How Russia floundered in versions: 5 cynical fakes about shooting down MH17

July 17 marks 7 years since a Boeing passenger aircraft flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by a Russian Buk missile over Eastern Ukraine. The crash took the lives of all those on board MH17 — 283 passengers and 15 crew members.

From the first hours until now, Russia has been blocking any efforts to clarify the crash circumstances, producing new and new contradictory versions of events, and trying to shift responsibility for the tragedy to Ukraine.

Just over a month ago, the Hague court, which considered evidence in MH17 case, rejected the latest Russian version — that the missile was allegedly fired from the territory where the Ukrainian troops were based.

While Russia is inventing another version, we should not forget the disinformation cynically spread by Russian propaganda over seven years.

“The Boeing was downed by a Ukrainian missile. No, better a Ukrainian fighter jet”

A few hours after the crash, as soon as the first version of the alleged downing of An-26 transport aircraft of the Ukrainian Air Forces proved totally untenable, Russian propaganda made a volte face twice.

Later LifeNews put forward a version that MH17 had allegedly been downed by a missile system of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and Interfax reported that its target could have been Vladimir Putin’s plane. Within an hour, there was another report that the Boeing had been shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet.

The latter scenario was upheld by the Russian Ministry of Defense, which stated in July 2014 that Russian flight controllers had observed a military aircraft near MH17. And in November 2014, Russia’s Channel One released “sensational footage”: a satellite image allegedly obtained from Western intelligence services, showing “a Ukrainian fighter jet attacking MH17.”

This “proof” was quickly dismissed as a low-quality fake. Konstantin Ernst, Channel One CEO, or “the Kremlin’s creative director,” as The New Yorker calls him, said in 2019 that the story was a “mistake.”

“Air traffic controller Carlos saw it all”

On the day MH17 was shot down, the Russian-language website of Russia Today TV channel published  an alleged “tweet of a Spanish flight controller in Kyiv” that a few minutes before the crash, two Ukrainian Armed Forces planes had been spotted near the Boeing. The “sensation” was picked up by all federal channels and pro-Russian media in Ukraine.

In 2018, journalists from Radio Liberty and the RISE Project investigated that the real name of this “flight controller” was Jose Carlos Barrios Sanchez, who has a criminal record in Spain and was arrested for fraud in Romania. After talking to the reporters, he said he had received $ 48,000 for spreading disinformation and had never worked at a Ukrainian airport. 

“If not a jet fighter, then definitely a Ukrainian Buk missile launcher”

A week after the crash, NTV, citing an unknown expert, reported that MH17 had been shot down during the Ukrainian air defense exercises. Later, Kremlin’s propaganda began to spread information that it was allegedly a Ukrainian Buk and that later Ukraine hid it.

In June 2015, the Russian defense concern Almaz-Antey (a manufacturer of Buk missile launchers) picked up the version. Head of the concern Yan Novikov stated that the Boeing had been shot down by a Ukrainian Buk missile, because Russia had not had those missiles in service since 1999.

Eliot Higgins, founder of the Bellingcat think tank, was the first to refute this version, noting that the Almaz-Antey report had used fake Boeing images. And in 2016, this version was also refuted by an international investigation commission, which stated that Buk had been brought from Russia and had been returned there.

However, Russia continued to insist on the Ukrainian Buk version, including at the official level. In September 2018, Lieutenant General Mykola Parshyn, Chief of the Main Missile and Artillery Department of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, made a corresponding statement at a press conference.

This version was completely refuted in 2020. After analyzing 2,400 images, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) did not find any information about the location of a Ukrainian Buk missile launcher in the disaster area on July 17, 2014.

“Maybe there was no Buk at all”

In March 2020, the first hearing in the MH17 case took place. Three weeks earlier, Russian media began spreading a new fake about the downing of the Malaysian Boeing.

Bonanza Media (a Dutch special-purpose media project) cited by Russian journalists was another source of disinformation. It published several documents in the case, including a letter from the Dutch military intelligence. Referring to this document and forgetting about all its previous versions, Russian propaganda began to claim that there was no Buk missile launcher in the MH17 crash area. And Bonanza Media, which TASS also called a “Dutch media,” turned out to be a page for donations via the Patreon platform with six followers.

Moreover, a joint investigation by The Insider and Bellingcat reveals that the Bonanza Media project, which disseminated a version of Moscow’s non-involvement in the MH17 disaster, was coordinated by the Russia’s military intelligence agency, best known as the GRU.

The letter leaked by Bonanza Media does not really say that Russia could not have shot down a passenger plane, and the information contained there coincides with the official conclusions of the investigation and the investigation by Bellingcat journalists. According to them, the Russian Buk missile launcher was transported to the occupied Ukrainian territories.

At the last session of the Hague District Court in June 2021, a witness in the investigation stated that the Buk had really been there.

“Boeing was shot down from the territories controlled by Ukraine”

The version that the missile had been launched from the territory controlled by Ukraine — namely from the village of Zaroshchynske, where the Ukrainian military had been located — was put forward by the Russian leadership on the basis of the already mentioned calculations of the military concern Almaz-Antey. During the hearing in the case of the downing of flight MH17 in 2021, the Hague District Court presented evidence to refute this information.

In June 2021, the Hague District Court considered all the evidence in the case. In particular, eyewitness accounts of the missile launch. 20 witnesses were questioned. Regarding the possible launch site, most of them pointed to the direction to the left of Snizhne, which in July 2014 (and now) was under control of the forces of the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic.”

The new telephone conversations of the accused persons were presented.  Among them are former FSB officer, former Minister of Defense of the so-called “DPR” Igor Girkin (Strelkov); General, and at the time of the downing of the plane, Colonel of the GRU of the General Staff of the RF Armed Forces, Chairman of the so-called “GRU” of the so-called “DPR” Sergiy Dubynsky; Lieutenant Colonel of the GRU of the Russian Federation Oleg Pulatov (all — citizens of the Russian Federation); Leonid Kharchenko, a citizen of Ukraine who fought on the side of the so-called “DPR.” In particular, a fragment of a conversation between Girkin and Dubinsky the day after the Boeing downing was made public. In it, Dubynsky says that Buk is already in Russia: “The vehicle has long been in Russia.” Videos and maps of transportation routes of the Buk missile launcher were also presented and considered.

Russia is likely to continue raising a fuss over the crash with inconsistent versions in order to conceal its involvement in the deaths of 298 people. However, it will be able to fool only Russian citizens.


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