Pavel Kanygin is a Russian journalist who has been covering the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 for the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta since the catastrophe happened five years ago.

On 7 June 2019, Novaya Gazeta published Pavel Kanygin’s latest journalistic investigation into the MH 17 case. The article added fresh findings to already existing evidence pointing to the Kremlin’s responsibility.

12 days later, the newspaper told Russian readers about the Dutch-led Joint Investigative Team’s (JIT) prosecution of four named suspects, including three Russian nationals. This piece was also published under Pavel Kanygin’s byline.

Just two days after that, the Russian authorities decided to punish Pavel Kanygin using one of its most powerful weapons; namely a personal attack on prime-time state TV.

Procurement of field rations as proof

Pavel Kanygin’s article in Novaya Gazeta from 7 June asked, “What were Russian anti-aircraft gunners doing near the Ukrainian border on the day of the downing of the Malaysian Boeing?”

The journalistic investigation scrutinised publicly available documents: requests for traffic police support of military vehicles’ movements as well as procurement of field rations for Russian military personnel.

Publicly available documents, for example a request of field rations for Russian troops, were a part of Pavel Kanygin’s recent investigation of the circumstances around the downing of Malaysian Airlines’ flight MH17. Screenshot from Novaya Gazeta.

The findings rhymed with the JIT’s conclusions about Russian troops’ transfer of arms to the separatists in the conflict zone at the time of the downing of MH17 and Russia’s involvement in the death of the 298 innocent civilians, including 80 children, in the sky over eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014.

In April 2017, another journalistic investigation, also authored by Pavel Kanygin, revealed the identity of Sergey Dubinsky, a former Russian military intelligence officer involved in the transportation into Ukraine of the Russian missile launcher that downed the Malaysian airliner. Mr Dubinsky is now one of the suspects who have been prosecuted by the JIT.

Ad hominem attack

Two days after Dutch prosecutors had named these four suspects, on 21 June 2019, the Russian state TV channel Rossiya 1 opted for a counterattack. The method it chose was to try to ridicule and discredit Pavel Kanygin personally.

In a section of a current affairs discussion programme devoted to the MH17 case, Rossiya 1 host Vladimir Solovyov told the audience that they would now witness “the quality of the investigators,” as he put it.

The TV channel then showed a video recording of Pavel Kanygin. Commenting on the video and the way Mr Kanygin appeared in it, the Rossiya 1 host made the false claim that the independent journalist was under the influence of cocaine.

When Vladimir Solovyov does not attack independent journalists and spreads disinformation, he enjoys spending time in the house he owns at Lake Como in Italy. He can still travel freely to the EU on a Schengen visa. Screenshot from Rossiya 1.

In addition, the TV host connected his claims about Mr Kanygin to the recent case of another Russian independent journalist, Ivan Golunov, who was, also falsely, accused of drug trafficking as a punishment for his journalism.

The message from the state TV channel was clear: Independent Russian journalists and their investigations should not be trusted.

The editor’s defence

Novaya Gazeta’s reaction to the attack on its journalist took the form of an editorial piece signed by Sergey Sokolov, the deputy chief editor. The headline said: “A lie uttered once may be a mistake. A consciously repeated lie is slander.”

The article reminded readers that the very same drug-related accusations against Mr Kanygin on the basis of the same video had previously been rebuked. The editor also recalled the reason for Mr Kanygin’s behaviour in the video: a stutter combined with the fact that at that time, the journalist had recently undergone surgery of the maxillary sinuses.

Novaya Gazeta underscored that a similar attack on Mr Kanygin’s person already in January 2018 led to a ruling by the Russian Press Complaints Council, which described what the journalist had then faced as “a provocative attempt to undermine trust in the press,” and as carrying “signs of propaganda with elements of hate speech.”

Five years of lies about the MH17 flight on RT

Diverting attention from Russia's responsibility, accusations of “Russophobia,” conspiracy theories – we saw it all in the #disinformation campaign around the downing of #MH17. Here's our summary #FiveYearsofLies later.

Posted by EU vs Disinformation on Tuesday, 16 July 2019

RT – the Kremlin’s international propaganda flagship – has systematically been disseminating disinformation about the downing of Flight MH17. Click to watch five years of lies about the tragic killing from RT’s broadcasts.

The editorial article underlined that the Rossiya 1 TV channel could not have been unaware of the 2018 ruling, as it concerned a programme broadcast by Rossiya 24, which is a branch of the same state media organisation to which Rossiya 1 belongs, called VGTRK.

The state TV executioner: Vladimir Solovyov

In its defence of Mr Kanygin, Novaya Gazeta calls the Rossiya 1 TV host, Vladimir Solovyov, “a scavenger” – in other words, someone who benefits from the misfortune of others.

Mr Solovyov’s role can also be described as that of a state TV executioner: he and his colleagues act under orders from the Kremlin; his weapon is disinformation; and he uses it not just to punish an individual journalist, but to undermine trust as such in independent journalism.

This kind disinformation is not new – it inscribes itself in the series of previous attempts from the side of Russian government communicators and the state media to try to confuse audiences and distract them from the terrible truth about the July 2014 killing – a truth which the Kremlin is not able to speak.

Russian independent journalists play a key role in countering Kremlin’s disinformation. One of them is Roman Dobrokhotov, the chief editor of The Insider, whose joint investigations with Bellingcat have debunked the Kremlin’s misleading claims around the downing of MH17 and Russia’s attack with a chemical weapon in Salisbury.

But Mr Kanygin is not alone in this search for the truth: Russian journalists have played a key role in countering their own government’s disinformation campaigns, including the MH17 case; in spite of receiving threats and facing physical harm. Their fearless work on the ground in Russia to expose the Kremlin’s disinformation campaigns has been recognised with international awards and has helped the international community to better understand and respond to these challenges.

As the Russian corruption hunter Alexey Navalny’s team has documented, Vladimir Solovyov, the state TV executioner, enjoys spending time in the villa he owns at Lake Como in Italy. Unlike Dmitry Kiselyov, his propagandist colleague on the Rossiya 1 channel, Mr Solovyov can still freely travel to the EU on a Schengen visa.

Follow this link to the EUvsDisinfo data base and see more than 200 additional examples (as of July 2019) of disinformation appearing on Mr Solovyov’s TV programme. 

Further reading:

Russian Journalists Fight Back Against Disinformation

Russian Independent Journalists Awarded for Countering Disinformation

The Weekly Meetings

The Double White Lines of Russian Journalism

Tracing Five Years of Pro-Kremlin Disinformation about MH17

Defensive Disinformation as Decoy Flare: Skripal and Flight MH17

Top image: Pavel Kanygin, Yegor Gaidar Foundation on Facebook.