Spinning the MH17 Tragedy, Moscow's Victory Isn't What You Think

Is the Kremlin intentionally promoting false conspiracy theories about BUK missiles? Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

Is the Kremlin intentionally promoting false conspiracy theories about BUK missiles? Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

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.


  • HRI Mark

    What is the “evidence that the weapons moved through the rebel-controlled city of Krasnodon, before arriving in Russia.” Was this not Arsen Avakov’s original claim, which is now unsubstantiated.

    • It isn’t unsubstantiated, it did move through Lugansk on its way to Krasnodon, and there is also Khodakovsky’s report that the Buk returned to Russia.

      • HRI Mark

        That is pure supposition. You don’t have any evidence it was “on its way to Krasnodon.” Khodakovsky claimed the BUK may have come from Luhansk and gone back there. He leads the Vostok Battalion (in the area) so clearly isn’t a very reliable source anyway.

        • It isn’t pure supposition. The Ukrainian Defense Minister Avakov from
          the very first post about this Buk video on his Facebook said that it “went
          through Krasnodon”. That may not be a source for you as a pro-Moscow
          “human rights activist,” but it certainly is authentic because that is
          indeed the route that the separatists have taken bringing *in* convoys
          of Russian-gifted military vehicles and weapons — this is all clearly
          visible on videos uploaded to YouTube by citizens in the area — and it
          is completely plausible to say it is the route that they use taking
          *out* such gifts — look at the map.

          Vostok Battalion isn’t the
          same as Lugansk People’s Republic, it’s separate. And funny that a
          pro-Russian separatist isn’t a source for you, either. He clearly told
          Reuters on this, on tape, and the tape was published. To be sure, it’s
          hear-say, but it’s important hear-say that matches other information.
          Taken all together, the evidence is pretty overwhelming that the Buk
          that *the separatists themselves told Vzglyad they had 14 July and 17
          July* was used to shoot down #MH17.

          In short, you have absolutely
          no evidence at all to claim falsely that Avakov’s claim is
          unsubstantiated, and your saying it is part of the disinformation

          (Catherine Fitzpatrick)

          • HRI Mark

            1. Avakov made the claim with the video clip. The video clip has been proved to be in Lugansk, not Krasnodon.
            2. Avakov and SBU have been proved to have provided misinformation on the MH17 in the past (eg over BUK 312). Given this, and that they are a party to the conflict, their statements indicate little more than what they want people to think.
            3. Khodakovsky is head of the Vostok Battalion, based near Donetsk which had vehicles in the area of Snizne. As an unbiased and objective investigator, I don’t set much store by his statements either. (even though he seems to think the BUK went back to Lugansk).
            3. When I said in the area, I meant in the area of Snizne not Lugansk.
            4. If you look at a map, if this BUK was going to Krasnodon from Snizne
            a) going via Lugansk doesn’t make sense
            b) even if going via Lugansk there is no need to leave the main road to Krasnodon and go into this part of Lugansk.
            5. Your claim that because weapons are brought in via Krasnodon, this BUK must have been going out via Krasnodon is just ridiculous.
            6. If this BUK travelled from Lugansk to Russia, there would be be some evidence in terms of satellite or video to prove it (particularly given the ubiquity of screen cams in the area) – but none has been produced.
            7. The USA, who do have access to satellite imagery, have not made any connection between this BUK and Russia.

            FInally, if you do find any actual evidence connecting this BUK to Russia, please let me know. As there is currently none, it seems more likely this particular BUK originally came from Donetsk and went to Lugansk.

  • garyoptica

    .Putin although successful in terrorising fed Russia away from a break up and democratic future as promised from his accentuation in the KGB that created admirable to the closet communists long held duma positions that oscillate the now “soviet hybrid state”, his many attempts at political, economic and public reform have been diabolic and if ever a leader was incompetent, retro-progressive or simply useless, Putin is that leader.

    Duma ideology may preach eternally that silencing the masses and brainwashing them with state propaganda will keep failing cohorts in power but the reality is that far less than Russians excepting a more poorer Stalingrad type nationalistic ethos, Russia will slow burn economically and oppressively into a situation where by much worse than the level of kickback in Kiev, a new great Berlin wall will manifest thought out the Russian citizens dysfunction and create a huge collapse in the confidence of the whole public mass.For Putin it is inescapable that their will be “tears before bedtime.”

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