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On November 17, The Hague District Court passed a verdict in the MH17 case, finding three Russian militants – Russians Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinsky and Ukrainian citizen Leonid Kharchenko — guilty of shooting down an airliner of Malaysian Airlines and sentencing them to life imprisonment. The court also found that Boeing was shot down by the Russian Buk anti-aircraft missile system, which was located in the territory controlled by the DPR militants, whom, in turn, Russia controlled and provided with weapons.
Although the verdict does not concern Russia or Russian officials directly, the Kremlin cannot help but see it as a dangerous precedent. Therefore, the efforts of Russian propaganda were aimed at discrediting the verdict, the trial in The Hague and exposing another “conspiracy of the collective West.”
The official position of the Putin regime was set out in a statement by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Russia refused to recognize the verdict, calling it “a frameup” and “politically motivated.” If the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs at least stated something, the Prosecutor General’s Office, which is responsible for international legal cooperation, decided to keep silent. Making the statement that Russia is not going to give Girkin and Dubinsky to European justice was entrusted to an anonymous “source in law enforcement agencies” in the commentary for the news agency “Interfax.”
Russian propagandists also worked on the topic. Television broadcasters apparently got the task of not delving very deeply into the essence of the verdict and not to stir up this news topic. Federal channels “Channel One,” “NTV,” and “Russia 1” did not even announce the verdict in the evening news. They were placed at the end of the programs, where the least important news topics usually end up. The authors of the stories focused not on the facts established by the court, but on the position of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the “anti-Ukrainian hysteria” in the EU. TV propagandists questioned the evidence gathered by the investigation, the right of foreign courts to try Russian citizens and the right of the “collective West” to condemn and even assess Russia’s actions. Even when it comes to the murder of 298 foreign citizens.
Komsomolskaya Pravda published an extensive material, the task of which was to demonstrate the bias of The Hague court and the unfair nature of the verdict. The argumentation was limited to the following points:
● Russia was “found guilty” even before the trial;
● the Dutch Prosecutor’s Office, with the help of the Security Service of Ukraine, falsified evidence;
● In The Hague, witnesses were “filtered,” considering the words of only those who testified against Russia;
● the court did not consider the results of the “examination” of the Russian concern “Almaz-Antey,” which “proved” the launch of a missile from the territory controlled by Ukraine.
An additional “proof” of the West’s “malicious intentions” towards Russia for propagandists was the reaction of NATO leaders, who claimed the responsibility of Russia for the death of two Polish citizens in Przewodów during a massive missile attack on Ukraine.
If the above-mentioned media tried only to give Russians a hint as to who was “really” responsible for the MH17 disaster, the pool of propaganda Telegram channels gave an “answer” to this question. More precisely, a bunch of “answers,” generously providing readers with the conspiracy and eight-year-old fakes. Who/what proved “guilty” according to them:
● “Ukrainian” Buk, which fired a missile at the plane from the Ukrainian-controlled part of the Donetsk region (the version that “Almaz-Antey” provided to the investigation);
● “Ukrainian fighter,” the evidence of whose attack on “Boeing” is allegedly diligently concealed by the Ukrainian intelligence services. As “evidence,” the propagandists present a photo of the “secret order of the SBU” with a number of Russian words and grammatical errors;
● the Ukrainian government, which either through negligence “did not close the sky” over the combat zone, or misled the militants by setting up a passenger plane instead of a military carrier to “frame” Russia and draw the West into the war;
● dispatcher Anna Petrenko, who brought Malaysian Boeing to the danger area by order of the oligarch Kolomoiskyi;
● western and Ukrainian intelligence agencies that shot down a “plane with corpses in the cabin.”
Consequently, no new “version,” which has not appeared in the propaganda since 2014, has been formulated this time. In addition, Telegram propagandists reproached the Russian authorities for not actively interfering enough with the investigation and even giving foreign investigators access to the scene of the crash and the wreckage of the aircraft — important evidence in the case.
Reiterating the mentioned “versions” of various levels of absurdity and “nitpicking” in the verdict of The Hague court, Russian propaganda does not even try to convince consumers that Russia is not involved in the shooting down of “Boeing.” They just should have a consistent impression that “everyone is lying.” Simply, someone is doing it “in favour of Russia,” and someone is doing it “against” it. And the possibility of a relatively calm existence in the Russian coordinate system depends on the choice of what to “believe” and what to “doubt.”
Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security