The day after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 fell from the sky, the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs released a video that it claims proves Moscow's complicity in the tragedy. The video supposedly shows a truck carrying a BUK missile launcher—with missing rockets—eastward into Russia in the early hours of July 18. Kyiv did not specify the exact location of this alleged transfer, but there are clues. There is evidence that the weapons moved through the rebel-controlled city of Krasnodon, before arriving in Russia. A counter-claim to Ukraine’s “smoking gun” quickly spread on the RuNet, claiming that the BUK missiles in the video were spotted in the Kiev-controlled city of Krasnoarmeisk, not in rebel territory. The accusations against Kyiv appeared in several different social networks almost simultaneously.
The Krasnoarmeisk claim has appeared in multiple forms, but the most common iteration includes a repost of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry’s video, retitled “Ukrainian Junta Moves the BUK (that Shot Down the Malaysian Boing 777) Away to Krasnoarmeisk,” and a short statement challenging Kyiv's interpretation of the evidence. The statement tries to identify landmarks in the video to build its case:
В украинских пабликах распространяется видео, где якобы ополченцы вывозят в сторону РФ стрелявший Бук. Но на видео город Красноармейск, виден бигборд с рекламой автосалона на Днепропетровской, 34. С 11 мая и до сих пор город под контролем войск хунты, проводящих АТО!
На Буке не хватает одной ракеты. На фото и видео с тягачом (тем же) есть магазин Стройдом. Адрес: Красноармейск, Горького 49. То есть стрелявший Бук находился на территории, подконтрольной хунте и до сих пор там. Какие вопросы? Все ясно как день – Боинг сбили украинские военные вот этим вот самым Буком, и теперь, чтобы просочившееся в сеть видео не стало компроматом они просто тупо валят все с больной головы на здоровую, типа это “ополченцы везут”. Остаются верны своей брехливой натуре (одесситы сами себя сожгли, луганчане сами взорвали кондиционер, ДНР само стреляет по городам и так далее). Ублюдки
There is a video spreading in Ukraine where the militiamen [separatists] are supposedly taking the recently-fired BUK [back] to the Russia. But this video is from the city of Krasnoarmeisk—a billboard is visible with an ad for the auto-salon on Dnepropetrovsky 34. From May 11 until now, the city has been under control of the junta’s forces leading the ATO [anti-terrorist operation]!
The BUK is missing one rocket. In photos and in the video with the missiles’ haul truck you can see the store “Stroidom.” The address is Krasnoarmeisk, Gorky 49. Therefore, the BUK is located on the territory under the control of the junta and is still there. Any questions? Everything is as clear as day—Ukrainian soldiers shot down the Boeing with this same BUK and now, so that the leaked video doesn’t become compromising evidence, they are just stupidly shifting all of the blame on others, saying things like, “The militia are now taking it away.” They're true to their nature—all bark and no bite—just as they blamed the Odessians for burning themselves to death, the people in Luhansk for blowing up that air conditioner, saying the Donetsk People's Republic shells its own cities, and so on. The bastards.
This anti-Kyiv conspiracy spread like wildfire online. It started on July 19, in the early morning hours in Moscow, where a pro-Russian group on Vkontakte, the country's most popular social network, published the two paragraphs found above. (This is perhaps the original source of the text.) Internet users reposted the Krasnoarmeisk story with amazing speed, sharing it with popular pages and communities like the pro-Russian group “ Hammer of Truth” on VK and the “Truth About the Events in Ukraine” on Facebook. Over the next few days, the Krasnoarmeisk story reappeared many times in comments and new posts on social networks, blogs, and news sites.
On July 21, the Krasnoarmeisk story went from a mass-forwarded Internet meme to a state-supported accusation after a member of the Russian Army General Staff claimed to have evidence that the billboard in Kyiv's incriminating video shows an address for a Bogdan auto-salon in Krasnoarmeisk.
For all this support, the Krasnoarmeisk conspiracy did not survive long. On July 22, Ukraine's Minister of Internal Affairs, Arsen Avakov, gave the exact coordinates of the video’s location: separatist-held Luhansk, about a 45-minute drive from Krasnodon. Locals quickly verified this claim by photographing the scene, which perfectly matches the landmarks seen in the video. The “Krasnoarmeisk truthers” promptly faded away, moving to the next conspiracy about Kyiv's responsibility for the downing of MH17.
The mystery is over, but questions still remain. Why did the Russian government latch onto the flimsy claim that the video was shot in Krasnoarmeisk, when the video showed trolley buses (which do not exist in Krasnoarmeisk)? Perhaps the Kremlin orchestrated the meme in the first place, seizing upon a location on Gorky Street in Krasnoarmeisk that looks vaguely similar to the street intersection in the video. Or maybe the Kremlin saw how quickly the Krasnoarmeisk story's popularity grew, and the authorities simply accepted that it must therefore be plausible.
Whether this was malice or incompetence, Moscow has succeeded in muddying, at least somewhat, the incriminating evidence in the MH17 case. By countering hard facts with conspiracy theories, the Russian authorities might hope to exasperate the public, leading people to distrust all sides.
In the information war over assigning blame for MH17, even a draw could be Russia's victory.