American views: Trust, media and democracy

StopFake.org - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 18:42

By Knight Foundation

Technological advances have made it easier for Americans to connect with each other and to find information, including details about the major issues facing the country. But those advances present both challenges and opportunities for individuals and U.S. institutions.

Not only is more information readily available, but so is more misinformation, and many consumers may not be able to easily discern the difference between the two.

Amid the changing informational landscape, media trust in the U.S. has been eroding, making it harder for the news media to fulfill their democratic responsibilities of informing the public and holding government leaders accountable.

Results of the 2017 Gallup/Knight Foundation Survey on Trust, Media and Democracy show that most Americans believe it is now harder to be well-informed and to determine which news is accurate. They increasingly perceive the media as biased and struggle to identify objective news sources. They believe the media continue to have a critical role in our democracy but are not very positive about how the media are fulfilling that role.

The research reported here is based on a nationally representative mail survey of more than 19,000 U.S. adults aged 18 and older. This project received support from theJohn S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Bill & Melinda GatesFoundation and Open Society Foundations.

KEY FINDINGS Americans believe the news media have an important role to play in democracy, particularly in terms of informing the public, yet they do not believe the media are fulfilling that role.
  • More than eight in 10 U.S. adults believe the news media are critical or very important to our democracy. They see the most important roles played by the media as making sure Americans have the knowledge they need to be informed about public affairs and holding leaders accountable for their actions.
  • At the same time, Americans are more likely to say the media perform these roles poorly than to say they are performing them well.
  • The public divides evenly on the question of who is primarily responsible for ensuring people have an accurate and politically balanced understanding of the news — 48% say the news media and 48% say individuals themselves.
Americans believe that it is increasingly harder to be a well-informed citizen.
  • By 58% to 38%, Americans say it is harder rather than easier to be informed today due to the plethora of informationand news sources available.
  • Half of U.S. adults feel confident there are enough sources to allow people to cut through bias to sort out the facts in the news — down from 66% a generation ago.
  • Twenty-seven percent of Americans say they, personally, are “very confident” that they can tell when a news source is reporting factual news versus commentary or opinion.
  • Based on their self-reported knowledge of current events and perceptions of how easy it is to discern truth from misinformation in news reporting, most Americans fall into the categories of either Knowledgeable Optimists, who are informed and believe it is possible to find the truth, or Inattentive Skeptics, who are less informed and pessimistic that the truth can be identified. Partisanship and education influence these beliefs.
Americans’ perceptions of the news media are generally negative, and their perceptions of bias have grown considerably from a generation ago. A majority cannot name an objective news source.
  • More Americans have a negative (43%) than a positive (33%) view of the news media, while 23% are neutral.• Today, 66% of Americans say most news media do not do a good job of separating fact from opinion. In 1984, 42% held this view.
  • Less than half of Americans, 44%, say they can think of a news source that reports the news objectively. Republicans who can name an accurate source overwhelmingly mention Fox News®, while Democrats’ responses are more varied.
  • On a multiple-item media trust scale with scores ranging from a low of zero to a high of 100, the average American scores a 37.
  • Media trust is highly influenced by partisanship, with Democrats largely trusting the media and Republicans distrusting. Older Americans tend to view the media more positively than younger adults do.
Americans are highly concerned about the effects of “fake news” on our democracy, but their definitions of “fake news” vary.
  • Seventy-three percent of Americans say the spread of inaccurate information on the internet is a major problem with news coverage today; this percentage is higher than for any other potential type of news bias.3 Copyright © 2018 Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved.American Views: Trust, Media and Democracy
  • A majority of U.S. adults consider “fake news” a very serious threat to our democracy.
  • Americans are most likely to believe that people knowingly portraying false information as if it were true always constitutes “fake news.”
  • Four in 10 Republicans consider accurate news stories that cast a politician or political group in a negative light to always be “fake news.”
Americans view many newer sources of news positively, but they are less positive about social media.
  • Underscoring the changing news landscape, equal proportions of Americans rely on social media as rely on newspapers to stay informed.
  • Majorities say the effect of citizen videos, the internet, cable news and news aggregators has been positive for the news environment, while a majority say the impact of social media — and politicians’ use of it to communicate directly to citizens — has been negative.
Even in the midst of technological change affecting the news environment, television news programs are the most popular news source. TV news and newspapers are most trusted.
  • Roughly two-thirds of U.S. adults say they rely on television news “a great deal” or “a fair amount” for staying up to date on news.
  • Internet news websites are the next-most-common source.
  • Americans have the greatest trust in national network news and local and national newspapers to provide mostly accurate and politically balanced news. They trust cable news more than they trust internet news sources.•
  • Younger adults (aged under 50) are more likely to consume news online, including on social media, while older adults are much more likely to watch or listen to news.
  • Reliance on newspapers is most common among adults with graduate degrees, as well as those who are aged 65 and older.
The public expresses concerns about the role that major technology companies are playing in the modern news environment, but it is divided on whether they should be regulated.
  • Seven in 10 U.S. adults report getting news at least occasionally from major internet platforms such as Google®,Facebook® or Yahoo®.
  • The public considers these internet platforms’ methods to direct news stories to individual users based on their past browsing history problematic for democracy. However, they divide on whether these companies’ methods should be regulated.
The news media may have as much potential to reinforce existing views as they do to persuade.
  • Most Americans claim to rely on a mix of liberal and conservative news sources, but one in four admit to getting news from only one perspective.
  • Forty-six percent of U.S. adults claim to have firm views that rarely change.
  • Americans commonly share news stories with others — primarily with like-minded people.
publication Details
  • Author: Knight Foundation
  • Publication Date: 01/16/2018
  • Focus Area: Journalism
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Categories: World News

Kremlin Watch Briefing: Czech presidential gambit

StopFake.org - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 18:26

Topics of the Week

Unusual vigor: In a WSJ interview, President Trump spoke about protecting the integrity of US elections from foreign interference and stated that his administration is “looking at all sorts of failsafes” in order to prevent foreign meddling in the 2018 elections.

Czech presidential gambit: Miloš Zeman faces run-off after topping Czech presidential elections. The President, who has been criticised for his warm relations with Russia and China, received 38.6% of votes and now faces pro-Western candidate Jiří Drahoš (26.6%) in the second round.

Sweden will create a new public authority responsible for countering disinformation and increasing resilience among the public, says PM Löfven.

Information Laundering: The GMF’s Alliance for Securing Democracy has published a report suggesting a new approach to conceptualizing information influence operations. The authors note an “operational resemblance between the spread of disinformation and the laundering of illicit funds”.

Good Old Soviet Joke

Seeing a pompous and lavish burial of a member of the Politburo, Rabinovich sadly shakes his head: “What a waste! With this kind of money, I could have buried the entire Politburo!”

US Developments Russian hackers eye the US Senate

Cybersecurity firm Trend Micro Inc. has published a report claiming that the Russian hacking group Fancy Bear that targeted the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential campaign has been preparing an espionage operation against the US Senate for several months. The author of the report explained that he discovered “a clutch of suspicious-looking websites dressed up to look like the U.S. Senate’s internal email system”, whose digital fingerprints he cross-referenced with those used almost exclusively by Fancy Bear.

Kremlin trolls are going after Trump’s Republican critics

A report in Mother Jones, based on the cybersecurity project Hamilton 68, details how pro-Kremlin social media accounts are targeting prominent Republican critics of President Trump, including John McCain – the most consistent target – as well as Mitt Romney, Jeff Flake, and Bob Corker, among others. In what is now a well-document tactic, these trolls typically repost and amplify hyperpartisan material originating on far-right US websites rather than in Russian media. For instance, McCain’s health has been a trending topic, with articles like “As the Trump Dossier Scandal Grows and Implicates Him, McCain checks into Hospital” from the right-of-Breitbart site True Pundit gathering steam with help from the Russian accounts. Read the report for further examples.

“We’re going to be very, very careful about Russia – and about anybody else, by the way.”

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, President Trump stated that his administration is “looking at all sorts of failsafes” and “working on different solutions” in order to prevent foreign meddling in the 2018 elections. While continuing to maintain that the 2016 election was not influenced by Russia “in terms of votes”, Trump nonetheless spoke with unusual vigor about protecting the integrity of US elections from foreign interference: “We’re going to be very, very careful about Russia – and about anybody else, by the way. […] We are going to make sure that no country, including Russia, can have anything to do with the results of the midterms or any other election, OK? That’s what our country is all about.” As with most things the President says, it remains to be seen whether he sticks to this message or once again changes his mind…

Turning the tables: Washington, DC trolls Putin

The city of Washington, DC has announced plans to rename the street in front of the Russian embassy after Boris Nemtsov, the Russian opposition leader who was assassinated in Moscow in 2015. Federal legislation to rename the street was introduced last year in both the House and Senate, but has not been passed. The Senate bill stipulates that the address of the compound containing Russia’s embassy, consulate, and ambassador’s residence would be changed to 1 Boris Nemtsov Plaza. Russian officials have long been against the move and sought to address it with their US counterparts. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted that the decision comes at a time when “bilateral relations between the two countries still leave much to be desired, mildly speaking.”

The Kremlin’s Current Narrative Hold on, Twitter

A few months ago, the internet was shaken up by Twitter’s decision to ban ads from RT and Sputnik over Russia’s US election interference. While many saluted this decision as a long-awaited step to counter Russian disinformation, Russian state media and MFA officials vowed “retaliatory measures”. We didn’t need to wait long to see an attempt to destroy Twitter’s reputation. RT published a report by Project Veritas claiming that “Twitter ‘shadow bans’ undesirable voices, censors free speech” and quotes Steven Pierre, a Twitter software engineer. No need to be a prophet to realize that in the Twitter vs. RT battle, the latter assumes a position of victimhood, accusing Twitter of censoring a certain way of thinking.

“Sanctions didn’t work”

Whenever Vzglyad writes about foreign affairs, it is a classic compilation of Kremlin narratives. Vzglyad never tires of reminding us that sanctions didn’t work. It also claims that sanctions aren’t a European idea but a solely American initiative that pushes EU countries to go against their national interests. Apparently, someone at the newspaper also has a time machine that allows them to see into the future. It’s revealed that Merkel will no longer be Europe’s leader and now it’s time for Macron to take the spotlight. He won’t be able to solve the EU’s internal problems, but will be able to resolve problems in the Eastern neighbourhood by “putting the Ukrainian problem in the corner” and “creating” progress with implementation of the Minsk agreement. Vzglyad sums up this beautiful piece by stating that “restoring relations with Russia will be one of President Macron’s priorities”.

Policy & Research News Will Russia retain its key ally in Prague?

This weekend, the first round of presidential elections was held in the Czech Republic. During the presidential campaign, experts and several of the candidates warned against disinformation attacks that might influence the public vote. The leading reason behind these concerns is that, for the last five years, the Kremlin’s greatest Central European ally has been sitting in Prague Castle. Czech President Miloš Zeman often visits Russia and frequently shares the views of Vladimir Putin, including his disdain for journalists, the annexation of Crimea being a ‘done deal’, and denying the presence of Russian soldiers in the separatist regions of Ukraine. Zeman’s colleagues also have intimate and questionable ties to Russia: his economic advisor Martin Nejedly previously worked in Russia and the Russian energy giant Lukoil paid a fine Nejedly was given for selling oil from strategic reserves, so that he could remain in his position without security clearance.

The second election round is taking place at the end of the month; we are expecting probable strong attacks against Zeman’s opponent, Jiri Drahoš, whose views are on Russia and the transatlantic alliance are the polar opposite of Zeman’s.

“The deciding factor is expected to be an intensive disinformation campaign directed against Professor Drahoš in the two weeks leading up to the second round. We’ve already seen a growing number of attacks related to migration and his personal affairs, which are likely to intensify”, says Jakub Janda, head of the Kremlin Watch Program.

Macron wants to fight “fake news”, but what else?

Alina Polyakova warns in her brief expert contribution to Axios that even though French President Emmanuel Macron presents himself as a Kremlin hawk with respect to disinformation, France still remains Russia’s biggest foreign investor. Furthermore, France plans to double its investments and revive the bilateral economic agenda, despite the sanctions regime against the Russian Federation enacted by the European Union and United States.

People in Donbas have little choice but to be manipulated

Mariia Terentieva navigates a sensitive topic in her article for New Eastern Europe – the public opinion amongst residents of Ukraine’s separatist regions. She points out that these people cannot be blamed for their oft-distorted perceptions of what is happening in Ukraine and for their credulity in the face of disinformation. Often, they have no alternatives to Russian TV, and online fact-checking initiatives rarely reach them. She also points out several Ukrainian initiatives that are trying to address this problem, such as UA.TV, Ukrinform, and Hromadske radio. Still, she warns, once the separatist regions return to Ukrainian control, it will be challenging to reintegrate their citizens after such extensive manipulation.

Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion

U.S. Congressional report: Putin’s Asymmetric Assault on Democracy           in Russia and Europe

More than a year after the presidential elections which sparked a contentious debate about Russian electoral interference in the United States, Congress finally released a comprehensive report detailing Russian efforts to undermine the Western democratic order. A new report published by the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations explains the Kremlin’s subversive influence tactics and provides an overview and assessment of countermeasures employed by European countries, which serve as a basis for recommendations of how the United States should tackle the issue.

The report, compiled by Democratic senators on the committee, is very critical of President Donald Trump. “Never before in American history has so clear a threat to national security been so clearly ignored by a U.S. president,” it says. The senators urge Trump and the country as a whole to start treating the problem with the urgency it deserves and to actively deter Russian hostilities. This failing, the Kremlin will continue to develop and refine its hybrid arsenal to deploy against democracies around the world, including in the upcoming U.S. elections in 2018 and 2020. The report’s recommendations, based on lessons learnt from the European experience, are well-articulated and clever – we strongly recommend having a look at them. Also, we are very proud to be mentioned three times in the report and named as an example of good practice.

Information Laundering

The GMF’s Alliance for Securing Democracy has published a new report suggesting a new approach to conceptualizing and investigating information influence operations. Specifically, the authors note an “operational resemblance between the spread of disinformation and the laundering of illicit funds”:

“Just as ill-gotten money needs to be moved from an illegitimate source into an established financial institution, disinformation is most powerful when a façade of legitimacy is created through “information laundering.” Russian disinformation follows a similar pattern (as money laundering); only here, the currency is information and the reward is influence.”

The report also comes with its own vocabulary on information laundering:

Image: Alliance for Securing Democracy

Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values Think-Tank, which aims to expose and confront instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against liberal-democratic system.

Categories: World News

Putin’s ‘hybrid peace’ more threatening to Ukraine than his ‘hybrid war,’ Portnikov says

StopFake.org - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 01:07

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric about Ukraine has changed in order to curry favor with Russians in advance of the presidential poll, but his approach on the ground has not changed, laying a potential trap for Ukrainians and meaning that his “hybrid peace” is even more dangerous than his “hybrid war,” Vitaly Portnikov says.

There is the great danger that Ukrainians and their supporters elsewhere, the Ukrainian commentator says, will focus on what Putin says rather than on what he continues to do and thus decide that Kyiv should make concessions to someone who has made none except at the level of propaganda.

In the weeks between his televised meeting with the Russian people and his more recent meeting with media editors, Putin has changed his tone in comments about Ukraine in remarkable ways.  He is no longer talking about the need for regime change in Kyiv but instead about the requirement for improving relations between the two countries.

But “nothing in the situation around Ukraine has changed,” Portnikov ways. “What has changed is Putin himself, above all from the point of view of rhetoric.”  The Kremlin leader wants to present himself as a peacemaker because that is what the Russian people want given the burdens his military efforts have placed on them.

That does not mean that Putin is interested in “any peace” with Ukraine, the Ukrainian commentator says, but only that “the hybrid war which Putin has carried out against Ukraine for more than three years must be replaced with ‘a hybrid peace,’” something “much more dangerous than a hybrid war.”

On the one hand, a peace even of this kind will mean that hundreds if not thousands of people may survive the conflict who otherwise would not. But on the other, Putin’s goal now with his peace offensive as in the past with his military moves is to secure “the destruction of the Ukrainian state itself.”

The features of Putin’s “hybrid peace” are already clear: willingness to end military actions in the Donbass and even pull out Russian forces but no willingness to allow any foreign peacekeepers from entering that region. Moscow will insist that Ukrainian control will be restored after Kyiv fulfills the Minsk accords – in short, “not in the near future.”

Such ideas will win sympathy in Russia but more important in Germany, France “and possibly even in Washington.” That will create problems for Ukraine but so too will be the continuing Russian influence in part of Ukrainian territory, maintaining it as “a suppurating wound on the body” of the country.

While this is going on, many in Western elites will begin to insist on lifting sanctions on Russia: “If there is no war anymore,” then they shouldn’t be maintained. Still more, Ukraine should adapt itself to this new reality.  But that is only one part of the problem, Portnikov says. The other is inside Ukraine, as Putin fully understands.

“In Ukraine itself, ever more loudly are sounding the voice of htose who call for reaching an agreement with Russia and ‘listening’ to the Donbass: there is no war, and only ‘the ineffective and corrupt Ukrainian authorities, which justify their unwillingness to carry out reforms by referring to the conflict with Russia, are interested in confrontation.”

“Russia will spend enormous sums on Ukrainian politicians and the imitation part of ‘civil society’” both directly and via “their Western friends which live on the very same Moscow means.” That could affect the next Ukrainian elections, out of which may arise “a surprising bloc of open collaborationists and pseudo-‘patriots’” committed to a deal with Russia.

If that occurs, Portnikov says, “then the Minsk accords will finally be realized. The Donbass will become a state within a state. Crimea will disappear from the Ukrainian agenda. And the new president of Ukraine will go to Moscow fully ready to sell out Ukrainian sovereignty.”

This is Putin’s plan for “’a hybrid peace.’”  And it is critically important that Ukraine not fall into the trap the Kremlin leader is laying.  “It is very important to understand that peace will not be hybrid. In a hybrid war, real people die; but in ‘a hybrid peace, real states are destroyed.” Moscow has no interest in the survival of Ukraine.

What Ukrainians must remember is that the West pays attention to Ukraine only when it is fighting, Portnikov says. If it stops fighting to try to make a deal with Putin, the west will ignore it; and then Putin will win not one victory but two.

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Categories: World News

Non-Political Nature of Russian Population Both Helps and Hurts Kremlin, New Study Says

StopFake.org - Mon, 01/15/2018 - 16:31

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

The depoliticization of the Russian population via the revival of archaic values provides the regime with a reserve of unquestioning support, a new study says; but at the same time, it means that “the political elites are not capable of developing a stable agreement on the main questions of the development of Russian society.”

Sociologists Sergey Patrushev and Lyudmila Filippova say that “alienation from politics and from the authorities was and remains a key characteristic of Russian mass consciousness” (“Dualism in Mass Consciousness and a Typology of Mass Politics” (in Russian), Politicheskaya nauka, 1917, available online. It is summarized here.)

Drawing on the research of many scholars, they suggest that Russian attitudes toward the state and authority have deep roots in the tsarist and Soviet pasts and have changed far less than the attitudes toward politics which exist in many other countries, something that has limited the ability of Russia to modernize.

Among the features of this underlying Russian culture, the two sociologists say, are massive suspiciousness toward everything new and unique, an inability to understand the behavior of others apart from a hierarchy, a readiness to conform to any order, a limited understanding of alternatives, a view that deception is an appropriate behavior, a lack of confidence in oneself, a sense of incompleteness, a nostalgia for mythologized pasts, and hostility to any rules imposed by anyone except the immediate collective.

“These social habits and social mechanisms of the organization of life are extraordinarily stabile and important,” Paturshev and Filippova say, “and they have been preserved to the present day” where they continue to define the attitudes of the people and the powers toward one another.

What further complicated this situation, they argue, is the division between elites and masses in tsarist and Soviet times, and the divisions within the elites especially in tsarist times between those who celebrated these values, the Slavophiles, and those who opposed them, the Westernizers.

Borrowing of technologies and social ideals from the West, however, “in a paradoxical way were changed by a social system with deeply rooted stereotypes of archaic thought and behavior.” That combination produced as a result “the unique double think of Russian civilization” especially since 1917.

Western European cultures were able to avoid this because they developed on the basis of contracts in which the rights of both the individual and the state were recognized and kept in balance. “In Russia on the other hand, civil society wasn’t formed and the main principle of social organization was ‘collectivism,’” which dissolved the powers and rights of the one into the other rather than allowing both to exist.

That is “the main distinction between Western European and Russian social nature,” the two say. “The contract principle of the self-organization of the society sharply contrast with the collective. If the first of these guarantees the right of the individual to ‘freedom to be special and independent’ … the second principle sanctions his right to right only via service to the society where ‘each happily gives himself to the whole.’”

This popular “alienation from politics” as understood elsewhere “leads to an institutional trap,” Patrushev and Filippova say. On the one hand, because so few Russians feel responsible for what occurs at the political level, they behave in an apathetic and inert way that provides the basis for a kind of stability of the political order.

Indeed, they suggests, “the authorities are interested in maintaining the dualism of political consciousness by means of combining in political discourse traditionalist and modernizing elements.” But there is another side to this approach which works against the authorities.

It means that the rulers increasingly are dependent “on apparat and group interests, ambitions and intrigues” and that “the political elites aren’t capable of developing a stable agreement on the main questions of development,” the sociologists say. But because the population keeps apart from politics, the ruler often cannot easily mobilize it against these elites, leaving everyone in “an institutional trap.”

By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia

Categories: World News

Chief Editor: RT is like “a defence ministry”

StopFake.org - Mon, 01/15/2018 - 14:38

By EU vs Disinfo

The chief editor of RT (Russia Today), Margarita Simonyan, cannot be blamed for lack of openness about the nature of the outlet whose output she manages on behalf of the Russian government. In her own words, RT is needed “for about the same reason as why the country needs a Defense Ministry.” RT is capable of “conducting information war against the whole Western world,” using “the information weapon,” Simonyan has explained. According to Simonyan, RT’s strategic aim is to “conquer” and to “grow an audience” in order to make use of access to this audience in “critical moments”.

Ofcom: RT is unfair and biased

Simonyan’s statements were made available in English translation in a recent article from the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. DFRLab identified two interviews Simonyan made with the Russian daily Kommersant in 2012 and with the Russian online news portal Lenta in 2013. The chief editor’s overall message – that RT’s mission is to use information and communication for purposes traditionally handled by military forces – echoes statements made with a similar degree of transparency by high ranking political and military leaders in Russia.

DFRLab’s article also analyses the claims made by Simonyan and other representatives of Russian state media that RT is supposedly no better and no worse than other media outlets, such as the BBC.In its analysis, DFRLab includes a series of rulings from the telecoms regulator in the UK, Ofcom, which underline that RT systematically fails to meet the minimal standards for fair and unbiased reporting, thereby jeopardizing the privilege of calling its work journalism.

RT’s chief editor Margarita Simonyan with President Putin at the celebration of RT’s 10th anniversary in December 2015.

RT weaponised information before the conflict in Ukraine

It is worth noting that the two interviews with Simonyan were published already in April 2012 and in March 2013, i.e. before Russian state media began to escalate their messaging around the conflict in Ukraine. This circumstance throws light on the fact that the idea that RT and similar outlets are the government’s weapons, cannot be seen as part of a reactive Russian response to the perception that the country’s interests were challenged in Ukraine; what Simonyan says about weaponising information and communication confirms that this proactive and strategic approach was present also well before the Ukrainian conflict became known.

RT launched a channel in France in addition to its English, Spanish and Arabic channels. The fact that Ms Simonyan is close to the Russian president was confirmed on Friday when her name appeared on the list of 259 “trusted persons” registered with Russia’s Central Election Committee as supporters of Vladimir Putin in his bid for a fourth term as Russia’s president, as reported by VedomostiIn December,

Follow this link to read DFRLab’s article in its full length.

By EU vs Disinfo

Categories: World News

StopFake #166 with Marko Suprun

StopFake.org - Mon, 01/15/2018 - 12:27

Fakes: America is preparing a new revolution in Ukraine; Ukrainian traces in the drone attacks on Russian bases in Syria, as well as fakes about milk sales and hepatitis epidemics.

Categories: World News

Fake: EU Bans Milk Sales from Private Ukrainian Farms

StopFake.org - Sat, 01/13/2018 - 11:48

Russia’s propagandist newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta published an article claiming that the European Union has banned milk sales from small Ukrainian farms that do not have EU certification. Farmers selling milk or milk products from such farms face fines, the newspaper declared.

Website screenshot Rossiyskaya Gazeta

Website screenshot rian.com.ua

The EU Ukraine Association Agreement that Rossiyskaya Gazeta refers to makes no mention of any ban on milk sales from private farms, but the agreement does outline the introduction of uniform sanitary standards for milk and other products. Meanwhile Ukraine’s Ministry of Agrarian Policy assures that the purchase of milk from private farms will continue and the introduction of a new state standard will take place on July 1, 2018 followed by a one year transition period.

According to Rossiyskaya Gazeta the new sanitation standards will lead to the destruction of small farms, locals farmers will be faced with fines and the milk will not be able to meet the new requirements. Pro-Russian internet newspaper Strana.ua predicts that dairy product prices will rise dramatically but will fall in quality.

This fake story was also reprinted by RIA Novosti Ukraina, Obozrevatel, Komsomolskaya Pravda, Argumenty I Fakty and many other pro-Kremlin publications.

Website screenshot minagro.gov.ua

Currently Ukraine’s milk industry adheres to the GOST standard, a regulatory basis for government and private-sector certification programs for the Commonwealth of Independent States covering energy, oil and gas, environmental protection, construction, transportation, telecommunications, mining, food processing, and other industries. Ukraine will introduce a new milk certification standard compliant with EU norms in July 2018. During the next six months the Agrarian Policy Ministry will prepare new guidelines for the quality of raw milk, hygienic requirements for milk and dairy products in production and processing.

According to the Deputy Minister for Agrarian policy Olena Kovalyova, the new guidelines first and foremost are aimed at improving hygiene among dairy workers and the animals as well as well as the quality of the milk itself.

Website screenshot agravery.com

Ukrainian Association of Milk Producers project manager Olena Zhupinas explains that the new certification standard will have a five year transition period to raise the quality of milk production and refrigeration. Ukrainians have been talking about the quality of milk from small farms since we joined the World Trade Organization, Zhupinas points out.  “Now we must teach the population to collect milk and refrigerate milk properly and adhere to sanitary and hygienic requirements” she said.

 

Categories: World News

War in Ukraine: A struggle over Russia’s identity

StopFake.org - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 16:50

A Russia-backed rebel armored fighting vehicles convoy near Donetsk, Eastern Ukraine, May 30, 2015. Photo: Mstyslav Chernov

By Janusz Bugajski, for CEPA

As the Russia-Ukraine war enters its fifth year, two recently published books illuminate the fundamental motives for Moscow’s ongoing offensive. They make a compelling case that the armed conflict is intended to demonstrate and perpetuate Russia’s dominance through the usurpation of Ukraine’s history, territory, and identity.

In a masterful dissection of Russian history (Lost Kingdom: The Quest for Empire and the Making of the Russian Nation, 2017) Harvard professor Serhii Plokhy focuses on the sources of identity adopted by Russia’s rulers since the Principality of Moscow launched its drive for territorial expansion in the 15th century.

Plokhy asserts that Russia’s “myth of origin” was the medieval state of Kyivan Rus—a multi-Slavic kingdom centered in modern-day Ukraine and established 200 years before Moscow appeared as a small town located in an outlying province. The Rus were a Norse tribe that founded the ruling Rurik dynasty in Kyiv, but the “Rus” name was subsequently appropriated by Moscow in one of the earliest recorded examples of identity theft. Muscovite rulers feigned descent from the Ruriks and claimed Kyiv as the birthplace of the Russian monarchy, state, and church. This fraudulent history became the legitimizing narrative for Russian tsars when the small autocratic Muscovite polity began its imperial adventure in the 15th century.

Moscow’s earliest propagandists depicted the three developing East Slavic nations (Belarusian, Russian, and Ukrainian) as “tribes” of one Russian nation. Moscow’s rulers consolidated their claims to dominate all Eastern Slavs by declaring Russia as the “Third Rome” or successor to Christian Byzantium, which was extinguished by the Muslim Turks in the 15th century. For the next 400 years, Muscovy annexed its neighbors’ territories and prevented the emergence of other East Slavic states. Its Russification campaign was crafted to eradicate the distinct identities and languages of neighboring Slavic peoples, particularly the Ukrainians, who had a more direct claim to Kyivan Rus.

Taras Kuzio (Putin’s War Against Ukraine: Revolution, Nationalism, and Crime, 2017), is a fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University. He provides a remarkably detailed assessment of the Kremlin’s current attempt to destroy Ukraine’s statehood. He contends that the root cause of the Russia-Ukraine war revolves around Moscow’s unwillingness to recognize Ukrainians as a distinct nation. For Moscow elites, Ukrainians and Belarusians are branches of a single Russian nation and their statehood cannot exist outside Russia’s “zone of privileged interests.”

The Kremlin cultivated President Viktor Yanukovych as a pro-Moscow satrap, and if not for the Euromaidan Revolution—which lasted from November 2013 to February 2014—his regime may have succeeded. Hence, the verbal venom in official attacks on an independent Ukraine, in which opponents of Russia’s overlordship are denounced as “fascists” and Western puppets. After seizing Crimea, Moscow manufactured a rebellion in Ukraine’s Donbas region to weaken Kyiv and convince international mediators to incorporate rebel held territories in a “federated” structure. The objective was to block Ukraine’s ambitions to join pan-European institutions and to revive Russia’s regional dominance.

Moscow continues to fuel the war in Donbas with weapons and fighters to consolidate the separatist strongholds and cripple the Ukrainian state. Since 2014, at least 30,000 people have perished in the conflict, about a third of them civilians, and millions have been displaced from their homes. Washington finally decided to provide Ukraine with defensive weapons, including anti-tank missiles, to help protect the country against Moscow’s assault. Given Russia’s history, the Kremlin is only likely to withdraw from Ukraine if it faces major resistance and substantial losses. Even then, the withdrawal could be temporary unless Ukraine builds up its military and eventually enters NATO to ensure its long-term security.

Paradoxically, Russia’s attack on Ukraine has had the reverse geopolitical effect of the one intended. It has significantly strengthened the determination of Ukrainians to resist Moscow’s political manipulation and military challenges. And above all, it has helped consolidate Ukrainian identity and statehood despite Russia’s historical and ideological deceptions.

Zbigniew Brzezinski famously asserted that Russia cannot simultaneously be an empire and a democracy, and if it seeks to control Ukraine it will remain an imperial state. For Russian ideologists, the existence of Ukraine negates the mythological constructs in Russia’s history, identity, and imperial statehood. Hence, the Kremlin not only seeks to obstruct Ukraine from joining Western institutions but it also saturates the information sphere with claims that Ukraine is an “artificial” country. At the core of this disinformation offensive is the fear among Kremlin officials that Ukraine will be perceived as a more legitimate state than Russia, both historically and currently.

Russia itself is approaching a crossroads. It can either evolve into a genuine federation or fracture into a dozen or more countries, as its diverse regions struggle for political and economic emancipation. And to be internationally respected and coexist with its neighbors, Moscow needs to disavow its imperial pretensions and historical inventions. To be authentic and durable, Russian identity cannot depend on the denial of Ukraine’s nationhood, statehood, or independence.

By Janusz Bugajski, for CEPA

Janusz Bugajski is a Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) in Washington DC and host of the “New Bugajski Hour” television show broadcast in the Balkans.

Europe’s Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.

Categories: World News

Russia Accuses Ukraine of Involvement in Syria Attacks on Russian Bases

StopFake.org - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 14:55

Russia’s disinformation machine never tires of portraying Ukraine as an enemy. The latest manifestation of this narrative is to accuse Ukraine of involvement in a mysterious drone attack on Russian bases in Syria at Hmeimim and Tartus. Lenta.ru, Novaya Gazeta, RIAFan and other Russian media all carried this unsubstantiated accusation.

Website screenshot Novaya Gazeta

Website screebshot Lenta.ru

Website screenshot RIAFAN

Russian media cite the Defense Ministry’s General Staff Department of Construction and Development director Alexander Novikov, who said the kind of explosives the drones carried, are manufactured industrially, including in the Shostka Chemical Reagents Plant, a chemical production company located in northeastern Ukraine. They contained PETN pentaerythritol tetranitrate, a highly explosive compound from the nitroglycerin chemical family.

The Shostka Chemical Reagants Plant is not part Ukraine’s military industrial complex and has never produced military components, not even during the Soviet era. After the collapse of the USSR the Shostka plant was privatized.

Responding to StopFake’s inquiry about the Russian claim, Shostka Chemical Plant director Serhiy Buhakov said the company’s production is purely for peaceful purposes. Shostka has neither the personnel nor the raw materials to produce explosives. We make dyes, chemical indicators and compounds, Buhakov emphasized.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry also dismissed Russia’s insinuation, calling it yet another attempt to assault Ukraine with disinformation, in order to draw away attention from Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, where Moscow is transferring vast quantities of weapons and munitions for Russian regular soldiers and pro-Moscow separatists.

Categories: World News

Kremlin Watch Briefing: “Normal course of diplomacy” between the United States and Russia?

StopFake.org - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 14:35

Topics of the Week

Normal course of diplomacy”: The Trump administration has scheduled talks to be held in late January between the head of US forces in Europe, Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, and the chief of the Russian armed forces and deputy defense minister, General Valery Gerasimov.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election, is expected to provide electoral security recommendations within one to two months. The urgency of ensuring protections for upcoming elections resonates strongly in Europe as well.

The French Conservatives consider Macron’s law on “fake news” dangerous for press freedom. Mainstream media seem to share the president’s view that disinformation targets democratic principles in the country, but believe Macron is entering dangerous territory with his initiative. The Times reports.

In an article for the US Military Review, Lt. Cols. Jon Herrmann and Brian Steed present a virtual reality model for describing “the information battlespace in physical terms”.

Words and Wars” (Internews) offers an overview of the Ukrainian experience of dealing with Russian propaganda and information warfare.

“Evergreen MH17”: Bellingcat carefully analysed most of the claims made by Kremlin authorities and pro-Kremlin media outlets. Here they offer a summary of these narratives and why they are false, with a special focus on the position currently held by the Kremlin.

Good Old Soviet Joke

Stalin is giving a long speech at an event, naturally in front of a huge audience. While he’s in full flow, somebody near the front of the hall sneezes. Stalin stops and surveys the crowd.

“Who sneezed?” he asks. Deathly silence.

“I repeat,” says Stalin, “who sneezed?” Not a peep.

“Very well,” says Stalin. “First row, stand up!” Everyone in the first row stands up. “Guards! Open fire!” A few seconds later, the entire first row of the audience is lying in bloody heaps on the ground.

“Now, who sneezed?” Still not a whimper. “Second row, stand up! Guards! Open fire!” The second row writhes and breathes its last.

“Now, comrades: who sneezed?” Absolute silence.

“Third row! Stand up! Guards! Op….”

“Wait! Wait!” From the sixth row a man rises, shaking so hard with fear that he can barely stay on his legs. “Please! Comrade Stalin! It was me. I sneezed.”

Stalin fixes his eye on the wretch. The entire audience watches, paralysed. “You sneezed?”

“Yes, Comrade Stalin, yes. It was me.”

“Bless you, comrade!”

US Development Senate Intelligence Committee readies election security plan for 2018

The chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee – one of three congressional committees investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election – have stated that they expect the committee to provide electoral security recommendations to states in the next one to two months. According to the vice chairman, Mark Warner (D-VA), the urgency of ensuring protections for upcoming elections (beginning with congressional primaries in March) led the committee to release these recommendations early, before completion of the full investigation. The chief of the CIA, Mike Pompeo, has accused Russia of seeking to interfere in this year’s congressional elections – a charge that Russian officials have of course vehemently denied.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is likely to be the only committee to produce a bipartisan final report; the House Intelligence and Senate Judiciary committees have been fraught with partisan tensions that render bipartisan conclusions unlikely.

Renewed talks to be held between US and Russian military officials

The Trump administration has scheduled talks to be held in late January between the head of US forces in Europe and Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, and the chief of the Russian armed forces and deputy defense minister, General Valery Gerasimov. This will be the first such get-together between top-level US and Russian military officials since such meetings were banned by the Obama administration in 2013, following Russia’s interference in Ukraine and support for pro-Kremlin Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.

The renewed talks are being described by the State Department as a “normal course of diplomacy”. Topics of discussion are to include America’s $41.5 million sale of lethal defense weapons to Ukraine – a sore spot for Russia – and mutual accusations regarding violations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

US-based reading suggestion:

In an article for the US Military Review, Lt. Cols. Jon Herrmann and Brian Steed present a virtual reality model for describing “the information battlespace in physical terms”. Given the simultaneously abstract and dynamic nature of the extant information environment, which renders its features and challenges often difficult to grasp, Herrmann and Steed advocate the use of a simulation model that can help military actors map the information landscape and formulate appropriate counterstrategies.

Regardless of the specific metaphors, commanders are finding the informational environment difficult to grasp and even more difficult as a battlespace. Using a model that explains the information battlespace in physical terms could enrich understanding. Granted, no model can depict every aspect of a complex environment. Misuse or misunderstanding of a model can lead a commander astray. However, if the limitations of the model are well understood, there are lessons to be learned. Regardless of the model used, America has to get a better understanding of the information battlespace. If this model can advance that cause, then it is worth considering.”

The Kremlin’s Current Narrative Iran uprising and American elections

‘Repetition is the mother of every lie’ – this is a fundamental tenet of propaganda strategy. It is also especially handy to repeat the same lies in the most unexpected places. For example, drawing parallels between regime change in Iran and … reiterating that Russia didn’t meddle in American presidential elections: unexpected? Not in the world of propaganda, where you use every occasion to attack your enemy and accuse it of the very thing it accuses you: “As US-based social media companies crack down on dissent at home in the name of fighting phantom ‘Russian meddling,’ Washington seeks to leverage them for regime change in places like Iran. The laughable irony of this is that American politicians and news media have been banging on for over a year with allegations of Russian meddling in US internal affairs, notwithstanding that no credible evidence has been provided for these American claims”.

Orban talks, Kremlin rejoices

Moscow has exploited the refugee crisis many times in order to create an atmosphere of fear and exacerbate fault lines between European states. No wonder, then, that speeches by European politicians that follow this line are warmly welcomed by Russian media. RT quickly followed up an interview Viktor Orban gave to German newspaper Bild about his attitude towards refugees. RT selected a few of Orban’s quotes, such as: “Refugees in Europe are just ‘Muslim invaders’ and economic migrants seeking better lives,  the large number of Muslims in the EU had led to the appearance of ‘parallel societies’”, his criticism of Merkel’s open-door policy: “I’ve never understood how chaos, anarchy and illegal border crossings are viewed as something good in a country like Germany, which we view as the best example of discipline and the rule of law”, and his earlier quote that refugees are “a Trojan horse for terrorism”. Indeed, it is good to have high-profile friends who will speak according to your narrative lines.

Policy & Research News Macron’s plan for a law against disinformation under scrutiny

We wrote last week that the French President has announced an upcoming law against “fake news”, which would make transparency rules before elections stricter and enable judges to remove disinformation content. But Macron’s opposition is less enthusiastic about this move, The Times reports: the French Conservatives consider Macron’s plan “dangerous for press freedom”. French mainstream media seem to share the President’s view that disinformation seeks to undermine democratic principles in the country, but believe that Macron is entering dangerous territory with his initiative. Predictably, the strongest opposition came from Macron’s presidential rival and Kremlin favourite, Marine Le Pen:

Russia tries to hold on in the Balkans

Coda Story presents a brief summary of the book by Dimitar Bechev, Rival Power: Russia´s Influence in Southeast Europe. It is contextualized with the recent giveaway of Russian ageing military aircraft to Serbian authorities, who would probably prefer purchasing Western weapons but cannot afford them. In this way, the Kremlin is trying to improve its public perception in Serbia. According to the author, Vladimir Putin has also had a relative PR success in the country, achieving a sort of a “cult status” among portions of Serbian society. But without a clear strategy – and considering that the West is highly unlikely to abandon the Balkan region – he will have a tough job holding on to his popularity.

The downing of MH17: Best of

Western investigations of the MH17 crash, notably that conducted by the Dutch government, have repeatedly and definitively concluded that a Russian-made BUK missile, launched by Russian forces or pro-Russian separatists, was responsible for the tragedy. There has been no variation in these findings. The same does not apply for the Kremlin’s narratives about the crash, which have changed several times over the past year and typically rely on presenting contradicting evidence, highly altered digital images, or fabricated witnesses to instil doubt about the official (Western) version of events. Investigative reporters at Bellingcat have long been working to expose these lies, carefully analysing claims made by Kremlin authorities or pro-Kremlin media outlets. Here, they offer a summary of all these narratives and why they are false, with a special focus on the Kremlin’s current position.

Kremlin Watch Reading Suggestion Words and Wars: Ukraine Facing Kremlin Propaganda

This week, we recommend a piece that is longer than usual, but that we guarantee is worth your time! Words and Wars is a book by a group of Ukrainian authors that provides an overview of the Ukrainian experience of dealing with Russian propaganda and information warfare. Since Ukraine experienced the impact of Russian information warfare earlier and on a larger scale than other European or Western states, understanding Russian tactics and learning lessons from countermeasures employed by Ukraine can be very useful for anyone facing the Russian threat today.

The book is divided into seven chapters focusing on different aspects of the Ukrainian experience, and even features a handy overview of existing research into the topic of Russian propaganda and disinformation. If you just want to learn about the to-do’s in fighting Russian information warfare, you can find extensive recommendations for both the international community and Ukraine in the last chapter.

The authors present the following key messages: Russian propaganda has deep roots, which can be traced back at least to Soviet times, and “post-truth” strategies are not the invention of the Putin era. However, the propaganda of today is different in various aspects from the propaganda of the past. It does not provide its own narrative but rather tries to show that Western narratives are flawed. Moreover, the authors point out that that Russian propaganda goes further than fake news; it uses a specific discourse that has a clear semi-militarist tonality and is aimed at winning a war.

Kremlin Watch is a strategic program of the European Values Think-Tank, which aims to expose and confront instruments of Russian influence and disinformation operations focused against liberal-democratic system.

Categories: World News

The “Chechen” Clone of Instagram: Not as Good – Part I

StopFake.org - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 01:01

By Polygraph

Ramzan Kadyrov

Head of Chechnya

“There is a new social network being tested in Chechnya @ Mylistory, which is as good as the foreign ones”

Source: Telegram, January 3, 2018

FALSE

Mylistory is an underdeveloped clone of the “old” Instagram, with mysterious origins.

On December 23, 2017, the head of Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov announced via his Telegram channel that his Facebook and Instagram accounts had disappeared.

Telegram Channel, Ramzan Kadyrov: “My Instagram and Facebook accounts disappeared”

Kadyrov, regularly rated among Russia’s most popular bloggers, said that he had been thinking of deleting his accounts, but did not do so for the sake of his “more than four million followers,” although his Kadyrov_95 Instagram account actually had 3.2 million followers.

The Istagram account Kadyrov lost as seen before it was deleted

Responding to the decision of the Western social media platforms to close his accounts, Kadyrov said he was happy with the actions of “Instagram and their bosses in the White House.” He also announced that he is switching to the “Chechen” network called Mylistory, which is “as good as foreign ones,” and to which “State Department employees can access only with the permission of the Russian Foreign Ministry and the government of Chechen Republic.”

Telegram Channel, Ramzan Kadyrov: “State Department Employees allowed only with Russian Foreign Ministry permission

Facebook explained that Kadyrov’s accounts were deleted in accordance with the company’s legal obligations after the U.S. sanctioned him for human rights violations.

The Chechen government’s Grozny TV channel dedicated dozens of reports to Mylistory, praising the app as #18 in the App store top charts.

Russia’s Ministry of North Caucasus Affairs called on all federal agencies to create accounts with Mylistory, indicating that Russia might see the app as having a larger role than simply a Chechen social network and will seek to boost it to the same popularity as vKontakte – Russia’s Facebook analog.

“Russia might be testing social media strategy similar to China’s: Rather than dealing with Western platforms, they’ve simply created an alternate universe where there’s a Chinese clone for every platform,” a social media expert told Polygraph.info

Interestingly, President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev created official accounts with Mylistory immediately after Kadyrov did.

Mylistory, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Profile

Mylistory: The Kremlin’s official account follows only one other user and that is Ramzan Kadyrov

Mylistory: Russia’s PM Dmitry Medvedev created an account shortly after Kadyrov did

Kadyrov’s own accounts – both in Russian and English – look less attractive in terms of content, and have far fewer followers than the Instagram account he lost. As of January 9, the Kadyrov_95 account on Mylistory had 48,000 followers, while the Kadyrov_95eng had 5,349 followers.

Mylistory: Kadyrov_95eng is less active compared to it’s Russian language version

Mylistory: Ramzan Kadyrov’s account has far fewer followers than the Instagram account he lost

Several Russian and U.S. tech media specialist have tested Mylistory and given the app less-than-stellar ratings.

Russian T-Journal said the app is “a total copy of the old Instagram.”

The Russian newspaper Vzglyad wrote a flattering review for Mylistory, saying it is “booming in App store well ahead of Periscope, Tumbler and other popular applications. Its popularity is “not propaganda,” Vzglyad wrote, adding that many users have expressed gratitude to the app’s developers to Kadyrov for supporting it.

“It’s pretty much Instagram with fewer features, right down to a rip-off of Instagram’s old golden logo and font. It has basic functionality like the ability to post photos, comment and send direct messages, though there’s no way to share content on the site externally, and the app lacks features like ‘Stories,’” American Gizmodo.com wrote.

Polygraph.info tested the Mylistory application, from the process of downloading it from the App store to creating an account and digging into the developer’s IP address.

Mylistory is definitely not #18 in App store’s top charts of free social networking apps. It is not even close to being in the top 50.

The Web site mylistory.com listed in the apps’ page in App store as “App Support” opens only from unsecured connections and leads to the page, which states that it is “under development.” When attempting to open mylistory.com from secured connections, the page was blocked as a security risk.

Mylistory.com does not pass security filters

The developer of Mylistory, according to its page in App store, is a Chechen man named Magomed Eskhanov. In the Russia’s online database of registered businesses, he is listed asCEO of the Advertising firm “Myli,” at this address: 3/25 A. Kadyrov Ave, Grozny, Chechen Republic.

According to the database, Eskhanov’s agency is 100% funded by the LLC “Grozny-Citi” a company owned by one of Chechnya’s most notorious businessmen — Movsadi Alviev, a co-founder of the “Akhmad Kadyrov Foundation,” named after Ramzan’s late father (who was the republic’s ruler from October 2003 until his assassination in May 2004) and ranked as #5 on Transparency International’s list of “9 grand corruption cases.”

Reportedly, the “Akhmad Kadyrov Foundation” is Ramzan’s personal tool for appropriating and laundering of billions of rubles.

But the most interesting part of Mylistory’s “developer Magomed Eskhanov” story is the IP address of mylistory.com: a search of the database of RIPE, the Amsterdam-based Regional Internet Registry (RIR) for Europe, the Middle East, and parts of Central Asia, leads not to Chechnya, but to a whole network of “dead ends” – hidden IPs “located” at different addresses in Moscow, including a 24-hour auto parts store and several P.O. Boxes.

Here are just a few examples.

Mylistory.com IP adress leads to whole network of “dead ends” located in different parts of Moscow, Russia

Polygraph.info traced the “under construction” website listed in App store for Mylistory to one Alexey Galaev, who might be a real person and a freelance developer.

Mylistory.com: The revelations of tracing the IP address

To be continued in Part II, which will reveal who Mylistory wants new users to follow.

By Polygraph

© 2018 POLYGRAPH.info All Rights Reserved

Categories: World News

Putin Invaded Ukraine to Prevent ‘Ukrainian’ Ideas from Spreading into Russia, Shmelyev Says

StopFake.org - Fri, 01/12/2018 - 00:49

news.pn

The main reason Vladimir Putin invaded Crimea and the Donbass, Aleksandr Shmelyev says, is that he feared that the ideas that had animated Ukrainians at the time of the Maidan would spread into Russia and become the basis of a similar challenge to himself. To prevent that, he acted as he did so as to alienate the two nations from each other.

As a result, the former Vzglyad editor and longtime Putin critic says, Russians and Ukrainians viewed each other as the enemy and any contacts between them that might have been the way “Ukrainian” ideas would spread into Russia were effectively blocked.

That rather than simply presenting himself as the latest “ingatherer of the Russian lands” or thumbing his nose at the West, Shmelyev continues, explains why Putin has done what he has done in the way that he has because his goal at all times is to defend his position lest being forced out of it he might be charged with an enormous number of crimes.

“Putin couldn’t allow” either the spread of ideas from Ukraine into Russia that might challenge him or the risk that he would be ousted from power and face justice, the commentator says.  “Therefore, he had to immediately break off ‘low-level’ contacts be tween the residents of our two countries.”

“I am certain,” he continues, “that this was the first and main motive behind everything that followed: The task was to get the two peoples into a fight with each other.” To that end, Putin was prepared to use all kinds of propaganda and to engage in massive acts of violence against Ukrainians.

And he did everything he could to ensure that “as a result of the war, Ukraine would not  be able to become an attractive example for Russians.”  Many seek to understand Putin as a geopolitician or as a national leader, but in fact, he is a criminal who is only seeking to ensure he and his group stay in power.

That should have been clear to everyone when he orchestrated the blowing up of apartment blocks in Moscow in 1999, Shmelyev says. And they should also have recognized that Putin doesn’t seem himself opposed to the West as he understands it. In his view, all democratic institutions in the West “are merely decorations as they are in Russia,” but “better hidden.”

Given this, the analyst continues, it is naïve to think the regime can be changed by a new round of sanctions or anything else. It can only be contained and then removed. The people do not really support it: they seek “escape” from politics and only want to survive. But those around Putin who have been infected by his values back him as a matter of survival.

They too can’t afford for him to leave because they know that once he goes so will they as Russian then will have to come up with a new system with new rules of the game.

By Paul Goble, Windows on Eurasia

Categories: World News

“Rough…Brutal… Immoral… Interference” in Russia’s Internal Affairs

StopFake.org - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 07:58

By Polygraph Dmitry Novikov

Deputy chairman of the Russian State Duma’s foreign affairs committee

“The appearance of a Boris Nemtsov plaza in Washington is interference in Russia’s internal affairs.”

Source: Kommersant FM, January 10, 2018

FALSE

The claim is baseless

On January 9, Russian opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza announced on his Facebook page: “At its first meeting of 2018, the Council of the District of Columbia unanimously passed the first reading of Bill 22-539 to designate the block in front of the Russian Embassy as Boris Nemtsov Plaza.”

According to Kara-Murza, the Council, in addition to passing the bill, also “unanimously passed an emergency declaration to enact the designation by February 27” – the third anniversary of Boris Nemtsov’s assassination, on a bridge within sight of the Kremlin.

Russia — A woman adjusts flowers at the site of the assassination of Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov in central Moscow, March 20, 2017

Bill 22-539, the “Boris Nemtsov Plaza Designation Act of 2017,” is described on the Council of the District of Columbia’s website as being “under council review.”

After the review is completed, the bill will be send to the mayor of Washington, DC for approval or veto. If Mayor Muriel Bowser approves the bill, it will go into effect.

This means that there are still several legal procedural steps before/if the street signs near Russian embassy will change from Wisconsin Ave to Boris Nemtsov Plaza.

Embassy of Russian Federation, 2650 Wisconsin Avenue, Northwest, Washington DC

However, leading Russian politicians are already responding to the news from Washington, DC with a flow of accusatory comments.

Nemtsov’s former colleagues in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, have proposed renaming the street on which the U.S. embassy is located in Moscow. They are calling for changing the current address, “8 Bolshoi Devyatinskiy Pereulok,” to “1 Severoamericansky Tupik,” which translates to 1 North American Blind Alley.

One top lawmaker said it was “immoral” for the Americans to attempt “pit the current Russian authorities against Boris Nemtsov.”

And Dmitry Novikov, deputy chairman of the Russian State Duma’s foreign affairs committee, called the DC city council’s move “interference in Russia’s internal affairs.”

Появление площади имени Бориса Немцова в Вашингтоне – это вмешательство во внутренние дела России- первый зампред комитета Госдумы по международным делам Дмитрий Новиков.

— Коммерсантъ FM 93,6 (@KFM936) 10 января 2018 г.

That Novikov’s claim is false was proven by his own boss, Duma foreign affairs committee chairman Leonid Slutsky, who called the DC city council’s decision“rough” and “brutal,” but added that “it is the American government’s business.”

Likewise, Russia’s Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said late last month concerning the Council of the District of Colombia’s plans to rename the street in front of the Russian embassy in the U.S. capital: “The American authorities decide where, when and in whose honor they name a particular plaza, a particular street.”

Riot police encircle Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, Moscow, February 2014

Explaining why she co-sponsored renaming on Russian Embassy’s doorstep, DC city council member Mary Cheh, said, “there is little doubt that his (Nemtsov’s) murder was motivated by his political beliefs, his popularity, and his frequent and open criticism of the Russian government.”

By Polygraph

© 2018 POLYGRAPH.info All Rights Reserved

Categories: World News

Edward Lucas: The repressive state

StopFake.org - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 02:56

By Edward Lucas, for CEPA

How many political prisoners languish in Russia’s jails and penal colonies? The short answer is that nobody knows. Harassment makes it hard for human rights organizations to track these cases. Many of those convicted are jailed for “non-political” crimes. Estimates range from dozens to hundreds.

But the cases we do know about are bad enough. Take, for example, Yuri Dmitriev—one of the country’s greatest historians of Stalinism. He was arrested more than a year ago on charges of making child-abuse images. A group of independent legal experts said unanimously last month that the photographs were not pornographic; they simply documented the health of his adopted daughter, who was malnourished when she arrived in the family from her children’s home.

Now the authorities are sending Dmitriev for examination at the notorious Serbski Institute in Moscow. That place has a dreadful reputation from the Soviet era, when it spearheaded the use of coercive psychiatry against dissidents. These brave and brilliant people were not mad. But after being given powerful drugs at the Serbski Institute for made-up diseases such as “sluggish schizophrenia,” they did indeed become mentally ill, in some cases suffering permanent psychological damage.

Punitive psychiatry epitomized the persecution of the Brezhnev era, just as the Gulag exemplified Stalin’s terror. Its abolition was one of the first signs that Mikhail Gorbachev’s Kremlin was serious about human rights. Its return now is one of the most sinister indicators about where Russia is heading.

It should not be a surprise. Russian authorities habitually use legal tools, at home and abroad, to crush resistance. At least 60 Ukrainians have been locked up on bogus charges—further casualties of Russia’s war against its biggest European neighbor, and greatest potential friend.

The country’s longest serving political prisoner is Alexei Pichugin, a mid-ranking official in the former Yukos oil empire. Arrested in 2003, he has been jailed, on flimsy evidence, for multiple murders. His real crime is that he has steadfastly refused to give false evidence against his boss, former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The Russian authorities also wanted Sergei Magnitsky, an auditor at a Moscow law firm, to give evidence against his boss, Bill Browder, a London-based financier. He refused, and was beaten to death in jail. Undeterred, the authorities put the dead man on trial, and issued an arrest warrant for Browder, whom Russian President Vladimir Putin recently called a “serial killer.” Browder’s real crime has been his stunningly successful campaign for sanctions against the murderous crooks who run Russia.

The question for the authorities is whether this works. Persecution creates martyrs. Khodorkovsky’s decade in prison helped him shed the taint of his questionable business career in the 1990s. Had he simply been deported, he would be long forgotten. Browder’s reincarnation as a human rights campaigner trumps his earlier support for the Putin regime. Dimitriev’s treatment makes his fate an international cause celebre. Pussy Riot would still be languishing in the cultural undergrowth if the regime had not treated them so harshly. Now the punk performance band’s members are international celebrities.

Putin last year unveiled a memorial to “victims of state repression.” But the truth is, he would prefer to distance himself from the past. Russia’s state historiography is a painfully abstract affair. The victims and perpetrators are faceless. Nobody is to blame. Nobody deserves compensation. Although some Russians applaud the idea of the authorities wielding power with a firm hand, modern repression also highlights the similarities between the Putin regime and the Soviet one. The stagnant and brutal Soviet regime ended in collapse. So may its successor.

By Edward Lucas, for CEPA

Europe’s Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis. 

Categories: World News

Moldovan Parliament Speaker Passes Law Against Russian Propaganda

StopFake.org - Thu, 01/11/2018 - 02:45

Moldovan parliament speaker Andrian Candu (file photo)

By RFE/RL

The speaker of Moldova’s parliament, Andrian Candu, has signed legislation appointing seven new government ministers along with a law that bans Russian “media propaganda.”

The signings on January 10 took place after Moldova’s Constitutional Court suspended pro-Russia President Igor Dodon’s powers on the issues and ruled that Candu could ratify the legislation, which was proposed by Moldova’s pro-Western government and passed by pro-Western lawmakers in the parliament.

The so-called “media propaganda” law effectively bans the rebroadcasting in Moldova of Russian television programs on news, analysis, politics, and military issues.

The Constitutional Court ruled on January 5 that either Candu or Prime Minister Pavel Filip could sign the bill into law because Dodon had “refused twice to fulfill his constitutional duty to sign the bill into law.”

Both Candu and Filip are members of the pro-Western Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM).

On January 2, the court ruled that the same procedure could be used to confirm Filip’s nominees in a cabinet reshuffle that Dodon refused to ratify.

Dodon said Filip’s nominees were incompetent and that some were corrupt.

Dodon is frequently at odds with Filip and his government, which favors closer ties with the EU and the United States.

Dodon on January 10 said Moldova’s seven newly appointed ministers “lack legitimacy.” He also said the Constitutional Court helped Filip’s government to violate “the principles of democracy and a rule-of-law state.”

Pro-Russia political parties in Moldova on January 10 called for street protests.

Russian authorities also have been at odds with the PDM over its attempts to bolster Chisinau’s ties with the EU and the United States.

The Moscow city court on January 10 upheld the legality of charges filed in absentia against the president of the PDM, Vlad Plahotniuc.

Plahotniuc, one of Moldova’s most influential pro-Western politicians, was charged in absentia in November 2017 in Moscow’s Basmanny district court of attempted murder in Russia.

Russian authorities allege that Plahotniuc was behind a March 2012 assassination attempt against German Gorbuntsov, the former owner of banks in Russia and Moldova.

Gorbuntsov was shot several times in east London by a man armed with a submachine gun, but survived the attack.

Aleksandr Nekrassov, a former Kremlin adviser, told the BBC in 2012 that the attack appeared to be linked to information Gorbuntsov claimed to have about the attempted assassination of another Russian banker, Aleksandr Antonov.

By RFE/RL

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa, Interfax, and TASS

Categories: World News

Fake: Hepatitis A Epidemic in Ukraine

StopFake.org - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 12:24

Russia’s Defense Ministry television channel Zvezda declared that a Hepatitis A epidemic was raging in Ukraine. Similar stories appeared in other Russian media based on news reports about a Hepatitis A outbreak in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mykolayiv. According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Health there are sporadic cases of the disease in Ukraine, but there is most certainly no epidemic.

Website screenshot tvzvezda.ru

Website screenshot kp.ua

Zvezda claims that Mykolayiv authorities announced that a mass Hepatitis A infection occurred in the city and Komsomolskaya Pravda declared the epidemic is quickly spreading. Krasnoyarskoye Novosti and other pro-Kremlin media quickly followed suit and disseminated this fake further.

Website screenshot moz.gov.ua

According to Ukraine’s Health Ministry Community Health Center, Mykolayiv and the surrounding region have logged 47 Hepatitis A cases this year, including six children. National rates of hepatitis A have remained constant over recent years and there are no grounds to call the current outbreak an epidemic.

Website screenshot mk.gov.ua

According to the Mykolayiv Regional Administration, the port city experiences annual outbreaks of viral hepatitis, last year 43 people were infected, in 2016 58 individuals contracted hepatitis A.

Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus. The disease is transmitted through contaminated food or water or from close contact with a person or object that’s infected. Good hygiene and washing hands frequently is the best ways to protect against hepatitis A. The disease often occurs in countries with poor sanitary conditions.

Categories: World News

Netizen Report: Iranian authorities are blocking international web traffic and messaging platforms

StopFake.org - Tue, 01/09/2018 - 02:03

Mashhad at night. Photo by Farnaz Ghandi via Flickr (CC BY-SA 4.0)

By byNetizen Report Team, for Global Voices Global Voices Advocacy’s Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

Amid the powerful wave of public protests that have taken place across Iran over the past week, authorities have taken firm measures to clamp down on communication and information-sharing over platforms like Telegram and Instagram.

On January 2, sources who work at Iran’s internet exchange point told the Center for Human Rights in Iran that the government ordered them to disrupt access to international traffic. This means that international data cannot be accessed at certain periods in Iran.

These and other restrictions have been on the rise since 28 December, when protests broke out in the northeastern city of Mashhad over unemployment, rising food prices, and charges of wrongdoing directed at both reformist and conservative government leaders. The demonstrations spread to smaller towns and major cities by 29 December.

On 31 December, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting service announced that authorities had “temporarily” suspended Telegram and Instagram “to preserve the peace and security of citizens.” This is a serious move in Iran, where other large-scale platforms like Facebook and Twitter have been blocked since the 2009 Green Movement protests.

The blocking of Telegram has had especially severe consequences, as the mobile messaging app has become ubiquitous among the country’s users. Of the 45 million Iranians who are online, 40 million use Telegram for everything from staying in touch with family and friends, to reading and sharing news, to keeping up on public events—including protests. The effects of this type of censorship are far-reaching. As protests have turned violent in some cities—state media have reported that 21 people have been killed in the clashes—open communication channels become increasingly important to maintaining public safety.

Digital censorship circumvention tools have been faltering as well, due to what appear to be restrictions on their websites. Internet infrastructure companies like Digital Ocean, which hosts circumvention tools such as Lantern, have also experienced disruptions.

Despite these restrictions, Iranians are still using the internet to report and document what they’re experiencing. In a video attributed to Bandar Abbas, protesters set fire to a billboard with the image of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamanei. Global Voices author and immigration lawyer Hamid Yazdan Panah described this as “an act of rage and defiance that goes beyond the price of eggs or the desire for political reform.”

DRC sees internet shutdown ahead of protests

On December 30, authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo ordered telecommunications providers to block internet access and SMS messaging ahead of protests that took place in multiple cities on the following day. Demonstrators, many of whom were organized within church groups, are demanding that DRC president Joseph Kabila end his bid to change constitutional term limits on the presidency.

Personal data for sale in India, thanks to Aadhaar

In an attempt to investigate the security of personal data stored within Aadhaar, India’s massive national ID system, reporters at the Tribune of India were able to gain “unrestricted access to details for any of the more than 1 billion Aadhaar numbers created in India thus far,” simply by responding to an advertisement circulated via WhatsApp and paying the anonymous poster 500 rupees (about USD $7.90). India’s Unique Identification Authority (UIDAI) says the Tribune “misreported” the story. Read the Tribune’s response here.

Pakistan’s cybercrime law will soon cover blasphemy online

The Federal Cabinet of Pakistan approved an amendment to the country’s 2016 Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, extending the law to address expressions of blasphemy and pornography on the internet. These will now be categorized as criminal offenses under the law, and could pave the way for criminal charges against anyone who posts social media content that could be interpreted as blasphemous.

Spying on us? Not so fast, says German court

On December 13, 2017, the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig, Germany ruled in favor of a complaint filed by Reporters Without Borders against Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, BND. The decision stipulates that the BND may not store metadata, such as phone numbers and the time and date of a call, for international calls, for the purposes of intelligence analysis. This should have a big impact on BND, which, thanks to a series of documents leaked to Zeit Online in 2015, collects an average of 220 billion pieces of metadata each day.

Can 7500 people really manage all the hate speech on Facebook?

After reviewing 900 crowdsourced examples of hate speech on Facebook, investigative journalism outlet ProPublica found that nearly two dozen hateful posts were not removed by Facebook, despite users’ efforts to report them. ProPublica also reported that Facebook employs roughly 7500 people to review reports of hate speech, for an estimated 2.2 billion active users around the world. The report explained:

In 22 cases, Facebook said its reviewers had made a mistake. In 19, it defended the rulings. In six cases, Facebook said the content did violate its rules but its reviewers had not actually judged it one way or the other because users had not flagged it correctly, or the author had deleted it. In the other two cases, it said it didn’t have enough information to respond.

Germany starts enforcing ‘Netz DG’ hate speech law

The start of 2018 marks the start of full enforcement of Germany’s controversial Netzwerkdurchsetzungsgesetz anti-hate speech law, called the NetzDG for short. Under the law, social media companies must respond to government requests to remove illegal content—including hate speech and so-called “fake news”—within 24 hours of receipt. Companies will have up to seven days to consider the removal of more ambiguous material. Facebook, Twitter and Google/YouTube will be the primary focus for the law’s implementation.

Germany’s criminal code already defines hate speech, so the law does not create new measures or definitions. Instead, it forces companies to police hate speech or face astronomical fines. The law is unprecedented at the global level, and could have game-changing ripple effects worldwide.

New Research

By byNetizen Report Team, for Global Voices

 

Categories: World News

Automated, live fact-checks during the State of the Union? The Tech & Check Cooperative’s first beta test hopes to pull it off

StopFake.org - Mon, 01/08/2018 - 23:26

Photo of president Ronald Reagan during his 1983 State of the Union address from Wikimedia Commons used under a Creative Commons license

Is automated fact-checking the “holy grail” for this corner of journalism?

By Christine Schmidt, for NiemanLab

Instead of watching the upcoming State of the Union address with snide fact-checks from users on Twitter or other social media in the background, viewers will be able to see instantaneous fact-checking appear on their device screen as soon as President Trump utters a claim — or at least that’s the dream for Bill Adair’s team at Duke University’s Reporters’ Lab.

Adair, the fact-checking maven who founded PolitiFact and is now director of the Reporters’ Lab, is spearheading the nascent Tech & Check Cooperative to bundle automation with a number of initiatives already launched in the fact-checking/computer science sphere. The two-year project got underway in the fall and is funded with a total of $1.2 million from the Knight Foundation, the Facebook Journalism Project, and the Craig Newmark Foundation. It draws on automation and fact-checking work from researchers from the University of Texas at Arlington, the Internet Archive, MIT Media Lab, and Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo. Its live fact-check of the State of the Union Jan. 30 will be the team’s first beta test.

“If you had asked me three or four years ago how soon will you be able to do live pop-up fact checking I would have said maybe a decade…but artificial intelligence has come a long way in a short period of time,” Adair said. “We’ve created the secret sauce with our database…We see this very much as a way to bring together computer scientists and fact checkers to do this work.” The database, in case you couldn’t tell, is currently only available for Tech & Check partners.

From the announcement of the cooperative in September:

Partners in the Tech & Check Cooperative include:

  • The University of Texas at Arlington, which has developed ClaimBuster, a tool that can mine lengthy transcripts for claims that fact-checkers might want to examine.
  • The Internet Archive, which will help develop a “Talking Point Tracker” that will identify factual claims that are used repeatedly by politicians and pundits.
  • Truth Goggles, a project created by developer Dan Schultz and the Bad Idea Factory to provide pop-up fact-checking for articles on the web.
  • Digital Democracy, an initiative of the Institute for Advanced Technology and Public Policy at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, which will develop ways to identify factual claims from video of legislative proceedings in California.

The cooperative stems from the R&D-focused Reporters’ Lab’s Share the Facts creation in 2016. Share the Facts was built originally as an embeddable widget for news articles but has evolved to an add-on for both Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa for users to ask the devices a question about a claim made by a celebrity, politician, or other newsmaker. The audio device can reply to the listener — if the statement aligned with the fact-check has already been processed by the fact-checking partners (including PolitiFact, The Washington Post, and Gossip Cop) and is in the database. But the user has to prompt the check: “One of the weaknesses of fact checking is that you basically have to do homework — you have to look it up,” Adair noted. There are more than 12,000 fact-checks in the Share the Facts database, but automation could be a clear opportunity to incessantly add more.

For one example, “I think of ClaimBuster as a college intern who works 24/7, who can sit in the gallery of the House or the Senate, who can watch 24 hours of cable news and be a good tool at finding claims that fact checkers might want to check,” Adair said. “We’re using automation to do some tedious work for fact-checkers that humans would otherwise have to do.”

Adair largely deals with the structure of producing fact-checks, but the question of fact-checking’s impact still stands. You can create a tool to plop fact-checks on a screen like a pop-up ad, sure, but frequency or placement doesn’t necessarily equate with increasing trust or effectiveness. We know that fact checks work better if they come from acquaintances rather than strangers; what about when they come from automated prompts?

That’s part of what Truth Goggles, among many others in the fact-checking world, has been inquiring. We wrote about Dan Schultz’s project five years ago, as it focused on flagging potentially false claims at the moment of consumption. “Even if you are a nonpartisan fact-checker, you’re going to anger one or both sides, and that’s the nature of this disruptive form of journalism. And at a time when people are going into echo chambers for their information, it can be a challenge,” Schultz told us in 2012. “The one thing I would say to that is I don’t think what we’re doing is telling people what to think. We’re just trying to tell them information to consider.” (Schultz now works at the Internet Archive.)The joint attack on misinformation via computerized fact-checking is part of Tech & Check’s cooperative nature. (“This is largely a technology and journalism project. It’s not a social psychology project,” Adair said.) He sees automated fact-checking as the “holy grail” for this corner of journalism: making the interaction so instant and instinctual from both perspectives, the device providing the check and the user seeking it.

But there’s also been progress made with automating fact-checks in other spheres. We covered the Greece-based, English-language FightHoax algorithm earlier this year:

FightHoax attempts to perform text analyses of news articles. What it’s trying to offer is detection, not actual fact-checking of claims, as promotional materials claim. It isn’t able to refute or contextualize specific statements by drawing from a comprehensive database of existing fact-checks, which new automated programs like Full Fact or Factmata are working towards. The Argentinian fact-checking outlet Chequeado is also working on a beta version of an automated fact-checking software that will evaluate Spanish-language claims by comparing it to similar previously made ones already available in its large database of claims.

In an industry fraught with fact-less-ness and seeking collaboration in all corners, this teamwork might make the dream work.

“Too often when you use our [Share the Facts] apps, Alexa will say, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have any information on that,’” Adair said. “We are working with others around the world, doing this work to make sure we all learn from each other, all have common standards, swap ideas, and overcome problems together.”

By Christine Schmidt, for NiemanLab

Categories: World News

StopFake #165 with Marko Suprun

StopFake.org - Mon, 01/08/2018 - 12:43

Fakes: Ukrainians massively deported from the EU; European Union seeks to improve relations with Russia at any cost; Ukraine postpones salary increases for military for a year.

Categories: World News

The Kremlin’s Shifting, Self-Contradicting Narratives on MH17

StopFake.org - Sat, 01/06/2018 - 17:02

By Aric Toler, for Bellingcat

Just a few hours after the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), the circumstances that caused the tragedy came to light: a Buk-M1 Russian-made anti-aircraft missile system was fired by either Russian-led separatists or Russian forces from an area near Snizhne, Ukraine, leading to the death of 298 civilians aboard the passenger plane. Over three years since the downing, every credible investigation into the tragedy has confirmed this initial claim, with each photograph, video, and independent forensic investigation reinforcing the “Russian/separatist Buk” claim and adding new details that give us a greater understanding of how this incident happened. In short, the “narrative” from Western governments, the official Dutch criminal and forensic investigations, and the site you are reading now has been linear.

This same linear trajectory towards greater clarity and away from self-contradiction cannot be attributed to the Kremlin’s narrative, or narratives, related to MH17. On July 21, 2014, just four days after the downing, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) held a press conference that made a series of self-contradictory claims blaming Ukraine, rather than Russia or Russian-led separatists, for the Boeing 777’s shoot down. Today, the Kremlin–via its Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Ministry of Defense, state-funded media outlets, and state-funded defense company “Almaz-Antey”–has silently abandoned, while never explicitly retracting, nearly every piece of evidence it presented four days after the downing.

A microcosm of the Kremlin’s shift on MH17 can be seen in the Ukrainian fighter jet conspiracy theory. In comment sections and YouTube videos you will often encounter talk of how a Ukrainian fighter jet, most common named as a Su-25 or a MiG-29, shot down MH17; however, the Kremlin has long abandoned the claim that this was the cause of the MH17 shoot down. Instead, throughout 2017, the Kremlin has thrown its entire weight behind the idea that a Ukrainian Buk system shot down MH17 from a position near Zaroshchenske.

Unless you have closely followed each twist and turn of the MH17 case, including each Kremlin’s state-funded media outlet’s report on the tragedy, it is quite difficult to keep the Kremlin’s narratives on MH17 straight. In 2014 and 2015, Russia’s main state-funded news program, Vesti, threw nearly its full weight behind the Su-25 theory, even airing an experiment with actual fighter jets showing how a Ukrainian fighter jet riddled MH17 with cannon fire. However, at the end of 2017, in complete contradiction to their previous segments, Vesti aired a new segment claiming–without any mention of a fighter jet–that a Ukrainian Buk was solely responsible for the tragedy.

This article will detail the development of the Kremlin’s narratives on MH17, which have become unrecognizable over the past three years. It would take a full-length book to provide a comprehensive treatment of all of Russia’s messaging related to the MH17 case, but here we will focus on the development of the Kremlin’s position on the cause of the downing, and the current state of the Kremlin’s MH17 narrative. We will also deconstruct this narrative point-by-point, detailing how it may be even more illogical than the Ukrainian fighter jet theory it initially supported. To survey the Kremlin’s public messaging on MH17, we studied the following sources, with the presumption that they represent the official viewpoints of the Russian government:

  • Statements and reports from government officials (such as Vladimir Putin), committees (such as the Russian Investigation Committee), and ministries (such as the MFA and MoD and their spokespersons).
  • Statements and reports from Russian embassies and their ambassadors.
  • Statements and reports from Almaz Antey, a state-owned defense manufacturer that developed the Buk missile.
  • Media outlets funded either entirely through government or proxy government funds. Some of these outlets include television channels, such as Russia-1 & Russia-24 (which airs Vesti). We also included online portals and wire services, such as TASS and Sputnik.

First, we will consider the positions initially taken by the Kremlin soon after the downing of MH17 for greater context of how the current narrative came into formation.

The Initial Kremlin Position: July 2014

On July 21, 2014, four days after the MH17 downing, the Russian MoD held a press conference that took a scattershot approach to establishing the Kremlin’s MH17 narrative(s). Instead of presenting a firm, singular theory of the incident that led to the downing of MH17, they presented a series of self-contradicting claims that placed blame on the Ukrainian government.

Bellingcat has extensively detailed the factual issues with the claims made in this press conference, found chronologically in the following articles:

The main claims by the Russian MoD in this press conference are listed below, along with a brief description of each claim’s most glaring factual inaccuracy:

  • The course of MH17 was deliberately changed to shift it over a war zone in Ukraine [the map showing the MH17 flight path shown during the press conference was fabricated and not used in future Russian MoD press conferences, and there was no significant flight path diversion]

  • A video showing the Russian Buk that has since been confirmed as the weapon that downed MH17 shows the missile launcher moving not through Russian/separatist stronghold Luhansk, but instead Ukrainian-controlled Krasnoarmeysk [the video has been conclusively geolocated to Luhansk, not Krasnoarmeysk, and the text supposedly visible on a billboard showing an address in Krasnoarmeysk was fabricated]

  • A Ukrainian aircraft was detected near MH17 during the crash, as supported by Russian radar data [in 2016, the Russian MoD held another press conference in this same room on newly “discovered” radar data: this “Ukrainian aircraft” was no longer present]

  • A Ukrainian Buk TELAR was removed from its base near Spartak, Ukraine shortly before the downing of MH17, and was then relocated to a field south of Zaroshchenske, where it, along with a second Buk TELAR and another military vehicle, was deployed on July 17, 2014 [the satellite images published by the MoD have been thoroughly debunked: firstly, after Bellingcat purchased a satellite image taken at almost the exact same time provided by the Russian MoD, showing inconsistencies with their image; secondly, after Dr. Jeffrey Lewis and his team at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey used a sophisticated digital analysis tool to show conclusively that the Russian satellite images were significantly digitally altered]

All of these claims have been debunked by multiple sources, sometimes even from the evidence provided by the Russian government itself. Additionally, each of these claims have been abandoned by the Kremlin–except the final one, claiming that a Ukrainian Buk was deployed near Zaroshchenske, where it fired the missile to down MH17.

The statements made by Russian ambassadors and officials in the week following the tragedy match the July 21st press conference: no single narrative, but rather a wide-ranging list of “concerns,” grievances of Russia being accused by Western media and politicians, and accusations of Kyiv’s responsibility.

For example, in a July 21st interview with the Russian Ambassador to Malaysia, Lyudmila Vorobyeva, the diplomat gave credence to a number of claims: pointing out that a Ukrainian crew may have been targeting Russian President Putin’s plane, that a Ukrainian “air defense system” fired on the plane, and that Russian-led separatists had no access to any surface-to-air missile systems that could have downed MH17. Ambassador Vorobyeva also repeated the MoD’s false claim of a Ukrainian fighter jet near MH17.

The day after the downing. Russia’s UK Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko aired his grievances with Russia being “groundlessly” targeted for blame:

“Since the day of the disaster we have been witnessing a powerful information attack on our country in international media and fora (including the UNSC). It has been groundlessly claimed that Russia or ‘separatists controlled by Russia’ were responsible for the downing of Flight MH-17. Such irresponsible and unproven statements are being issued up to this moment. Their aim is to negatively influence the media background surrounding the investigation. We consider such statements and unfounded accusations as an attempt to dissimulate the true facts concerning the catastrophe and to cover up the identities of the true perpetrators of the crime.”

Ambassador Yakovenko dismissed the evidence against Russia and the separatist it leads by waving away the extensive amount of digital evidence showing a Russian Buk TELAR moving through Russian/separatist-held territory on the day of, and morning after, the shoot down:

“The case, as is admitted, is built upon photos and messages from social media sites, placed by Ukrainian authorities and since then proved to be forgeries, as ambassador Churkin demonstrated at the UN security council meeting. Naturally, our American partners say that they have no way of certifying the authenticity of those materials.”

On July 19, two days after the downing, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov repeated a fabricated claim that originated on Twitter of how a Spanish air traffic controller named Carlos saw two Ukrainian fighter jets near MH17. Despite the Kremlin’s supposed distrust of online materials related to MH17, one of their leading defense officials made an official statement on Russia-24 on this imaginary “Carlos,” who has since been thoroughly debunked as a Twitter hoax. Even Russian President Putin has repeated the “Carlos” claim in an interview with Oliver Stone in 2017.

Though the vast majority of official statements on MH17 in the week following the tragedy laid blame on Kyiv, we can see some alternate approaches that may have been considered by top Kremlin diplomats and officials, but abandoned. For example, when asked less than a week after the shootdown about the intercepted conversations between Russian-led fighters, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, though perhaps spontaneously in response to a press question, laid the groundwork for a Russian position that was never taken: conceding that Ukraine was not responsible for the tragedy, but shielding the Russians/separatists who fired the missile from the most significant consequences in international court.

“According to them, the people from the east were saying that they shot down a military jet … If they think they shot down a military jet, it was confusion. If it was confusion, it was not an act of terrorism.”

Mixed Messages: 2014-2016

Over the next few years, the Kremlin would vacillate between the Ukrainian fighter jet and the Ukrainian Buk theories.

The Russian news program Vesti filmed an “experiment” in October 2014 as part of a longer documentary to show that MH17 was actually downed by Su-25 cannon fire, not a Buk missile. Footage from this “experiment” was also published in an RT documentary on MH17.

In June 2015, the Russian Investigative Committee released information about a “witness” who described how a Ukrainian pilot (Captain Vladislav Voloshin) was responsible for the downing of MH17.

Simultaneous with their claims of a Ukrainian fighter jet using cannon fire and/or an air-to-air missile to down MH17, the same Russian state-funded news programs were promoting a contradicting theory of a Ukrainian Buk missile being used to down the passenger jet. On July 19, 2015, Vesti aired an 11-minute segment that included a witness report from a Ukrainian man named Sergei. This man, who lives in a village in the Donetsk Oblast, claims to have seen Ukrainian military vehicles at a position south of Zaroshchenske (this claim is examined in more detail in the following section of this article).

This segment also places the heavily digitally altered satellite images presented during the July 21, 2014 press conference into context with Sergei’s account, including mentioning footage from a Ukrainian Military TV July 16, 2014 segment showing Ukrainian Buk systems. However, what is not mentioned in this report is that this footage was filmed before July 16, and was actually in the Kharkiv Oblast at a rear ATO base camp, not on the front lines of the war or anywhere near the MH17 crash site.

Nine minutes into this report that provided the Kremlin’s account of how a Ukrainian Buk downed MH17, the report takes a dramatic shift in describing how Ukrainian pilot Captain Vladislav Voloshin downed MH17 with an Su-25 fighter jet. Immediately after this information, the report cites a LiveJournal blogger who claims that Ukraine used an Israeli air-to-air missile to down MH17. The contradictions between the varying accounts in this brief segment are not resolved. In sum, the nature of the Kremlin’s public messaging strategy on the downing of MH17 can be encapsulated in two tweets written on the same day by the Russian Embassy in the United Kingdom:

The Current Kremlin Position

The Kremlin has shifted entirely away from the Ukrainian fighter jet theory, without any explicit redaction and after years of special media reports, fabricated radar evidence, witness reports, and official statements to the contrary. Throughout 2017 and going into 2018, the Kremlin narrative around MH17 is now focused on one theory: a Ukrainian Buk missile system downed MH17. Along with the promotion of this narrative, Russia intensified its attempts to discredit the Dutch-led criminal investigation into the downing, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT).

The Ukrainian Buk Theory

In review of all of Vesti’s segments on MH17 in 2017, there was no notable published content, such as witnesses who have come forward or alleged evidence uncovered, pointing to the Ukrainian fighter jet theory. However, there was a large number of reports asserting how Ukraine deployed a Ukrainian Buk missile system to a field south of Zaroshchenske. Before diving into the new developments in this claim, we should review the fundamental elements of the Ukrainian Buk theory.

According to the July 21, 2014 Russian MoD press conference, a Ukrainian Buk TELAR that was previously deployed at an air defense base in Spartak (just north of Donetsk) was not present at 11:32am on July 17, 2014.

Instead, the MoD implied that this Buk TELAR was, allegedly, 53.5km away (as the bird flies) in a field south of Zaroshchenske. These two satellite images were allegedly taken at the same time.

December 2017 Vesti report highlights a military position just outside of Shaposhnykove, and a few kilometers south of the alleged launch site near Zaroshchenske. As the report details, this position was developed in the week prior to the downing of MH17, though allegedly created by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and not Russian/separatist forces.

This position is located near the alleged Zaroshchenske launch site, as seen in the map below (click for full size):

Russia also bolsters its theory with a witness account from a Ukrainian named Sergei, who gave a 2015 interview to Vesti in a field where he claims to have seen Ukrainian military equipment on the day of the MH17 downing while on his way to work on a nearby farm.

In the interview with Vesti, Sergei claims that on July 17 he was not allowed to pass through the area due to a heavy Ukrainian military presence. He says that he saw 20-30 Ukrainian soldiers, “radars,” and military vehicles. He explained that some of this equipment was covered up, but he was able to identify some of them, such as a BTR (armored personnel carrier) and a rotating radar with a “dome.” The July 2015 Vesti report went on to say that the BTR that Sergei claims to have seen was the same one as in the July 21 MoD satellite image, and that the “radar” units were the same as the two Buk TELARs also visible in the same image.

The Vesti report states that this area was represented in the Russian MoD satellite image from the July 21st press conference; however, in 2015, users at the MH17 Webtalk message board geolocated this footage to an area approximately 6km south of Zaroshchenske. No military equipment is visible in this area in any publicly available, free satellite imagery for mid-July 2014.

Below, a composite of the three locations that the Kremlin narrative has focused on are seen below: the field near where the Russian MoD claimed Ukrainian Buks were deployed on July 17, an alleged Ukrainian military fortification near Shaposhnykove, and the large deployment of military vehicles, including alleged radars, that were witnessed by Sergei on July 17.

Lastly, a recent element added to Russia’s Ukrainian Buk claim is a new Ukrainian witness named Yuri Baturin who claims to have observed the shoot down of MH17 on radar and spoken with Ukrainian Buk crew members who were allegedly deployed to near Zaroshchenske. This “discovery” of a witness is quite similar to the 2015 discovery of a witness who spoke about Ukrainian pilot Captain Vladislav Voloshin, as both witnesses served in the Ukrainian Armed Forces and later fled to Russia. This interview was originally taken by the Russian Ministry of Defense’s television channel TV Zvezda in October 2017, but then republished in December, where it was amplified across other state-funded outlets.

Radar Data and Almaz-Antey Reports

The two pieces of evidence related to the Ukrainian Buk theory that Russia most often highlights are the reports of state defense manufacturer Almaz-Antey (producer of Buk missiles) and radar data that was “discovered” in 2016. The Almaz-Antey reports, which claim that the missile that downed MH17 was launched from the area near Zaroshchenske, are presented by the Kremlin as an alternate source of information to the official forensic investigation into the plane’s downing conducted by the Dutch Safety Board (DSB). The proposed launch sites by Almaz-Antey and the Dutch investigations (determined by the NLR and Kyiv Research Institute) can be seen below:

It should be noted that according to the most recent Almaz-Antey report, the field south of Zaroshchenske highlighted by Russian MoD satellite imagery is not within the area of potential launch sites.

The 2016 radar data, which contradicts the 2014 “radar data” presented by the Russian MoD, is widely considered inconclusive by the international community and the Dutch-led investigation into MH17.

In early 2017, the primary focus of the Russian messaging on MH17 was focused on the Russian radar data presented to the Dutch investigation. This radar data was first presented in September 2016 after it was “discovered” accidentally during “scheduled maintenance.” This data was presented in the same room and in the same fashion as the July 21, 2014 MoD press conference, yet it dismissed evidence presented two years prior of a Ukrainian fighter jet in the area. This contradiction was not acknowledged in the Kremlin messaging around MH17, with the focus instead shifting to how this radar data did not show a Buk missile launch from the field south of Snizhne where Buk 332 was present at the time.

The Dutch government explained that this radar data would not necessarily show a Buk missile due to its trajectory and size; however, the Russian aviation regular Rosaviatsia disputes this claim: “It is inappropriate to say that a radar station could miss the missile,” its head said in June 2017. After Russia’s “discovered” radar data did not significantly alter the trajectory of the Dutch investigation into the MH17 downing, the Kremlin and its media outlets took this as evidence that the JIT only considers evidence that fits a supposed preconceived notion of Russia’s guilt.

In a response to an interview held by Fred Westerbeke, the head of the Dutch criminal investigation into MH17, Russian MFA spokesperson Maria Zakharova aired Russia’s grievances of how its “evidence” is not valued by the international community:

“Mr Westerbeke’s interview has shown that contributions from Ukraine and the United States, as well as information  from online sources are considered to be highly valuable, whereas any assistance provided by Russia has been deliberately downplayed, including the secret data we declassified for this purpose, information about an unprecedented experiment held by the Almaz-Antey Concern, and the original data from our radar, all of which is objective and accurate information that could really help the investigation.”

Fundamental issues with Zaroshchenske: the route

Even if one discounts the conclusive evidence showing that the Russian MoD’s satellite images concerning Zaroshchenske were heavily digitally altered, it is impossible that the Buk TELAR at the base near Spartak was able to travel to this field by 11:32am. Additionally, this Buk was heavily damaged, as seen below.

A satellite image taken by Digital Globe at 11:08am on the same day shows that the Buk TELAR was present on the base, with no evidence that it was being loaded onto a transport truck at that time. Needless to say, it is impossible that this Buk TELAR could travel from the base to the field in 24 minutes. Even if the Buk TELAR was immediately loaded onto a truck after the satellite image was taken at 11:08am, and then traveled at a normal speed through the Russian/separatist-strongholds of Donetsk, Makiivka, and/or Yasynuvata and was not stopped in any of the numerous Russian/separatist checkpoints along the way, it would have taken over 90 minutes to reach Zaroshchenske.

Fundamental issues with Zaroshchenske: territorial control

If we make a concession to fantasy and say that it is possible that this Ukrainian Buk TELAR, or other ones deployed at another base, was able to reach the Zaroshchenske field in time for the 11:32am satellite image, we must consider the reality of the situation of territorial control on July 17, 2014. Despite continued Russian statements that the village of Zaroshchenske was controlled by the Ukrainian government in mid-July 2014, there is no credible evidence corroborating this claim, while there is extensive documentation of Russian/separatist control in both this area and a village even further south of the field in question. Furthermore, the December 2017 Vesti report claimed that the military position just south of the Zaroshchenske field, near the village of Shaposhnykove, was controlled by the Ukrainian Armed Forces in mid-July 2014. There is a wealth of evidence directly refuting this allegation.

Bellingcat has written two extensive reports on the situation around Zaroshchenske in mid-July 2014: Zaroshchens’ke Launch Site: Claims and Reality and Zaroshchens’ke Revisited: Almaz-Antey’s New Launch Areas. Nearly every point raised in Russia’s claims surrounding Zaroshchenske can be refuted by the open source evidence detailed in these two reports. When looking at Zaroshchenske in particular, there was no fighting reported in mid-July 2014 in the village, and there were a number of known Russian/separatist checkpoints and fortifications nearby, including Shakhtarsk to the north and Velyka Shyshivka to the east and southeast.

This military position south of the Zaroshchenske field was built facing the south, towards Ukrainian-held territory, and not the north, towards Russian/separatist-held territory. In the days leading up to the downing, there were no reports in Ukrainian, Russian, or separatist media outlets of any fighting in this immediate area. In fact, locals told Dutch journalist Rudy Bouma that there were no Ukrainian forces within 4-6km of Zaroshchenske in mid-July 2014 and there was no missile launch in the area. However, Ukrainian forces did eventually launch an offensive near this area: after the downing of MH17. The BBC visited Shaposhnykove on July 24, 2014, a week after the MH17 downing, following reports of a civilian death as a result of Ukrainian shelling of the village the previous night.

In this report, it is clear that the village is controlled by Russian/separatist forces, with soldiers even patrolling the area. A conversation between the BBC correspondent and two Russian/separatist fighters takes place a bit over a half-kilometer southeast of the military position highlighted by Vesti.

If the military position just outside of Shaposhnykove was actually constructed and manned by Ukrainian forces, as the Vesti report from December 2017 alleges, then we would expect to find some evidence of fighting or a retreat before July 23, when Ukrainian artillery shelled Russian/separatist-controlled Shaposhnykove.

Lastly, the Dutch-led criminal investigation into MH17 published a phone conversation between two Russian/separatist fighters where they discuss the Zaroshchenske theory, prompted by a press conference held by Almaz-Antey. The two men agree that the area was controlled by Russian/separatist forces at the time, and there was no missile launch in the region.

Fundamental issues with Zaroshchenske: location of deployment

Another fundamental issue with the Russian MH17 narrative is the likelihood that the Ukrainian Armed Forces would deploy two Buk TELARs, highly vulnerable and valuable pieces of military equipment, to an area that the Kremlin would say was under, in even the most generous interpretation, soft Ukrainian control. Multiple fortified Russian/separatist fortifications and checkpoints were located a few kilometers east in Velyka Shyshivka and north in Shakhtarsk, leaving the two Buk TELARs allegedly in the Zaroshchenske field highly vulnerable, as the Russian MoD’s satellite image showed only a single military vehicle, likely a BTR (armored personnel carrier), nearby.

Fundamental issues with the Zaroshchenske claim: Sergei’s witness account

Sergei’s claim of a Ukrainian military deployment 6km south of Zaroshchenske came a year after the initial development of the Kremlin MH17 narrative, but it is still worthwhile to analyze. The most important detail in the July 2015 Vesti report about the witness account is that it took place in the same location as the Russian MoD satellite image, which is demonstrably false through simple geolocation, showing that Sergei was actually near a poultry farm 6km south of the Zaroshchenske field.

Another detail from Sergei’s witness account is that he saw “radar” vehicles with domes in this area, which the Vesti report then claims are the same as the two Buk TELARs visible in the Russian MoD satellite image. To stress the appearance of these “radar” vehicles, Sergei makes an arcing motion with his hands when speaking about the dome. Even though the Buk radar system is called “Dome” (“Купол“), it looks nothing like one. In fact, there is no Buk-M1 vehicle, radar or otherwise, that has a dome that would match Sergei’s description. The Vesti report shows what a Buk radar unit looks like: a rotating radar mast, which is not dome-shaped.

Additionally, in the Russian MoD satellite image itself, the two Buk units are noted to be TELARs (самоходные огневые установки ЗРК “Бук-М1”), not radar systems (cтанции обнаружения целей).

It is possible that Sergei saw Ukrainian military equipment near the poultry farm 6km south of Zaroshchenske on July 17, 2014, as Bellingcat’s previous research into this topic shows that this area was not under firm Ukrainian or Russian/separatist control in mid-July 2014. However, Sergei’s descriptions give no indications that there were any Buk systems present among this alleged military equipment; in fact, his own descriptions work against the Kremlin’s claim due to the “dome” on the alleged radar systems that were present.

Fundamental issues with the Zaroshchenske claim: Baturin’s witness account

Former Ukrainian officer Yuri Baturin claimed in an interview with Russian MoD television channel Zvezda TV that he witnessed the downing of MH17 while watching a radar screen in Kharkiv and spoke to a Ukrainian soldier who spoke about a Buk missile complex being deployed near Zaroshchenske. The claim that a Ukrainian Buk complex was in a field near Zaroshchenske on July 17, 2014 has been thoroughly debunked. However, when addressing Baturin’s claim, there is a simpler detail to tackle. In his interview, Baturin told TV Zvezda that immediately after the downing of MH17, he knew the truth of what happened, and decided “precisely at this moment” to leave the military and leave Ukraine for Russia.

As Meduza has noted, both Baturin and TV Zvezda failed to mention the fact that he continued to serve in the Ukrainian military until 2016, where he resigned “for family reasons,” in complete contradiction to the reasons he gave in the TV Zvezda interview.

Fundamental issues with the Zaroshchenske claim: lack of physical evidence

While all of this evidence refutes a range of specific details claiming a Zaroshchenske launch site, there is a far simpler reality that refutes the theory: a complete lack of any physical evidence or reliable witness accounts. There are no visible traces of a missile launch or deployment of military equipment in the field of Zaroshchenske in available satellite imagery between July 16 and 19, 2014. Additionally, numerous journalists have visited Zaroshchenske after the shoot down and spoke with local residents, and were unable to find a single person in the area who observed military activity in mid-July 2014, a missile launch, or movements of Ukrainian military equipment near the field. It was not until July 2015 that Russian-funded media outlets found a witness named “Sergei” who claimed to have seen Ukrainian military equipment in the vicinity, though still over six kilometers south of the alleged launch site.

The Shaky State of the Narrative

In over three years, the Kremlin has completely abandoned one of its two primary claims, the Ukrainian jet theory, and moved all-in towards the other, the Ukrainian Buk theory. However, with as many factual inconsistencies and gaps of logic that the Ukrainian jet theory had, the Zaroshchenske launch site may have even more. As of the publishing of this article, the five main pieces of evidence that buttress the Kremlin’s Ukrainian Buk theory are as follows, with a brief description of where the Kremlin has tripped up with their claim.

  • Technical reports from the state-funded defense manufacturer of the Buk missile. These reports were directly contradicted by the Dutch Safety Board’s forensic report.
  • A couple of satellite images showing the deployment of two Ukrainian Buk TELARs to a field south of Zaroshchenske. These images were heavily digitally altered.
  • Satellite imagery showing the development of a Ukrainian military fortification south of the Zaroshchenske field. This position was in territory controlled by Russian/separatist forces, near a village it had soldiers stationed.
  • A witness who described seeing radar and military units near Zaroshchenske on July 17, 2014. This alleged deployment was 6km south of Zaroshchenske, and the visual description given by Sergei of these radar systems does not match that of the Buk complex.
  • A former Ukrainian officer who says he quit the Ukrainian military as soon as he realized that they were lying about MH17. He actually quit in 2016 for “family reasons,” and only emerged to tell his story over three years after the MH17 downing. No details in his witness account are corroborated by non-Kremlin sources.

By Aric Toler, for Bellingcat

Just a few hours after the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), the circumstances that caused the tragedy came to light: a Buk-M1 Russian-made anti-aircraft missile system was fired by either Russian-led separatists or Russian forces from an area near Snizhne, Ukraine, leading to the death of 298 civilians aboard the passenger plane. Over three years since the downing, every credible investigation into the tragedy has confirmed this initial claim, with each photograph, video, and independent forensic investigation reinforcing the “Russian/separatist Buk” claim and adding new details that give us a greater understanding of how this incident happened. In short, the “narrative” from Western governments, the official Dutch criminal and forensic investigations, and the site you are reading now has been linear.

This same linear trajectory towards greater clarity and away from self-contradiction cannot be attributed to the Kremlin’s narrative, or narratives, related to MH17. On July 21, 2014, just four days after the downing, the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) held a press conference that made a series of self-contradictory claims blaming Ukraine, rather than Russia or Russian-led separatists, for the Boeing 777’s shoot down. Today, the Kremlin–via its Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Ministry of Defense, state-funded media outlets, and state-funded defense company “Almaz-Antey”–has silently abandoned, while never explicitly retracting, nearly every piece of evidence it presented four days after the downing.

A microcosm of the Kremlin’s shift on MH17 can be seen in the Ukrainian fighter jet conspiracy theory. In comment sections and YouTube videos you will often encounter talk of how a Ukrainian fighter jet, most common named as a Su-25 or a MiG-29, shot down MH17; however, the Kremlin has long abandoned the claim that this was the cause of the MH17 shoot down. Instead, throughout 2017, the Kremlin has thrown its entire weight behind the idea that a Ukrainian Buk system shot down MH17 from a position near Zaroshchenske.

Unless you have closely followed each twist and turn of the MH17 case, including each Kremlin’s state-funded media outlet’s report on the tragedy, it is quite difficult to keep the Kremlin’s narratives on MH17 straight. In 2014 and 2015, Russia’s main state-funded news program, Vesti, threw nearly its full weight behind the Su-25 theory, even airing an experiment with actual fighter jets showing how a Ukrainian fighter jet riddled MH17 with cannon fire. However, at the end of 2017, in complete contradiction to their previous segments, Vesti aired a new segment claiming–without any mention of a fighter jet–that a Ukrainian Buk was solely responsible for the tragedy.

This article will detail the development of the Kremlin’s narratives on MH17, which have become unrecognizable over the past three years. It would take a full-length book to provide a comprehensive treatment of all of Russia’s messaging related to the MH17 case, but here we will focus on the development of the Kremlin’s position on the cause of the downing, and the current state of the Kremlin’s MH17 narrative. We will also deconstruct this narrative point-by-point, detailing how it may be even more illogical than the Ukrainian fighter jet theory it initially supported. To survey the Kremlin’s public messaging on MH17, we studied the following sources, with the presumption that they represent the official viewpoints of the Russian government:

  • Statements and reports from government officials (such as Vladimir Putin), committees (such as the Russian Investigation Committee), and ministries (such as the MFA and MoD and their spokespersons).
  • Statements and reports from Russian embassies and their ambassadors.
  • Statements and reports from Almaz Antey, a state-owned defense manufacturer that developed the Buk missile.
  • Media outlets funded either entirely through government or proxy government funds. Some of these outlets include television channels, such as Russia-1 & Russia-24 (which airs Vesti). We also included online portals and wire services, such as TASS and Sputnik.

First, we will consider the positions initially taken by the Kremlin soon after the downing of MH17 for greater context of how the current narrative came into formation.

The Initial Kremlin Position: July 2014

On July 21, 2014, four days after the MH17 downing, the Russian MoD held a press conference that took a scattershot approach to establishing the Kremlin’s MH17 narrative(s). Instead of presenting a firm, singular theory of the incident that led to the downing of MH17, they presented a series of self-contradicting claims that placed blame on the Ukrainian government.

Bellingcat has extensively detailed the factual issues with the claims made in this press conference, found chronologically in the following articles:

The main claims by the Russian MoD in this press conference are listed below, along with a brief description of each claim’s most glaring factual inaccuracy:

  • The course of MH17 was deliberately changed to shift it over a war zone in Ukraine [the map showing the MH17 flight path shown during the press conference was fabricated and not used in future Russian MoD press conferences, and there was no significant flight path diversion]

  • A video showing the Russian Buk that has since been confirmed as the weapon that downed MH17 shows the missile launcher moving not through Russian/separatist stronghold Luhansk, but instead Ukrainian-controlled Krasnoarmeysk [the video has been conclusively geolocated to Luhansk, not Krasnoarmeysk, and the text supposedly visible on a billboard showing an address in Krasnoarmeysk was fabricated]

  • A Ukrainian aircraft was detected near MH17 during the crash, as supported by Russian radar data [in 2016, the Russian MoD held another press conference in this same room on newly “discovered” radar data: this “Ukrainian aircraft” was no longer present]

  • A Ukrainian Buk TELAR was removed from its base near Spartak, Ukraine shortly before the downing of MH17, and was then relocated to a field south of Zaroshchenske, where it, along with a second Buk TELAR and another military vehicle, was deployed on July 17, 2014 [the satellite images published by the MoD have been thoroughly debunked: firstly, after Bellingcat purchased a satellite image taken at almost the exact same time provided by the Russian MoD, showing inconsistencies with their image; secondly, after Dr. Jeffrey Lewis and his team at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey used a sophisticated digital analysis tool to show conclusively that the Russian satellite images were significantly digitally altered]

All of these claims have been debunked by multiple sources, sometimes even from the evidence provided by the Russian government itself. Additionally, each of these claims have been abandoned by the Kremlin–except the final one, claiming that a Ukrainian Buk was deployed near Zaroshchenske, where it fired the missile to down MH17.

The statements made by Russian ambassadors and officials in the week following the tragedy match the July 21st press conference: no single narrative, but rather a wide-ranging list of “concerns,” grievances of Russia being accused by Western media and politicians, and accusations of Kyiv’s responsibility.

For example, in a July 21st interview with the Russian Ambassador to Malaysia, Lyudmila Vorobyeva, the diplomat gave credence to a number of claims: pointing out that a Ukrainian crew may have been targeting Russian President Putin’s plane, that a Ukrainian “air defense system” fired on the plane, and that Russian-led separatists had no access to any surface-to-air missile systems that could have downed MH17. Ambassador Vorobyeva also repeated the MoD’s false claim of a Ukrainian fighter jet near MH17.

The day after the downing. Russia’s UK Ambassador Alexander Yakovenko aired his grievances with Russia being “groundlessly” targeted for blame:

“Since the day of the disaster we have been witnessing a powerful information attack on our country in international media and fora (including the UNSC). It has been groundlessly claimed that Russia or ‘separatists controlled by Russia’ were responsible for the downing of Flight MH-17. Such irresponsible and unproven statements are being issued up to this moment. Their aim is to negatively influence the media background surrounding the investigation. We consider such statements and unfounded accusations as an attempt to dissimulate the true facts concerning the catastrophe and to cover up the identities of the true perpetrators of the crime.”

Ambassador Yakovenko dismissed the evidence against Russia and the separatist it leads by waving away the extensive amount of digital evidence showing a Russian Buk TELAR moving through Russian/separatist-held territory on the day of, and morning after, the shoot down:

“The case, as is admitted, is built upon photos and messages from social media sites, placed by Ukrainian authorities and since then proved to be forgeries, as ambassador Churkin demonstrated at the UN security council meeting. Naturally, our American partners say that they have no way of certifying the authenticity of those materials.”

On July 19, two days after the downing, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov repeated a fabricated claim that originated on Twitter of how a Spanish air traffic controller named Carlos saw two Ukrainian fighter jets near MH17. Despite the Kremlin’s supposed distrust of online materials related to MH17, one of their leading defense officials made an official statement on Russia-24 on this imaginary “Carlos,” who has since been thoroughly debunked as a Twitter hoax. Even Russian President Putin has repeated the “Carlos” claim in an interview with Oliver Stone in 2017.

Though the vast majority of official statements on MH17 in the week following the tragedy laid blame on Kyiv, we can see some alternate approaches that may have been considered by top Kremlin diplomats and officials, but abandoned. For example, when asked less than a week after the shootdown about the intercepted conversations between Russian-led fighters, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, though perhaps spontaneously in response to a press question, laid the groundwork for a Russian position that was never taken: conceding that Ukraine was not responsible for the tragedy, but shielding the Russians/separatists who fired the missile from the most significant consequences in international court.

“According to them, the people from the east were saying that they shot down a military jet … If they think they shot down a military jet, it was confusion. If it was confusion, it was not an act of terrorism.”

Mixed Messages: 2014-2016

Over the next few years, the Kremlin would vacillate between the Ukrainian fighter jet and the Ukrainian Buk theories.

The Russian news program Vesti filmed an “experiment” in October 2014 as part of a longer documentary to show that MH17 was actually downed by Su-25 cannon fire, not a Buk missile. Footage from this “experiment” was also published in an RT documentary on MH17.

In June 2015, the Russian Investigative Committee released information about a “witness” who described how a Ukrainian pilot (Captain Vladislav Voloshin) was responsible for the downing of MH17.

Simultaneous with their claims of a Ukrainian fighter jet using cannon fire and/or an air-to-air missile to down MH17, the same Russian state-funded news programs were promoting a contradicting theory of a Ukrainian Buk missile being used to down the passenger jet. On July 19, 2015, Vesti aired an 11-minute segment that included a witness report from a Ukrainian man named Sergei. This man, who lives in a village in the Donetsk Oblast, claims to have seen Ukrainian military vehicles at a position south of Zaroshchenske (this claim is examined in more detail in the following section of this article).

This segment also places the heavily digitally altered satellite images presented during the July 21, 2014 press conference into context with Sergei’s account, including mentioning footage from a Ukrainian Military TV July 16, 2014 segment showing Ukrainian Buk systems. However, what is not mentioned in this report is that this footage was filmed before July 16, and was actually in the Kharkiv Oblast at a rear ATO base camp, not on the front lines of the war or anywhere near the MH17 crash site.

Nine minutes into this report that provided the Kremlin’s account of how a Ukrainian Buk downed MH17, the report takes a dramatic shift in describing how Ukrainian pilot Captain Vladislav Voloshin downed MH17 with an Su-25 fighter jet. Immediately after this information, the report cites a LiveJournal blogger who claims that Ukraine used an Israeli air-to-air missile to down MH17. The contradictions between the varying accounts in this brief segment are not resolved. In sum, the nature of the Kremlin’s public messaging strategy on the downing of MH17 can be encapsulated in two tweets written on the same day by the Russian Embassy in the United Kingdom:

The Current Kremlin Position

The Kremlin has shifted entirely away from the Ukrainian fighter jet theory, without any explicit redaction and after years of special media reports, fabricated radar evidence, witness reports, and official statements to the contrary. Throughout 2017 and going into 2018, the Kremlin narrative around MH17 is now focused on one theory: a Ukrainian Buk missile system downed MH17. Along with the promotion of this narrative, Russia intensified its attempts to discredit the Dutch-led criminal investigation into the downing, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT).

The Ukrainian Buk Theory

In review of all of Vesti’s segments on MH17 in 2017, there was no notable published content, such as witnesses who have come forward or alleged evidence uncovered, pointing to the Ukrainian fighter jet theory. However, there was a large number of reports asserting how Ukraine deployed a Ukrainian Buk missile system to a field south of Zaroshchenske. Before diving into the new developments in this claim, we should review the fundamental elements of the Ukrainian Buk theory.

According to the July 21, 2014 Russian MoD press conference, a Ukrainian Buk TELAR that was previously deployed at an air defense base in Spartak (just north of Donetsk) was not present at 11:32am on July 17, 2014.

Instead, the MoD implied that this Buk TELAR was, allegedly, 53.5km away (as the bird flies) in a field south of Zaroshchenske. These two satellite images were allegedly taken at the same time.

December 2017 Vesti report highlights a military position just outside of Shaposhnykove, and a few kilometers south of the alleged launch site near Zaroshchenske. As the report details, this position was developed in the week prior to the downing of MH17, though allegedly created by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and not Russian/separatist forces.

This position is located near the alleged Zaroshchenske launch site, as seen in the map below (click for full size):

Russia also bolsters its theory with a witness account from a Ukrainian named Sergei, who gave a 2015 interview to Vesti in a field where he claims to have seen Ukrainian military equipment on the day of the MH17 downing while on his way to work on a nearby farm.

In the interview with Vesti, Sergei claims that on July 17 he was not allowed to pass through the area due to a heavy Ukrainian military presence. He says that he saw 20-30 Ukrainian soldiers, “radars,” and military vehicles. He explained that some of this equipment was covered up, but he was able to identify some of them, such as a BTR (armored personnel carrier) and a rotating radar with a “dome.” The July 2015 Vesti report went on to say that the BTR that Sergei claims to have seen was the same one as in the July 21 MoD satellite image, and that the “radar” units were the same as the two Buk TELARs also visible in the same image.

The Vesti report states that this area was represented in the Russian MoD satellite image from the July 21st press conference; however, in 2015, users at the MH17 Webtalk message board geolocated this footage to an area approximately 6km south of Zaroshchenske. No military equipment is visible in this area in any publicly available, free satellite imagery for mid-July 2014.

Below, a composite of the three locations that the Kremlin narrative has focused on are seen below: the field near where the Russian MoD claimed Ukrainian Buks were deployed on July 17, an alleged Ukrainian military fortification near Shaposhnykove, and the large deployment of military vehicles, including alleged radars, that were witnessed by Sergei on July 17.

Lastly, a recent element added to Russia’s Ukrainian Buk claim is a new Ukrainian witness named Yuri Baturin who claims to have observed the shoot down of MH17 on radar and spoken with Ukrainian Buk crew members who were allegedly deployed to near Zaroshchenske. This “discovery” of a witness is quite similar to the 2015 discovery of a witness who spoke about Ukrainian pilot Captain Vladislav Voloshin, as both witnesses served in the Ukrainian Armed Forces and later fled to Russia. This interview was originally taken by the Russian Ministry of Defense’s television channel TV Zvezda in October 2017, but then republished in December, where it was amplified across other state-funded outlets.

Radar Data and Almaz-Antey Reports

The two pieces of evidence related to the Ukrainian Buk theory that Russia most often highlights are the reports of state defense manufacturer Almaz-Antey (producer of Buk missiles) and radar data that was “discovered” in 2016. The Almaz-Antey reports, which claim that the missile that downed MH17 was launched from the area near Zaroshchenske, are presented by the Kremlin as an alternate source of information to the official forensic investigation into the plane’s downing conducted by the Dutch Safety Board (DSB). The proposed launch sites by Almaz-Antey and the Dutch investigations (determined by the NLR and Kyiv Research Institute) can be seen below:

It should be noted that according to the most recent Almaz-Antey report, the field south of Zaroshchenske highlighted by Russian MoD satellite imagery is not within the area of potential launch sites.

The 2016 radar data, which contradicts the 2014 “radar data” presented by the Russian MoD, is widely considered inconclusive by the international community and the Dutch-led investigation into MH17.

In early 2017, the primary focus of the Russian messaging on MH17 was focused on the Russian radar data presented to the Dutch investigation. This radar data was first presented in September 2016 after it was “discovered” accidentally during “scheduled maintenance.” This data was presented in the same room and in the same fashion as the July 21, 2014 MoD press conference, yet it dismissed evidence presented two years prior of a Ukrainian fighter jet in the area. This contradiction was not acknowledged in the Kremlin messaging around MH17, with the focus instead shifting to how this radar data did not show a Buk missile launch from the field south of Snizhne where Buk 332 was present at the time.

The Dutch government explained that this radar data would not necessarily show a Buk missile due to its trajectory and size; however, the Russian aviation regular Rosaviatsia disputes this claim: “It is inappropriate to say that a radar station could miss the missile,” its head said in June 2017. After Russia’s “discovered” radar data did not significantly alter the trajectory of the Dutch investigation into the MH17 downing, the Kremlin and its media outlets took this as evidence that the JIT only considers evidence that fits a supposed preconceived notion of Russia’s guilt.

In a response to an interview held by Fred Westerbeke, the head of the Dutch criminal investigation into MH17, Russian MFA spokesperson Maria Zakharova aired Russia’s grievances of how its “evidence” is not valued by the international community:

“Mr Westerbeke’s interview has shown that contributions from Ukraine and the United States, as well as information  from online sources are considered to be highly valuable, whereas any assistance provided by Russia has been deliberately downplayed, including the secret data we declassified for this purpose, information about an unprecedented experiment held by the Almaz-Antey Concern, and the original data from our radar, all of which is objective and accurate information that could really help the investigation.”

Fundamental issues with Zaroshchenske: the route

Even if one discounts the conclusive evidence showing that the Russian MoD’s satellite images concerning Zaroshchenske were heavily digitally altered, it is impossible that the Buk TELAR at the base near Spartak was able to travel to this field by 11:32am. Additionally, this Buk was heavily damaged, as seen below.

A satellite image taken by Digital Globe at 11:08am on the same day shows that the Buk TELAR was present on the base, with no evidence that it was being loaded onto a transport truck at that time. Needless to say, it is impossible that this Buk TELAR could travel from the base to the field in 24 minutes. Even if the Buk TELAR was immediately loaded onto a truck after the satellite image was taken at 11:08am, and then traveled at a normal speed through the Russian/separatist-strongholds of Donetsk, Makiivka, and/or Yasynuvata and was not stopped in any of the numerous Russian/separatist checkpoints along the way, it would have taken over 90 minutes to reach Zaroshchenske.

Fundamental issues with Zaroshchenske: territorial control

If we make a concession to fantasy and say that it is possible that this Ukrainian Buk TELAR, or other ones deployed at another base, was able to reach the Zaroshchenske field in time for the 11:32am satellite image, we must consider the reality of the situation of territorial control on July 17, 2014. Despite continued Russian statements that the village of Zaroshchenske was controlled by the Ukrainian government in mid-July 2014, there is no credible evidence corroborating this claim, while there is extensive documentation of Russian/separatist control in both this area and a village even further south of the field in question. Furthermore, the December 2017 Vesti report claimed that the military position just south of the Zaroshchenske field, near the village of Shaposhnykove, was controlled by the Ukrainian Armed Forces in mid-July 2014. There is a wealth of evidence directly refuting this allegation.

Bellingcat has written two extensive reports on the situation around Zaroshchenske in mid-July 2014: Zaroshchens’ke Launch Site: Claims and Reality and Zaroshchens’ke Revisited: Almaz-Antey’s New Launch Areas. Nearly every point raised in Russia’s claims surrounding Zaroshchenske can be refuted by the open source evidence detailed in these two reports. When looking at Zaroshchenske in particular, there was no fighting reported in mid-July 2014 in the village, and there were a number of known Russian/separatist checkpoints and fortifications nearby, including Shakhtarsk to the north and Velyka Shyshivka to the east and southeast.

This military position south of the Zaroshchenske field was built facing the south, towards Ukrainian-held territory, and not the north, towards Russian/separatist-held territory. In the days leading up to the downing, there were no reports in Ukrainian, Russian, or separatist media outlets of any fighting in this immediate area. In fact, locals told Dutch journalist Rudy Bouma that there were no Ukrainian forces within 4-6km of Zaroshchenske in mid-July 2014 and there was no missile launch in the area. However, Ukrainian forces did eventually launch an offensive near this area: after the downing of MH17. The BBC visited Shaposhnykove on July 24, 2014, a week after the MH17 downing, following reports of a civilian death as a result of Ukrainian shelling of the village the previous night.

In this report, it is clear that the village is controlled by Russian/separatist forces, with soldiers even patrolling the area. A conversation between the BBC correspondent and two Russian/separatist fighters takes place a bit over a half-kilometer southeast of the military position highlighted by Vesti.

If the military position just outside of Shaposhnykove was actually constructed and manned by Ukrainian forces, as the Vesti report from December 2017 alleges, then we would expect to find some evidence of fighting or a retreat before July 23, when Ukrainian artillery shelled Russian/separatist-controlled Shaposhnykove.

Lastly, the Dutch-led criminal investigation into MH17 published a phone conversation between two Russian/separatist fighters where they discuss the Zaroshchenske theory, prompted by a press conference held by Almaz-Antey. The two men agree that the area was controlled by Russian/separatist forces at the time, and there was no missile launch in the region.

Fundamental issues with Zaroshchenske: location of deployment

Another fundamental issue with the Russian MH17 narrative is the likelihood that the Ukrainian Armed Forces would deploy two Buk TELARs, highly vulnerable and valuable pieces of military equipment, to an area that the Kremlin would say was under, in even the most generous interpretation, soft Ukrainian control. Multiple fortified Russian/separatist fortifications and checkpoints were located a few kilometers east in Velyka Shyshivka and north in Shakhtarsk, leaving the two Buk TELARs allegedly in the Zaroshchenske field highly vulnerable, as the Russian MoD’s satellite image showed only a single military vehicle, likely a BTR (armored personnel carrier), nearby.

Fundamental issues with the Zaroshchenske claim: Sergei’s witness account

Sergei’s claim of a Ukrainian military deployment 6km south of Zaroshchenske came a year after the initial development of the Kremlin MH17 narrative, but it is still worthwhile to analyze. The most important detail in the July 2015 Vesti report about the witness account is that it took place in the same location as the Russian MoD satellite image, which is demonstrably false through simple geolocation, showing that Sergei was actually near a poultry farm 6km south of the Zaroshchenske field.

Another detail from Sergei’s witness account is that he saw “radar” vehicles with domes in this area, which the Vesti report then claims are the same as the two Buk TELARs visible in the Russian MoD satellite image. To stress the appearance of these “radar” vehicles, Sergei makes an arcing motion with his hands when speaking about the dome. Even though the Buk radar system is called “Dome” (“Купол“), it looks nothing like one. In fact, there is no Buk-M1 vehicle, radar or otherwise, that has a dome that would match Sergei’s description. The Vesti report shows what a Buk radar unit looks like: a rotating radar mast, which is not dome-shaped.

Additionally, in the Russian MoD satellite image itself, the two Buk units are noted to be TELARs (самоходные огневые установки ЗРК “Бук-М1”), not radar systems (cтанции обнаружения целей).

It is possible that Sergei saw Ukrainian military equipment near the poultry farm 6km south of Zaroshchenske on July 17, 2014, as Bellingcat’s previous research into this topic shows that this area was not under firm Ukrainian or Russian/separatist control in mid-July 2014. However, Sergei’s descriptions give no indications that there were any Buk systems present among this alleged military equipment; in fact, his own descriptions work against the Kremlin’s claim due to the “dome” on the alleged radar systems that were present.

Fundamental issues with the Zaroshchenske claim: Baturin’s witness account

Former Ukrainian officer Yuri Baturin claimed in an interview with Russian MoD television channel Zvezda TV that he witnessed the downing of MH17 while watching a radar screen in Kharkiv and spoke to a Ukrainian soldier who spoke about a Buk missile complex being deployed near Zaroshchenske. The claim that a Ukrainian Buk complex was in a field near Zaroshchenske on July 17, 2014 has been thoroughly debunked. However, when addressing Baturin’s claim, there is a simpler detail to tackle. In his interview, Baturin told TV Zvezda that immediately after the downing of MH17, he knew the truth of what happened, and decided “precisely at this moment” to leave the military and leave Ukraine for Russia.

As Meduza has noted, both Baturin and TV Zvezda failed to mention the fact that he continued to serve in the Ukrainian military until 2016, where he resigned “for family reasons,” in complete contradiction to the reasons he gave in the TV Zvezda interview.

Fundamental issues with the Zaroshchenske claim: lack of physical evidence

While all of this evidence refutes a range of specific details claiming a Zaroshchenske launch site, there is a far simpler reality that refutes the theory: a complete lack of any physical evidence or reliable witness accounts. There are no visible traces of a missile launch or deployment of military equipment in the field of Zaroshchenske in available satellite imagery between July 16 and 19, 2014. Additionally, numerous journalists have visited Zaroshchenske after the shoot down and spoke with local residents, and were unable to find a single person in the area who observed military activity in mid-July 2014, a missile launch, or movements of Ukrainian military equipment near the field. It was not until July 2015 that Russian-funded media outlets found a witness named “Sergei” who claimed to have seen Ukrainian military equipment in the vicinity, though still over six kilometers south of the alleged launch site.

The Shaky State of the Narrative

In over three years, the Kremlin has completely abandoned one of its two primary claims, the Ukrainian jet theory, and moved all-in towards the other, the Ukrainian Buk theory. However, with as many factual inconsistencies and gaps of logic that the Ukrainian jet theory had, the Zaroshchenske launch site may have even more. As of the publishing of this article, the five main pieces of evidence that buttress the Kremlin’s Ukrainian Buk theory are as follows, with a brief description of where the Kremlin has tripped up with their claim.

  • Technical reports from the state-funded defense manufacturer of the Buk missile. These reports were directly contradicted by the Dutch Safety Board’s forensic report.
  • A couple of satellite images showing the deployment of two Ukrainian Buk TELARs to a field south of Zaroshchenske. These images were heavily digitally altered.
  • Satellite imagery showing the development of a Ukrainian military fortification south of the Zaroshchenske field. This position was in territory controlled by Russian/separatist forces, near a village it had soldiers stationed.
  • A witness who described seeing radar and military units near Zaroshchenske on July 17, 2014. This alleged deployment was 6km south of Zaroshchenske, and the visual description given by Sergei of these radar systems does not match that of the Buk complex.
  • A former Ukrainian officer who says he quit the Ukrainian military as soon as he realized that they were lying about MH17. He actually quit in 2016 for “family reasons,” and only emerged to tell his story over three years after the MH17 downing. No details in his witness account are corroborated by non-Kremlin sources.

By Aric Toler, for Bellingcat

Categories: World News