUSPECT: Self-proclaimed Minister of Defence of "Donetsk People's Republic", Igor Girkin, centre, walks with his bodyguards in the eastern Ukrainian city earlier this month.

The prime suspect goes by the name Strelkov - or "shooter". Real name Igor Girkin, the former Russian intelligence officer has shot his own troops for insubordination. He may have just shot down a passenger plane with 298 people on board.

"We did warn you - do not fly in our sky," he reportedly posted to a Russian social media page just hours ago.

This chilling message was most probably aimed at the Ukraine government, Girkin's target in a vicious separatist war.

But that post has now been deleted as it has become clear the jet was from Malaysia Airlines, not a military transport aircraft of the type Girkin has brought down in recent weeks.

The so-called "defence minister" of the Donetsk People's Republic first announced: "We just downed an An-26 near (the town of) Torez."

"And here is a video confirming that a 'bird fell'," said the post.

The video shows locals referring to the same coalmine in the region mentioned by Strelkov.

Russia's state media avoided any mention of the controversial posts and instead reported militia leaders' later claims that the Ukrainian air force had shot down the Boeing 777 instead.

Confirmation of separatist fighters killing the 298 people on board the plane from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur would further complicate Russian President Vladimir Putin's efforts to paint their uprising as a fight for self-determination.

The comments attributed to Girkin did not identify what missile was used to down the craft.

But a message on the official Twitter account of the Donetsk People's Republic had announced hours earlier that insurgents had seized a series of Russian-made Buk systems capable of soaring to that height.

"dnrpress: self-propelled Buk surface-to-air missile systems have been seized by the DNR from (Ukrainian) surface-to-air missile regiment A1402," said the post.

That tweet was later deleted as well.

No amateur can bring down a passenger jet streaking across the sky. A trained operator is needed to work the sophisticated surface-to-air missiles needed.

Don't be lulled into believing any trooper with a rocket propelled grenade launcher on his shoulder could carry out this attack.

The professionalism required alone makes Girkin and his Russian-backed separatists as the most likely suspects.

They have captured missile batteries mounted on trucks, and are suspected to have been supplied Russian-made "needle" portable launchers that can be carried by a man.

But it was far from clear whether Moscow condoned this atrocity.

The conflict in Ukraine has boiled for months since Russian commandos in Februrary seized control of the Crimean peninsula.

A referendum in March - widely dismissed as a farce - saw the territory incorporated into Russia.

Ever since, Girkin and his ilk have been fighting in the east of Ukraine, with persistent reports of Russian forces staging across the nearby border.

But Putin has steadfastly denied any further claims on Ukraine.

Lilia Shevtsova, a highly regarded Russian analyst, wrote this week that no one has been willing to call this conflict for what it is - an international war.

"The West doesn't want to call it war, since it would then have to take concrete measures against the aggressor, a nuclear state. Who would dare to do that? Ukraine isn't ready to press the world to call the conflict a war out of fear of contradicting the West. And it's quite clear why Russia wouldn't want to acknowledge that it's fighting a war," she said.

There have been plenty of peace overtures, sanction threats and fruitless diplomacy.

But as Shevtsova puts it in a pungent remark: "Moscow, meanwhile, is attempting to wear the peacemaker's hat without ever doffing its battle helmet."

- Sydney Morning Herald/Stuff