Kremlin Has Mastered Propaganda, But Not Photoshop: Fake MH17 Photo Lights Up RuNet

Whoever is behind the 'satellite photo', their Photoshop skills leave much to be desired. Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

Whoever is behind the ‘satellite photo’, their Photoshop skills leave much to be desired. Images mixed by Tetyana Lokot.

A purportedly new satellite image presenting unbeatable ‘proof’ of Ukraine’s fault in the Malaysia Airlines MH17 plane crash has garnered ridicule on the RuNet.

Mikhail Leontyev, editor and host of “Odnako” (However) evening show on Kremlin-owned Channel One TV, dropped the bombshell: an American whistleblower had come forward with a ‘satellite’ image of a ‘Ukrainian fighter jet’ shooting down MH17. The host of Odnako went on to show a letter, allegedly from an MIT aviation expert with 20 years of experience, named George A. Bilt, who purportedly agreed with the Russian government that a Ukrainian fighter jet—not a Buk missile controlled by pro-Russian separatists—had shot down MH17. The photo was presented as proof. The image is not grainy, distorted, or in any way ambiguous—it’s crystal clear, in fact.

The image Russian state TV claims is proof that MH17 was shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet. Screenshot from

The image Russian state TV claims is proof that MH17 was shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet. Screenshot from

The photo shows MH17 a bit north of Donetsk being fired upon by a ‘fighter jet,’ presumably Ukraine’s, with a missile en route. A number of pro-Kremlin bloggers and Russian news outlets immediately shared this news as a smoking gun, claiming that what most in the West had dismissed as a conspiracy was now indisputable. However, as many on the RuNet immediately noticed, this image was just too good to be true.

Russian Twitter user Abu quickly noticed an inconsistency in the source of Mikhail Leontyev’s find, tracing the satellite photo to an older post on a web forum in October:

This photo is a month old.

Oh, and one last thing. The photo is of Donetsk, and the communication with the plane was lost near Snezhnoye. And the Malaysian airline logo is in the wrong place.

Popular blogger and Moscow municipal deputy Maxim Kats did a Google image search for “Boeing top view,” with the first result looking suspiciously familiar:

Interesting, did they also Google a Boeing image like this? Or a coincidence? The first picture in the search results for “Boeing top view”

As detailed on Ilya Varlamov’s popular LiveJournal, a laundry list of other inconsistencies surfaces, the more one examines the photograph, including how the cloud and crop formations of the satellite photo exactly match a patchwork of Yandex and Google Map satellite images from 2012.

As soon as it became clear that this satellite image was not the smoking gun it was billed as, the RuNet decided to have some fun with the photo, sharing outrageous conspiracy theories and critiquing the Photoshop skills of whoever was behind the image.

#version Fascist-minded aliens shot down the Boeing…

Our photographer captured a close-up of the moment when the Ukrainian fighter jet shot down the Malaysian Boeing.

YOU CANNOT HIDE THE TRUTH! In the picture, it is apparent that the wings of the fighter jet, which shot down the Boeing, are painted in the colors of Ukrainian embroidery!

It seems most likely that the sudden resurfacing of the MH17 conspiracy theories and ‘incontrovertible proof’ of Ukraine's fault might be Kremlin's reaction to a series of stories on the MH17 crash by crowdsourcing investigative website bellingcat, released earlier this month. Alternatively, it might be a ploy to draw the world's and Russians’ attention from other events in Russia, such as the worsening economic crisis. We may never know who decided it was a good idea to headline a state-run television channel’s news show with a fabricated photograph, but it is certainly far from the first time that the Russian government has taken liberties with photographs or, for that matter, with journalistic objectivity.


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