Within a few hours after the crash of flight MH17 the Ukrainian secret service issued a nicely edited video with ¨confessions¨ of anti-Kiev rebels to support the propulsion of the ¨meme¨ they shot down the plane by mistake (see: this blog here ).
The origin of this idea emanated from a deleted message issued on the website Strelkov_info, a pro-seperatist newssite dedicated to the fights in the Donbass region. Constructing a suggestive narrative based on a few false assumptions concerning the origin and content of this posting, the Ukrainians started a full blown Infowar blaming the rebels.
In June 2016 I also wrote a social media analysis against new accusations, issued by Catherine Fitzpatrick in The Interpreter. See here: Old story fails, but Strelkov did it anyway
From the moment Malaysian Airways flight MH17 crashed it seemed obvious who was responsable. Separatist fighters had downed the plane by mistake, thinking they targeted an Antonov 26 of the Ukrainian army.
This lead was initiated by rumours on social media about a message posted at the personal website of rebel leader Igor Girkin alias Strelkov, in which the commander himself was “bragging” about his succes. This message was, according to bloggers and most leading media, mysteriously deleted after the rebels learned a civilian plane had been taken out. When a video was issued by the Ukrainian secret service in which rebels should have confessed their mix up, the case was settled.
The idea the perpetrators and their motive – or lack thereof – already were known from the start but only had to be proven officially yet, was disseminated within hours after the disaster through social and mainstream media. The fatal-mistake theory became leading ¨meme¨ running in information networks into the heads of the mourning public.
Most astonishing was that no officials or high praised journalists checked the facts and looked for the origins of this meme. Immediately everyone, especially in the west, took it for granted Strelkov and his men were behind the crash. Even so it´s really not that hard to come up with a totally different story of what happened, and probably a more trustworthy account as well.
If someone should have read the socalled Strelkov Vkontakte site (Russian Facebook) himself, (s)he would have noticed that the initial posting sure enough was deleted, but was also replaced by an explanation and warning from the editors. So in fact there was no denial – as many media claimed – and it was neither published by a ¨fake¨ Strelkov website – as many pro-Russian mediaconsumers tried to explain.
In that warning – the replacement of the 17th followed up by an extra message at the 18th – the editors of the Strelkov site explained they posted day-to-day reports about the fighting. They collected news items from different sources, mainly social media, eyewitness accounts, blogs of militia people and official statements and press conferences.
Whenever the editors copied Strelkov´s press releases or statements, they attached a ¨special banner¨ to it with the phrase ¨Strelkov reports¨ (see image below). With that ¨signature¨ it would be clear the dispatch came straight from the chief.
It seems Strelkov_info was (and still is) a kind of PR/ propaganda site. It was followed by a lot of people, probably including large Russian news networks. However, this doesn´t imply all postings were checked in advance or directly written by high ranked militia commanders themselves.
The Strelkov banner.
It should be obvious the site should not be read as an official website from the commander in person, but as a site dedicated to him in his name. So when the dispatch appeared at the ¨Strelkov¨ site an Antonov 26 had been downed somewhere at the mine ¨Progress¨, it was written by an editor, who – as the explanation claims – assembled his message with alleged facts from local social media networks. Because the message didn´t show the special Strelkov banner, it was not an indirectly authorized/copied statement of the chief.
From ¨Strelkov¨ VK.com site: Replaced message at 17th, elaboration at 18th and translations
Initial message, see link:
Translation initial posting
“17.07.2014 17:50 (Moscow Time) Report from the militia.
‘In the area of Torez an AN-26 airplane has been shot down, it is scattered about somewhere by the Progress coal mine. We warned them – don’t fly ‘in our sky.’ Here is a video confirmation of the latest ‘bird drop.’ The bird fell beyond the slag heap, it did not damage the residential sector. Civilians were not hurt. There is also information about a second downed airplane, apparently an SU.’”
NB: The message posted before the crucial one, at 12:02h., had a Strelkov banner as you can see. So this was an official statement made by the chief, copied by the editors of the website. It says in the header: Сообщение от Сtрелкова Игоря Ивановича (posted by Strelkov Igor Ivanovich).
What probably happened
The initial posting (in fact an extended version of a posting 17 minutes after the crash) went online almost an hour after the shooting and contained two videos with heavy black smoke from the wreckage, allegedly made by Strelkov himself, but in fact taken from local witnesses who posted them on social media (See my 2nd blogpost on this topic). These videos had been taken from a distance not far away from the burning remains of the plane, so they had not been taken by eyewitnesses at the firing site (i.e. militia men, Strelkov himself).
The editors, like the people in the neighbourhood of the crashsite according to their social media postings, assumed too early and too eager with no clear and specific knowledgde of the facts an AN-26 was downed, merely jumping to conclusions, maybe because the same event had happened three days before (14 july an AN-26 had been shot down by the rebels). They claimed a ¨success¨ without knowledgde of all the facts and official briefing from men in the field. [In my 2nd blogpost I present a source claiming it was an AN-26 only 2-3 minutes after the crash].
Within the hour the information was copied by the Russian channel LifeNews with the same formulations and the same videos. They may have followed this highly esteemed source with trustworthy accounts from people attending the fights (ie. Strelkov_info) or assembled the item themselves with parts from social media. Nevertheless, this gave the premature report from the editors of the ¨Strelkov¨ site a kind of official glow, as Kievites could now claim “it was even on the news“.
And so the hasty conclusion spread through the internet and TV, leaving a trail of ¨evidence¨ for everyone who had an interest in finding and manipulating it.
The Russian news outlet was probably not the only one following militia sources like the ¨Strelkov¨ site. After the crash people at the bureau of the Ukrainian secret service (SBU) obviously were very busy with the question how to react to this possible ¨game changer¨. An analist who had been assigned to the job to follow (semi-)official rebel social media and news outlets, could have read the initial ¨Strelkov¨ message. (S)he also witnessed the deletion and the ensuing social media fall-out and reported it to her/his superiors. An briljant idea came up.
This deleted message with Strelkov´s name attached to it could be disseminated as evidence the rebels had taken out a civilian plane by mistake. Not only the citizens from Torez and Snizhne initially thought an AN-26 was downed, which was the original source of the ¨Strelkov¨ Vkontakte message. The rebels and their chief themselves, obviously still clinging to their previously fired weapon, assumed that too when they were targeting the plane.
The SBU rose to the occasion. Within a few hours [actually at 21:41 local time] a nicely edited, translated and finished up video clip was spread on Youtube in which rebels confessed their mistake
The Bezler-Geranin-Kozytsin taps in English. This version was uploaded half an hour after the original, 5.5 hrs. after the crash.
They shot down the plane, as the VK.com Strelkov_info dispatch claimed, and so they realized later on they had made a mistake, as the tapes proved. The assumption being made – Strelkov wrote the message himself at his own website right after he was present at the shooting or an editor wrote it with his authorization – turned into fact
(Of course the tapes were forged, that is: spliced and edited to contain information of different days, i.e. the shooting of an SU25 near Enakievo, an event reported on the 16th. More about this in “Writing a crime playe (and showing the SBU MH17 taps are frauds)“.
Suggestion and manipulation added
The suggestion that Strelkov was in any way connected to this VK.com site, was fallacious. But it was very expedient. Next to the SBU also al lot of other people got the idea. It didn´t take a very long time until people retrieved the deleted message by Wayback Machine, a webarchive service. Then it was easy to attribute the message to Strelkov in person and repost it, accompanied with the suggestion Strelkov had written it himself. Not much later ¨proof¨ of the authenticity of the message (in reality not disputed by the editors) and phrases about ¨mysteriously disappearing dispatches¨ or ¨hastily deleted messages¨ enhanced the suspicion that some smoking gun was being put under the rug.
The fact that it is rather common to delete a message when one has found out it was based on a hasty conclusion, didn´t reach the official newsgathering. There are but a very few accounts of people who posted the warning message afterwards.
With the speed of light the internet was fed by Ukrainian war dispatch services, pro Kiev activists and the western media pundits with the suggestion it was the commander in chief himself who thought he had shot down an Antonov. The Russian news had said it too, that couldn´t be denied. When also the SBU video – clearly fake as facts show (who is talking about an Enakievo downing by Cossacks at this time?) – was issued within hours after the crash, the leading narrative established itself. And so it does untill this day.
The meme in action. The Ukrainian Crisis Media Centre is a public relations/ propaganda conduit for ¨providing media support and accurate information about the fast moving situation in Ukraine¨. They also ¨run a daily schedule of live press briefings¨. UCMC is sponsored by the Dutch state and National Endowment for Democracy, de facto the CIA civil/soft power branch. Needless to say its a popular channel for publishing official dispatches from the SBU.
Very soon after the posting at the ¨Strelkov¨ Vkontakte site had been erased, on Facebook the media centre peddled the fatal-mistake narrative by suggesting the rebels were ¨caught red-handed¨ (see title dispatch in English). Notice also the text between quotation marks. The UCMC writes Strelkov claimed a ¨succesful operation¨, an invented quotation, which never appeared in the initial, deleted VKontakte posting nor in any other official or non-official message.
Another example. The Ukrainian Embassy in the Netherlands conveys the suggestive meme of the fatal mistake by pointing to the Russian news item.
Some facts and logic
In fact we can conclude the following:
1. Studying the Strelkov_info Vkontakte website before and after the crash confirms the idea this is a message board dedicated to commander Strelkov in his name and is/was not used by Strelkov himself to write dispatches on;
For people still in denial a statement made by the proKiev infowarrior “Necro Mancer” may attest to this, as he tweets in response to developping of the meme:
“This is a group on VK(ontakte), which has nothing to do with Girkin, just post news and quotes from the great commander.”
2. The famous message posted on this website on the 17th within an hour after the crash displayed in the heading ¨Posted by militia¨ and didn´t have ¨the Strelkov banner¨ attached to it. In this way the administrators made always (implicitly) clear this was not a message copied from an official statement by the chief.
3. The small pieces of text within quotationmarks are not quotes from Strelkov himself, as his name isn´t mentioned with it and the message is ¨posted by militia¨. So the source of the quotes ¨in our sky¨ and ¨bird drop¨ has to be found there or have been inserted by a – at that time – triumphant writer of the posting. [For more information about this, read my second blogpost on this topic]
4. Within the first hour to an hour and a half many people, proMaidan and antiMaidan alike, reported they thought an ¨AN-26¨ had been downed near ¨the mine Progress¨. Just because you are a rebel and disseminated these soundbites on social media, doesn´t make you a more likely eyewitness of the shooting or even a perpetrator.
“AN 26” is already mentioned at 16:30, some 8 minutes after the crash
Some other pro-Kiev messages:
Question about the well-being of the pilots at 16:46 EEST
Another question about the well-being of the pilots, with answer: “He jumped”.
Speculations about an “AN 26” at 16:54 EEST
¨Progress¨ is mentioned on twitter already at 16:42 EEST [There are even earlier accounts, one from a few minutes after the crash; see my second blogpost about this topic].
5. Just because people who joined the militia expressed their feelings, assumptions and hasty conclusions in messages they posted on social media groups, doesn´t mean they issued known facts or were at the shooting themselves.
6. Just because the Russian News made a short item within the first hour after the crash containing the same soundbites and videos as used in the Strelkov_info message (and/or in local chatgroups), doesn´t implicate their report wasn´t based on the same false assumptions and hasty conclusions (see image below).
7. The conclusion fed by pro-Kiev outlets and posters Strelkov was bragging and therefore caught red-handed has been based on three false assumptions:
A. That Strelkov himself wrote the message;
B. That he did that with his – or his minions – finger still on the trigger, so with direct knowledge about a downing;
C. That deleting the message was an act to hide the truth because it was found out they hit the wrong plane.
So in fact this Strelkov-did-it-because-he-was-bragging-about-it narrative has been build on suggestion and manipulation of what really happened. I think it´s a great victory for the SBU and whoever helped disseminating this idea. In the infowar that burst after the crash, Ukraine immediately started with a hugh advantage this way.
At a closer look everyone with a clear mind can see the socalled ¨fatal mistake¨ scenario originated from a wrongful or even deceitful interpretation of the facts involved, exploited by pro-Kiev sources. Untill this day not even one western mainstream outlet has taken the courage to put a little effort in falsifying this succesful propaganda myth.
However, after pro-Bellingcat contributor to whathappenedtoflightmh17.com Arnold Greidanus posted a thorough analysis of the origins of the Strelkov_info posting (and, after Catherine Fitzpatrick’s attempt, tried to revive suspicion for a 2nd time) some reporters and even Bellingcat showed interest in debunking of the myth that was built around the retraction of the Strelkov_info dispatch.
Most tragically, maybe the thruth concerning the causes of the crash will be compromised by the tunnelvision that emanated from the moment this suggestive scenario started to play its pivotal role in investigation and reporting.
Strelkov_info, Lifenews and Kievite Andrey T. all retrieved a copy of a video showing smoke from the crashed plane from the Russian service Vkontakte. For a more elaborate investigation into the origin of the contents of the Strelkov_info posting, see also my blogpost Old story fails, but Strelkov did it anyway.