The official story of guilt for downing MH17 is founded on the so-called fatal mistake narrative, a story of separatists mistakenly mixing up a Ukrainian freighter plane for MH17. This narrative depends heavily on the misinterpretation of a message that was retracted from the news site Strelkov_info, a website that reported news about the fights and official quotes by the commander of the DNR forces, Igor – ¨Strelkov¨ – Girkin.
The deletion of this posting would be an act to conceal evidence after the commander found out the wrong plane had been downed, a story founded on a set of false assumptions. Nevertheless, many news outlets and others try to reanimate this story.
The message, allegedly written by the chief-commander showed some bragging about downing of an AN-26, which was erased from the web after the real identity of the plane downed was known. The Interpreter, a fierce anti-Putin newspaper allegedly tied to Putin foe Khodorkovsky, made sure this narrative received broad attention of western audiences.
In this blog I have tried to list several false assumptions and fallacies that were used to support this narrative.
The famous retracted Strelkov_info posting, deliberately mis-interpretated to disseminate a story Strelkov was concealing evidence of an implicit confession of a fatal mistake. The narrative was officially corroborated a few hours later when the Ukrainian secret service SBU issued the (fake) “Bezler confession intercepts“.
“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 a SU.’”
Nevertheless, many news outlets and commentators kept on going spreading this story. The Interpreter even tried to revitalize the narrative in two articles written by Catherine Fitzpatrick after it was obvious they were on the wrong track. See here and here.
Fitzpatrick’s story starts with discrediting the de-constructors of the Kiev narrative by labeling them “pro-Kremlin commentators” who took “two approaches” to support a story of a Russian cover-up:
“So on some forums, we see users earnestly proving that in fact the VK group [Russian facebook group, meaning the Strelkov_info site; HR] was used for Strelkov’s statements but only on their way to proving that therefore, the statement didn’t come from him personally.”
However, the claim those commentators, and I, made by the way, was also confirmed by pro-Kiev “infowarrior” Necro Mancer right after the first accusations started on the 17th:
“This is a group on VK(ontakte), which has nothing to do with Girkin, just posting news and quotes from the great commander.”
Conclusion had to be a false assessment, founded on information circulating on social media, was reported on a website only dedicated in name to the commander. The message was deleted after the admins found out it contained wrong information and probably because of some other rather profane reasons as well. But Strelkov hadn’t reported it himself nor was his first-hand account quoted in this posting.
According to The Interpreter (and many others) reporting facts is now some kind of deliberate strategy of pro-Kremlin commentators to distract from the inevitable conclusion the fatal mistake narrative has provided us: either way, direct or indirect, the message can be traced back to the commander-in-chief himself and was therefore evidence of his guilt.
Though Fitzpatrick first deviates from the old story about this VK.com group by shifting the blame for deleting the real original wordings of the chief-commander to another web forum, she returns later on to Strelkov_info again. However, her narrative fails to deliver, an observation supported by more in-depth social media investigation.
Following her path of reasoning, I will deconstruct the reinforcement of her fatal mistake claim as it seems to pollute the quest for facts about what really happened with flight MH17.
First step: shifting blame from Strelkov_info to antikvariat.ru
The line of reasoning Fitzpatrick follows, starts with the inference that because the same message was also posted on another forum, which was visited and even “moderated” by the chief, it still is proof of his direct involvement. The forum mentioned is antikvariat.ru, a members-only pro-separatist forum on which the commander posted regularly with his nickname “Kotych” (son of cat).
As The Interpreter found out, on antikvariat.ru a message was posted on 16:37 EEST, about 15 minutes after the crash, written by a poster named “Margo-Donetsk”. This message from Margo appeared with a video of the smoke from the burning remains of the crashed plane, a video also copied by the Strelkov_info dispatch shown in the image above. Same formulations of the message, same video – the left one in the Strelkov_info dispatch.
Screenshot from the Margo-Donetsk posting on antikvariat.ru, only 14-15 minutes after the crash.
Remarkable observation is that the Strelkov_info message arrived on the net more than half an hour later, at 17:16 EEST, according to its unix timestamp.
The “17:50 MSK” (Moscow time) Strelkov_info posting, posted on the net at 17:16 EEST (EEST = local time = UTC+3)
Actually Fitzpatrick is sort of exonerating Strelkov_info with this as she is accusing them of merely copying, shifting the blame to antikvariat.ru. Therefore, in fact, the entire fatal mistake narrative evolving on the evening of the crash, which founded itself on retraction of this particular Strelkov_info posting, can be cast aside as even she acknowledges it was only a copy from another forum or poster and not written down straight by the chief. (But because the commander would have “endorsed” it, it nevertheless would implicate him, according to Fitzpatrick, as we shall see later on)
However, there are more ways to Rome. According to Fitzpatrick it is very suspicious on antikvariat.ru – original source of the Strelkov report as she now claims – some messages, including the one from Margo, were deleted, as shown by a renumbering of other postings. Obviously this is called ¨tampering¨, because in Fitzpatrick’s mind its all about concealing serious evidence, not taking into account other possibilities behind this act could be more plausible.
Maybe people retracted their messages out of regard for the victims, being ashamed they cheered for a downing of an enemy plane that turned out to be something different. Or because they didn’t want to show wrong information (I cleanse my blogs from mistakes all the time).
From both these reasons cannot be concluded the info they derived their mis-interpretation from, came from people with inside knowledge about a downing. Pro-separatists cheered, Kievites mourned for the Ukrainian crew. Both were wrong. And the admins of antikvariat.ru and Strelkov_info deleted their postings with wrong conclusions probably not to conceal evidence, but because they were afraid of being hanged innocent after some folks would deliberately misinterpret the postings to frame them and the separatists for mass murder (as actually happened).
Next step: assert Strelkov himself was the first poster anyway
Second stap that follows in Fitzpatrick’s revitalization of the narrative is to make believable it was the commander-in-chief personally who was the first to post the message about a downed AN-26 near Progress on antikvariat.ru, that way tacitly assuming he also must have had inside knowledge of a shot down. This would have been copied by Margo somehow, though it seems not credible someone doubles a message that was written on a forum before.
Nevertheless, from a discussion on another forum about this Margo-Donetsk posting, and its possible predecessor written by the commander himself, Fitzpatrick concludes from the words from one poster that Strelkov was indeed “the first to report the downing, not Margo.”
But actually this is not what this user claims, when he cites from memory the commander allegedly had only posted succinctly that an AN-26 “fell”, though without brags:
Quote: (…) Girkin stated this in Antikvariat.ru, then erased it quickly.
Reply: Not true. I read this post, it is literally one of the first, where he did not claim this, that supposedly he or his men shot down the plane. This was literally in the last paragraph of the text – in my memory that was something like – just telling that in this area another Ukrainian An-26 fell. That’s all. No statements such as – “we have brought down another Ukrov”.
So he says “one of the first”, not the first. And a plane “fell”, was not downed nor shot. Actually the first tweet after the crash mentioning an “AN-26 fell”, was from a Kiev supporter/infowarrior issued 7-8 minutes after the crash, as we shall see later on.
The strong thing about this accusation is of course that if Strekov posted it, then it is very easy to suggest it was derived from inside knowledge, meaning he was informed (or even saw) a shooting had taken place. Perhaps that is what is making people so eager to pin the original posting about an AN-26 on him.
Third step: back to accusing Strelkov_info again
Fitzpatrick obviously knows this witness account from memory does not make a very strong case, so she tries to go all the way back and reinforce the suspicion about the Strelkov_info forum again, by pointing to an earlier posting made before the famous retracted one.
This is the posting mentioned:
At the top of the dispatch the same (but only the first) sentence as Margo used is displayed, and it seems to be posted at the same time too, 17:37 Moscow Time, 16:37 EEST. Suggestion: both must have copied at the same time a previous message by the chief himself, so the message on Strelkov_info still originated from the chief.
However, there is a tiny mistake being made with huge consequences. In reality this first Strelkov_info message was posted on 16:41 EEST, as can be retrieved from its Unix time of posting, which is an indisputable feature of a social media message.
Timestamp first Strelkov_info posting, labeled 17:37 MSK, actually was posted at 16:41 EEST.
So it contained the same first sentence as Margo-Donetsk, but she had written this 4 minutes earlier. The assumption made by Fitzpatrick is entirely collapsing when this mistake shows up.
A pro-separatist tweeter Tohub also posted the same first sentence on twitter at 16:39 EEST and used quotation marks. It seems Tohub quoted Margo (or the same unknown original as she did) as his tweet ends with the first two words of the second sentence in Margo’s posting. “Warned the[m]…”. He only changed “Torez” for “Snizhne”, which was also mentioned in the first Strelkov_info posting.
Perhaps one of these two messages was used by the admins of Strelkov_info to copy and post. If we look at the first Strelkov posting, timed at 16:41, it only showed the first sentence of Margo’s message, but changed her “Torez ” for “Snizhne” as Tohub did. It is possible they first confirmed the info with the tweet by Tohub, a well known separatist. Then in their second message, the one from 17:16 EEST, they used the entire message Margo wrote.
Anyway, there is no reason to assume the first Strelkov_info posting was written by the commander himself or was a direct copy of the commander’s ghost message.
Fourth step: invent some loaded linkages
Nevertheless, Fitzpatrick is adamant: Strelkov posted it anyway. If not himself, then he is guilty because some people on antikvariat thought a Ukrainian plane was downed. Obviously, according to her, they were all in direct contact with the shooters (or were the shooters themselves). Their message must also have been endorsed by direct intervention from the chief/moderator as they were “fighters he commanded”.
Was Margo from Donetsk, who obviously was an AN-26 believer, also a separatist fighter in the Snizhne area commanded by Strelkov? Was Strelkov directly interfering with her posting on this forum by endorsing her, thereby confirming a first-hand mis-assessment? Fitzpatrick seems to think so.
Suggestion of a strong God-like almighty hand is appropriate in that case: Strelkov ¨endorsed¨ his fanpage Strelkov_info and ¨moderated¨ antikvariat, so therefore all messages posted there were under his command and with his full knowledge, right from the very first moment of posting. This would imply he would be busier with realtime moderating than with his actual job, being first in command in a civil war. This doesn’t bother Fitzpatrick though.
Step five: there just must have been an official earlier report!
So because some (pro)separatist people on these forums – forums which were tied to the commander in a way – believed a Ukrainian plane was downed, they must have posted it under the direction of the chief himself and the information must have arrived from an earlier source, one implicated in the shooting. Actually these are a lot of assumptions.
Its a fact, however, many non-separatists believed the same things too in the first moments after the crash. Therefore in my previous blogpost about the matter I listed this kind of reasoning as a fallacy: Just because you are pro-separatist believing an AN-26 was downed, doesn’t put you right on the site of the shooting or issuing information from a first-hand account.
A pro-Kiev infowarrior posting about a downed AN-26 over Torez at 16:56 EEST, mentioning a tweet from plume photographer Pavel Aleynikov, which was posted at 16:46 EEST but was deleted afterwards. Probably Fitzpatrick also sees some “tampering” with evidence here.
Its a valid question to ask if there was some earlier report to Margo’s message. Maybe there was, but then again… what would it say. Is it necessary it arrived from shooters who instantaneously posted their success on social media? It seems Fitzpatrick really is believing this.
There were, however, not that many “fighters” present at the shooting. That is, if we believe the story disseminated by the Snizhne video of one car transporting a self-propelling Buk to the alleged launch site. Time between shooting and first appearance of the message was obviously too short to notify the entire brigade, everybody around them and their comrades too. A Russian crew was just sent in, so they are probably not those separatist fighters writing daily messages on a pro-separatist messaging board or having knowledge about the area, like there is a mine called “Progress” just north from Snizhne.
Nevertheless, the logic Fitzpatrick applies, leads to this conclusion: the Russian Buk crew or Strelkov and some in his chain of command, were possible posters of a report with a first-hand account which was issued within minutes after the crash. However, the possibility someone from these two groups posted a message shortly after he witnessed the shooting of an AN-26, as they would have assumed at that moment, is not that big.
Foremost, because the mis-interpretation of the “AN-26” part relies fully on the incompetent spotter narrative. This holds a spotter mistakenly saw a passenger plane cruising at a speed of 905 km/h at a height of 10 km for a freighter plane, heading with a speed of 450 km/h at a height of about 5km. Besides, even from the infamous “Birdie comes to you” taps is not clear it was an AN-26 that flew there to be mixed up with a passenger plane (The spotter only says he thinks its “a big one”).
There is no credible scenario thinkable in which the downing of a plane using a high-value war asset would have been founded on the opaque, unreliable information from an incompetent spotter. Taking that kind of risk, knowing civilian planes were flying over regularly, doesn’t seem rational. Russian roulette is not a sound airdefense tactic. So the “fatal mistake narrative” is not credible as it is.
Origins of the soundbites
So the AN-26 soundbite probably originated entirely from speculations made by third parties after they heard or saw something from the crash and put it on social media. Second catchy soundbite from Margo’s message is obviously the mine “Progress”. This mine is located towards the actual site where the plane crashed (Grabovo, Roszypne), but about halfway if you are watching the smoke from the outskirts of Snizhne North-West.
Its more plausible the origins of Margo’s message arrived from a pro-separatist citizen reporting from the outskirts of the city with a view on the smoke. This source was assuming the smoke came from somewhere near Progress, which seems likely when you are watching it from Snizhne North-West. Also the video she links originated from a residential area, by the way.
Obviously she had, as a Donetsk resident, fruitful contacts with people in Snizhne..
Video linked by Strelkov_info (the right one in the 17:16 message), ws also used in the LifeNews dispatch. Geolocation 48°04’05.1″N 38°44’01.8″E (Snizhne North-West). LifeNews, also implicated in the fatal mistake narrative, probably copied contents from trustworthy social media sources, including their false assumptions. The video they showed, was first published on Vkontakte at 16:42 EEST by NovoRussia and probably made by local from the north-western outskirts of Snizhne. Strelkov_info posted a copy of this video ultimately originating from the Egor Yakovlev Vkontakte site as Micha Kobs shows in this document.
The LifeNews dispatch was aired so quickly after the disaster, a militant from the reconnaisance troops at the crash site informs Cossack leader Kozitsyn he saw it had to be an AN-26 “on the news”. Apparently both were unaware of the “official report” from the Strelkov chain-of-command, which would also have been mentioned in a ghost posting on antikvariat.ru. (NB: the timing of this conversation could be false).
By the way, at that time AN-26 as well as SU-25 were mentioned as possible planes that were downed, see e.g. this tweet from 16:33 EEST (10-11 minutes after the crash):
#Ukraine There is confusion about what type of plane was shotdown near #Torez. Some sources said AN-26 others Su-25. #Donbas
Strelkov_info was even so confused, they mentioned in their second posting almost an hour after the shooting, the famous retracted one, also a Su-25 was shot down – still copying Margo, who obviously read the same contradicting sources. Nevertheless, in their strain of information the AN-26 soundbite prevailed over the SU-25 as the plane that was shot down near Torez.
Some 3 minutes after the crash a conversation was reported on Zello, a smart-phone app for group discussions. Why someone with a view on the crashsite smoke concluded it was an AN-26 that “nosedived” is unclear. Also in the conversations is mentioned that the video Margo linked, was uploaded on Youtube (7:05) and “a person from Torez just told me it fell about the Progress mine” (7:40). It shows the tags “AN-26”, “Progress” and the smoke video circulated on social media really quickly and all information originated from residents.
We have in order of appearance evidence of the following social media postings mentioning the “AN-26″ – “Progress” – “smoke video” story-line:
1. Margo-Donetsk: 16:37 EEST antikvariat.ru, a forum visited by some separatist fighters;
2. Tohub: Twitter 16:39 EEST, is himself part of the militia, quotes first sentence and first two words from the second sentence written in Margo’s posting, but changes Torez for Snizhne;
3. Strelkov_info 16:41 EEST, first sentence of Margo’s posting, mentioning “reported by militia”; also mentioning Snizhne.
4. Strelkov_info 17:16 EEST, mentioning full contents of Margo’s posting, “reported by militia”, now mentioning her “Torez” phrase.
The earliest tweet mentioning the “AN-26” soundbite was, remarkably, from pro-Kiev infowarrior UA_Ridna_Vilna, who already tweeted about it at 16:30 EEST, some 7-8 minutes after the crash!
On twitter “Progress” was only mentioned literally first at 16:39 EEST in the Tohub tweet. Though already at 16:34 “Military Maps” was linked to a tweet to describe the place of the allegedly downed AN-26. That link leads straight to a pin called “Progress”.
Apparently Margo got it from a resident or another source (e.g. Zello, VKontake). Then to this information Margo linked the “48YlDSVFVMI” video, made by a resident, the left video that appeared in the Strekov_info posting half an hour later too. This was really fast, even faster than the picture of the smoke Kievite infowarrior @WowihaY posted at 16:40 EEST, a picture he had received from his friend with a view, plume photographer Aleynikov.
So in fact Margo retrieved “AN-26” and “the mine Progress” really swiftly. So was the video she linked. Perhaps Tohub, who copied her message (or used the same unknown predecessor), mentioning the first sentence and the first two words of the second sentence, was the relay. Strelkov_info trusted him and copied his first sentence in the “17:37 MSK” posting, including “Snizhne” instead of “Torez”.
Either way, the left video in the second Strelkov_info posting had the same origin as the one posted by Margo. The right video they collected from Vkontakte (see this document of Micha Kobs who traced back the origin of both videos). So they retrieved at some point in time the entire message Margo wrote, but only decided to post it in full in their second posting adding a second video they found on social media. As Fitzpatrick shows, Strelkov_info had copied a posting from Margo before, and had labeled it with “report from the militia”.
As said, its not likely Margo just copied a message written earlier on the same forum, the ghost report from Strelkov himself or one of his nearest co-workers. If Strelkov had said “an AN-26 fell”, the “shot down” part originated from another source anyway. Furthermore her message contains information not mentioned before according to Fitzpatrick’s witness, possibly about the site the plane would have crashed, near the mine “Progress”, but certainly the Su-25 part and the smoke video. She must have retrieved this from another source.
Also interesting is this message from 17:46 (MSK) = 16:46 EEST
The militia report that they brought down a Ukrainian An-26, according to citizen journalists. “In the region Sniznhe was just shot down an An-26, lying somewhere near the mine”Progress “- representatives of militia say. So far there is no official confirmation or refutation of this information.
So the source of the sentence seems to be “citizen journalists”, apparently quoting “representatives” of the militia. Perhaps this post is referring to Tohub (who also mentioned Snizhne instead of Torez), to the first Strekov_info posting or to the Margo antikvariat posting with the same formulations, tagging the message with “posted by militia”. As both forums were highly appreciated, though civilian sources, maybe they were seen as citizen-journalists.
That’s why this source is mentioning also that this news is unofficial, so not from an official source. Clearly they hadn’t found an earlier, official source (i.e. the Strelkov ghost posting) confirming this message, 9 minutes after Margo had posted her message.
Another interesting example is this 16:53 tweet from the Novorussia twitter-account, posted 12 minutes after the first Strelkov_info posting and 16 minutes after Margo:
City Torez, neighborhood “Victory 30th anniversary”, near the mine “three bis” fell freighter An-26, allegedly shot down over Snizhne
Perhaps they also copied sources close to the crash site, so added the neighborhood and mine “3-bis”. 17:25 MSK would allude to time of first messages from people who had seen a plane crash. For example the @HuSnizhne and UA_Ridna_Vilna strain of information mentions it all: time 16:25, “Snizhne”, “AN-26”, that a plane “fell”. The mine part and the “allegedly shot down” part arrived from another source.
Obviously also Novorussia, a pretty well trusted source with about 60.000 followers, relied on the net and locals and not on some official first report from Strelkov’s antikvariat.
The official DNR press twitter account still displayed confusion at 17:20 EEST, an hour after the crash:
About 17-30 in the village of Rassypnoe (Torez), near the mine “Progress”, a plane fell, presumably An-26 Ukrainian air force.
Remarkably even DNR Press hadn’t received any official confirmation till then, manifesting itself in the phrase “presumably an AN-26”. Didn’t they know the commander posted on antikvariat? Or was there no original report from Strelkov posted? The second explanantion seems more likely. There even seemed to lack any official recognition at that time!
What we know
In the end it is Margo who laid down the phrases on antikvariat.ru, known for being involved with real fighters and even the commander himself posting regularly. Maybe she copied it from another forum/source, maybe she (partly) assembled it herself. Then it is copied by Tohub (member of the militia) and Strelkov_info (who say it is “posted by militia”), spreading itself around the internet.
What we know:
Strelkov_info was not the first source of the information displayed. This is valid for contents, brags and videos.
What we don’t know:
Was the AN-26 tag reported earlier on antikvariat.ru than in the report from Margo? And, if so: Was this a report from someone implicated in the shooting or informed by the shooters, perhaps Strelkov himself?
Bottomline is we don’t know from whom Margo copied the AN-26 part, if she copied it at all, and if this source had anything to do with the shooting or just picked up some speculative tags already running around the net. It is not likely she doubled a message already posted before on the same forum, as that seems a bit superfluous.
Most important, as other trusted news sources instanteneously seem to have copied her message (or used other resident sources like it) instead of some official report by Kotych on antikvariat.ru, we are well away proving there was no first-hand antikvariat report from the chief-commander.
The Interpreter should at least have investigated if the commander Strelkov had a habit of posting his successes immediately on social media with his or his minion’s finger still on the trigger. One could ask, for example, how a 16.7.2014 Su-25 downing in his area was reported and at what time difference. The Interpreter did not do this.
This is such an example, “Kotych” posting a message on the 16th of a downed Su-25, with added to it a personal message about a wounded friend:
At 9:20 a ukrov [negative designation for Ukrainians; HR] SU-25 downed over Dmitrievka.
Seriously (but not fatally) wounded was “Prapor” – with multiple shrapnel in the arm. For the third time in this war.
See also a 20:58 message here, which showed more personal info by the way.
The message on antikvariat was posted 16 july at 19:57 EEST, about 10.5 hours (instead of a few minutes) after downing. Other remarkable differences with the message of the 17th that Fitzpatrick’s witness conveyes: Kotych now mentions “downed” instead of “fell” and is using the swear word “Ukrov” to designate the Ukrainians, contrary to what the witness remembers from the 17.7 message. So this example doesn’t make the temporary existence of a ghost posting nobody ever cited all the more credible.
Conclusions: rejection of the fatal mistake narrative
For deletion of the Strelkov_info message a sound explanation could be the admins were afraid of being showered with accusations, which happened anyway thanks to web-archive services and people spreading manipulations. The God-Almighty approach Fitzpatrick peddles to give Strelkov a directing hand in everything to lay guilt upon him, is unjustified. It is not likely Strelkov was realtime monitoring every posting on a web forum he participated on or was endorsing all postings on another forum that copied his quotes.
Neither it seems likely someone implicated in the shooting, the Russian Buk-crew or people they informed up the chain of command, were immediately posting a success, though it can’t be excluded fully. But then we need to assume a lot of things:
- Strelkov posted the “AN-26” soundbite refraining himself from “bragging”, as a witness recalls, within minutes instead of hours like he did the day before or with other information;
- And was posting with inside knowledge, but without mentioning it was a shot down.
- Furthermore, we also must assume this report was deleted from the forum even before news services like DNR Press, Novorussia, Strelkov_info and Ridus News could corroborate the Margo posting by this “official report”. That is, within 10-15 minutes after Margo would have copied it (From Fitzpatrick we know Margo edited her posting at 17:04, so that one was still around then!);
- Finally, we have to believe in the irrational incompetent spotter/Buk crew story – that the shooters and commander led by unclear info and stupidity really mixed up MH17 with an AN-26 -, a tough nut to crack.
The only conclusion that can be reached is, that we don’t know what the origin of the disaster was, but that we do know the “fatal mistake narrative” founded on the retracted Strelkov_info posting is a deliberate misinterpretation. With these articles Fitzpatrick managed to exonerate Strelkov_info and with that she pulled the plug from the story founded on this posting. This makes revitalization of this narrative by speculating about a ghost posting of the chief on another forum a futile exercise.
With special thanks to Micha Kobs, Malinka and Marilyn Justice.