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Nine ways to confuse us about MH17

September 30, 2016

The media coverage on pro-Kremlin media claimed that the Dutch investigators do not link Russia to the downing of MH17

This Wednesday, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which was set up by the Netherlands, Belgium, Ukraine, Australia, and Malaysia to look into the causes of the downing of flight MH17 in July 2014, published the conclusions of their investigation.

According to the JIT, the BUK missile that shot down the plane came from Russia to the territory controlled by Russia-backed “separatists” in the East of Ukraine, and after downing the Boeing, the BUK system returned to Russia.

The press conference confirmed previous reports by investigative journalists, above all by the group Bellingcat, who recently published a report summarizing their two-year long investigation based on open source evidence.

Polluting the information space
Pro-Kremlin media all over the world have deployed a well-known disinformation tactic in the case of MH17: pushing as many different versions of the story as possible to pollute the information space and make the objective facts seem unrecognizable and subject to different “points of view” (similar tactics were used after the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, or during a recent attack on a humanitarian convoy in Syria).

Given the number of contradicting stories, we cannot be sure we presented you a complete overview of all versions advanced by pro-Kremlin media. For more conspiracy theories proposed by pro-Kremlin media, see this blog post.

Let’s not forget that the disinformation around MH17 definitely achieved its goal in Russia. In a Levada poll following the tragedy, 82% of Russians said that the Ukrainian army is in some way responsible for the crash. Those investigating the facts about the downing, in particular Bellingcat, have been vilified by disinformation from pro-Kremlin outlets, as Ben Nimmo notes.

Anecdotal evidence from the JIT press conference on Wednesday throws light on the working conditions of pro-Kremlin media. Journalist Pavel Kanygin from the independent outlet Novaya Gazeta relates on Facebook: A reporter from pro-Kremlin TV Pervy Kanal asked a question in the JIT presser and then sighed towards his colleague: “So what shall we do? If only they would call me and tell how to deal with all this, what ideology to choose.”

Nine ways to confuse us about MH17
Here is a brief overview of different theories advanced by pro-Kremlin media and the Russian Defence Ministry on the downing of MH17.

Should you be tempted to think that this reflects media diversity and freedom, please be reminded that Russia ranks #148 out of 180 nations on the World Press Freedom Index 2016 compiled by Reporters without Borders and that Russian authorities perceive media as a part of the armed forces:


  • 17.07.2014. TV channel Lifenews TV reports that pro-Kremlin separatists shot down a Ukrainian Air Force plane An-26, showing video from the scene of the disaster (this video was later deleted).
  • 17.07.2014. Igor Strelkov-Girkin, leader of the “separatists”, published a similar post on VKontakte (this post was also later deleted). He comments: “We have warned them not to fly in our sky.”
  • 17.07.2014. TV channel Rossiya and their site reports that Ukrainian fighter jets were operating in the area around the crash. This is “confirmed” by a Spanish air controller working for Ukraine named Carlos – his testimony is later revealed as fake.
  • 17.07.2014. Lifenews: Ukraine was actually hoping to shoot down Vladimir Putin’s plane.
  • 18.07.2014. Lifenews: For unknown reasons, Ukrainians ordered the plane to get lower just before the catastrophe.
  • 18.07.2014. Russkaya Vesna: “Rebel” leader Strelkov-Girkin says that local eyewitnesses confirmed to him that some of the dead bodies look “unfresh”, i.e. that the plane might have been full of corpses already when it took off in Amsterdam.
  • 19.07.2014. The crash of MH17 was just a show, in fact it was the Boeing from the flight MH370 (that had been lost in March 2014 in Asia) that crashed over the Donbas and this is why there are no relatives of the supposedly dead passengers.
  • 21.07.2014. The Russian Ministry of Defence presents radar imagery to show there was a Ukrainian jet close to MH17, plus that Ukraine moved BUK missiles closer to the “rebel” territory.
  • 26.09.2016. The Russian Ministry of Defence presents new radar imagery, which is incompatible with the one released in July 2014, as Bellingcat demonstrates. It no longer talks about a plane near the MH17 plane nor about a significant change of course just before the downing of the plane.