Researching alleged evidence about a possible weapon and crime scene regarding the downing of flight MH17 as gathered from social media postings, it becomes clear the standing narrative – also pursued by the official investigators office – shows severe difficulties. Trying to verify the date of a video of a Buk missile launch system, allegedly driving from the rebel held Ukrainian city of Snizhne towards an alleged launch site southwards, sheds light on the way dots of information were suggestively interpreted and connected.
To this day the official story about the crash of Malayasian Airways flight MH17, followed up by the Joint Investigation Team researching the criminal case, is founded on an alleged trail of a Buk Air Defense Missile System. This system allegedly was, according to evidence found on social media, moved by separatist and Russian military on the 17th of July 2014 to be used in a conflict zone of the Ukrainian civil war.
This zone, in which at that moment heavy fighting took place involving military jets bombings and shelling with GRAD missiles, was located south from the twin city Torez/Snizhne, about 30 km. north from the Ukrainian-Russian border. It is claimed the Buk launch system came in from Russia in the morning of the 17th, was routed towards a launch site south from Snizhne and then disappeared over the border again the night after the passenger plane was downed.
Immediately after the disaster an “information war” broke out in which messages, photos and videos about the Buk movement were published on the internet to be picked up by “citizen-researchers” like the research collective Bellingcat and blogger Ukraine-at-war to interpret and disseminate.
For most of us it was not hard to see that dots from Torez to a location south from Snizhne were layed out very swiftly after the crash – and some even before – to be connected easily to construct a trail of a Buk, hauled by a unique truck on a red low-loader, moving from somewhere in the west of Donetsk “oblast” to Snizhne. A couple of hours before the plane was hit it allegedly was off-loaded in the city to drive on its own to the alleged launch site, a burnt field marked – or “geolocated” – with the help of a picture showing an alleged Buk launch plume.
This way a trail of the possible weapon through the Donbass could be reconstructed, although the sourcing of the material was untraceable and information about the exact date of capture of the imagery was missing. But because these images displayed some evident markers (unique truck, low-loader, Buk) and seemed to fit a certain time line, it was easy to suggest they all originated from the same date, that is: the 17th. This impression was corroborated further by a few written, “realtime” sightings of the Buk movement.
However, this story seemed to good to be true, at least, for critical people it did. When researching this social media evidence – taking the position that no confirmed date means there is no a priori reason to assume all evidence is originating from the same date – it becomes clear this easy-to-understand narrative is not so straight forward as it seems. Trying to date the video of a self-propelling Buk moving out of Snizhne from the south, heading to its alleged launch site, may explain more.
The first cluster
Reviewing this so-called track-a-trail evidence, guarded by NATO affiliated organization Bellingcat, one may observe it actually shows two main clusters of social media evidence. The first cluster, which came about within hours after MH17 crashed, pivoted on the Torez/Snizhne area, an area in the Donetsk province, in which also the alleged Buk launch site is located.
The second cluster was build up later on and founded itself on traditional and social media publications from Donetsk city. It comprised first and foremost the picture of a Buk published by French magazine Paris Match on July the 25th, backed-up by already issued “intercepted telephone calls” displayed on a video the Ukrainian secret service SBU put on the net the 18th. (For a review of all this track-a-trail social media evidence, see this blog posting).
At the end of the day the trail comprised more or less of the following parts (a few other sightings dated on the 17th appeared much later). Almost all was concerned with this first cluster, from the Torez/Snizhne area:
There were 3 written realtime accounts circulating:
- 2 statements about Buk presence in Torez from two pro-Kiev “infowarriors” (WowihaY, Roman).
- And a statement about Buk presence on a Facebook account connected to the Ukrainian regime (Euromaydan), citing “locals” from Torez (WowihaY, Roman?).
After the crash was added:
- A statement about Buk presence from an anonymous AP reporter (Snizhne) and a statement about presence of two Buks, from a Ukrainian top-official Anton Gerashchenko (Snizhne);
- Two undated Buk photos (in Torez with truck, in Snizhne city without) and 1 undated Buk video (in Snizhne, without truck) from unknown sources. (Actually, also the video of a truck with Buk driving in Zuhres was already tweeted, in fact to Dajey Petros/Ukraine-at-war, but he used only a still from it);
- One photo of an alleged launch plume;
- And 1 video with intercepts from the SBU, the so-called “Bezler confession taps”.
You can watch the list of sources from this first cluster with their links in Appendix 1 at the bottom of this blog.
Setting the trail on track
With these ingredients the trail was set on track, helped by anti-Russian bloggers and portals. Blogger Brown_Moses aka Eliot Higgins was very busy, only 2 days after he had founded Bellingcat, collecting and re-uploading deleted original social media “evidence”. Renowned blogger Ukraine-at-war, suspected of contacts with the SBU, was the first to publish a still of the unique truck with Buk that was filmed in Zuhres, already in a 17 July blog posting.
WowihaY worked on a “geolocation” of the launch plume in the middle of the night with a “second line”, as he performed a mysterious triangulation with the help of another (anonymous) witness of the plume. To spur geolocation efforts Gerashchenko had posted the launch plume photo himself on 20:45 EEST on Facebook, adding to it information about the location of the photographer, friend of WowihaY Pavel A (revealing the contacts between them all).
Especially Euromaydan was very eager to support a story of Russian guilt, as they were – as it seems – the first working on a trail. On 21:07 EEST they tweeted a live-blog bulletin written in English for international consumers. See Appendix 2 at the bottom of this blog for the contents and time frame of their live-blog.
Regarding the Snizhne video further developments were also kind of revealing.
At 00:32 (18 July) Sprotyv.info (the webiste of “InfoResistance”, led by Ukrainian politician Dmitry Tymchuk), posted the coordinates of a Buk allegedly driving in a column in Snizhne on its way to Russia. Actually these coordinates proved to be the exact same location as the one of the self-propelling Buk in the Snizhne Buk video.
At 1:11 EEST Euromaydan tweeted the same coordinates, writing:
“At this moment a column terrorists goes from Snizhne to the edge of the road Т0522. Column with SAM “Buk” has passed the point 48.011623, 38.763036.”
The same was done all over again at 1:41 EEST by Anton Gerashchenko.
Further development of the construction of the trail, connecting newly issued dots from its start and its end, followed on 18 July:
- End of the trail: Krasnodon/Russian border (actually Luhansk): In a Facebook posting from the minister for the interior Arsen Avakov a video appeared, in which a Buk was evacuated to Russia the night after the crash, allegedly “missing one missile”.
- Start of the trail: Donetsk: The SBU issued the so-called Khmuryi/Motel intercepted telephone calls. These also supported the story of a Buk traveling within a larger “terrorist” convoy (apparently the “Vostok” convoy) as was alluded to in the realtime 17.7 Euromaydan posting and was confirmed by Ukrainian politician Dmitry Tymchuk.
A few important things for the rest of this story are clear from this inquiry. The Snizhne video was treasured really quick in the right hands to be re-uploaded and disseminated. Second, at midnight information about it was used to sustain a current sighting of a flight to Russia, presumably through Marinovka.
Was it actually this video that was meant to support a story of Buk flight to Russia? Anyway, it was silently replaced in the afternoon of the 18th when Avakov issued his (false) story of a fleeing Buk passing by Krasnodon, making a strange detour from Snizhne to the Russian border.
The visual part of the first cluster
Let’s take a look on the visual parts of the chain of evidence as suggested by US and Ukrainian government, administered by Bellingcat. First, there is the Torez Buk picture:
It shows clear shadows, a blue sky and sunny weather. Micha Kobs timed the photo at about 12:07 local time, see Haunt the Buk, p. 57. If the date would be genuine, it was photographed at the same time as WowihaY posted his first Buk tweet.
The picture from Karapetyan street, Snizhne, of the off-loaded Buk:
Though the sky seems to be overcast, as it is in the Snizhne video also allegedly taken on the 17th (see below), still clear shadows can be seen, for example beneath the Buk, under a tree and around the apartment building. By using the shadow casting analysis technique Micha Kobs timed the picture at 13:45 EEST.
This picture was copied by “infowarrior” GirkinGirkin, the source Bellingcat uses to construct the trail. In a reply to his posting a trace of the origin of the story of the “hiding” Buk can be seen, see here. It says the Buk was hiding in a residential area, suggesting there somehow was a demand for secrecy. This impression was peddled by Kievites and Bellingcat to tackle questions about absence of other sightings and evidence of Buk presence. Maybe also because only a stealth Buk, only present on the day of the crime, would exonerate the Ukrainians from any responsability.
In fact this demand-for-secrecy narrative can be discarded, as is discussed in a previous blog I wrote. So probably, if genuine, the Buk drove by the apartment block, although the vehicle seemed to be positioned skewed on the road.
The Snizhne video
The sky seems to be overcast, like in the Snizhne Karapetyan picture, different from the bright sunny weather as seen on the Torez photo. Also in this case we can see some shadows, for example from trees on the road and on the roofs of the houses. Micha Kobs timed the video between 12:30 and 13:00, but closer to 12:30 (most probable 12:35 EEST) by using the method of shadow casting analysis, see Haunt the Buk, p. 58-63.
In the order of events in the Bellingcat chain of evidence the Torez photo came first. Then came the Snizhne imagery. The Karapetyan picture would show an event that precedes what we see on the Snizhne video. The Buk was off-loaded and must have been driven from Karapetyan street to the crossroads with Gagarin street/T0522, turned right there and moved along this road to the south, where it was captured from an apartment on Gagarin street with a view towards the south.
However, timing of the Karapetyan picture is set on 13:45 local time, whereas the time of the Snizhne video would be 12:35. Other details that are remarkable are that the filmer (who was identified as Vita Volobueva) didn’t capture the launch plume, though she had a clear vision on it from her apartment and seemed to have watched closely the fights going on in the south.
Second, when watching the portrait version, its apparent she had her focus on the horizon – where as said heavy fights took place that days – and not on the Buk. Neither did she zoom in on the vehicle making the loud noise that can be heard on the video. Actually, without the sound, the Buk is kind of misplaced in the video, like a detail not followed with full attention.
The Snizhne video maker
That she was watching closely what happened south from her apartment, in the frontarea around Stepanovka, Saurovka and Saur Mogila, may be attested by a photo she published on the 15th at 6:56 EEST.
The photo was posted in a conversation with a guy named Vladimir in a thread on a local chatgroup that was opened to discuss the air-raid of Ukrainian SU25’s in the early morning of the 15th, bombing an apartment block in Snizhne city and killing 11 people.
Attention! A source from Snizhne informs that according to the unconfirmed information a [military] plane was planning, most likely, to hit a militia’s base which is located in the middle of the city, but the missile hit a multistory building [located] on Lenin street, 14, next to the Tax office building and also the Tax office building itself, which was split in two. The State Emergency Services and the Emergency Gas Service is there. There is no information about victims. We are awaiting official comments.
Vladimir: Maxim, your eyes are so bad. Just get out to Lenin street and have a look!
Vita: I also saw that Saurovka [village] was hit.
Vladimir: Vita, a house on Lenin [street] is missing a corner!
Vita: Vladimir, yes, I have already phoned my acquaintances… it is horrible there.. a 5 story building is destroyed … and another private house near the bakery plant.
Vladimir: Vita, that’s what I am talking about!
Vita: Vladimir, but there were 2 hits… so Saurovka was the other place that was hit …
Vladimir: Vita, one hit was for the [multistory] house, the second one – for the Tax office.
Vita assumes a plane, which bombed Lenin street Snizhne, also bombed Saurovka, located to the south-west as seen from her apartment (= at the right from the T0522, the road to the south, from her point of view). Apparently the event displayed on her photo also took place in the early morning of the 15th, though Vladimir has no concerns for that other bombing. Conclusion: this picture must have been taken on the 15th.
Comparing a still from the Snizhne video and the photo from the 15th
Left, 12:30-13:00 EEST unknown date, overcast sky with some shadows on the roof. Right, timed at 6:54 AM on the 15th, no sun visible. Both pictures almost seem to have been captured on the same day, as all tiny details seem to match. Shape of vegetation, a ladder standing to the house on the right, the same configuration of objects in its yard. (Image credits: Ole)
There is only one exception though: the still of the video from the same location shows two cut bushes in front of the left house in the front. Conclusion must be these images must have been captured very close to one another in time, and the video, with the cutting, would have been taken later than the photo. And because we can assume the picture is from the 15th and the vid was posted on the 17th, the video can only originate from 15, 16 or 17 July.
Comparing the weather on the video with a photo made on the 17th
The actual weather on the site might explain something more. From that weather around 12-13 EEST we could get a glimpse on a picture made Andrey T., aka @parabellum_ua. Andrey was an “infowarrior” (and also acquainted with WowihaY), making himself useful by publishing information about military separatist movements. Taken this into account it is safe to assume he tweeted up-to-date postings.
At 13:07 EEST on the 17th he posted this: “The separatists are routed to Marinovka #Snizhne #ATO”. With it was posted this picture.
This photo was made at location (48.017462, 38.763331). A Panoramio photo shows the same crossing from a slightly different position. Remarkably, though the pic was timed between 12:05 and 12:30 by MH17 citizen-investigator Arnold Greidanus and probably was made on the 17th, the alert infowarrior @parabellum_ua never saw the Buk passing by the same crossroads not long thereafter.
Returning to the weather issue, the point of view is located towards the south. The picture shows a blue sky with some minor clouds, but sunny weather. As a matter of fact, also Vita was filming towards the south, also from Gagarin street, Snizhne, and also at about 12:30.
Though the time in between parabellum’s photo and her video could not be more than 0-55 minutes, its remarkable the video shows a fully overcast sky, whereas the picture shows sunny weather with only a few small clouds.
Observing the weather in Snizhne in the afternoon of the 17th
The weather forecast for Snizhne that day shows the morning would start sunny, but clouds would move in gradually, resulting in fully clouded weather after 15:00 EEST. Around 12:00, maybe even 12:30, the weather would become cloudy with sunshine now and then.
Its true there was somewhat difficult, unstable weather on 17 July around midday in the Torez/Snizhne area. Regarding cloudiness, that is. In theory the sunny weather of the Torez photo and the parabellum_ua photo already could be attributed to (very large) sunny patches in a cloud base that was closing steadily and entirely. Another explanantion would be that it still was sunny weather, with the clouds only rushing in shortly after 12:05-12:30 EEST to fully cover the sky at about 12:35 when Vita filmed the Buk. That would indeed be very sudden and very total.
Besides, later that day, anyway after 15:00 EEST, the sky would have been fully clouded according to the forecast, though on footage made after the disaster – after 16:20 – some patches of blue sky can be seen as well.
There are videos available from the so-called Vostok movement, a convoy of pro-separatist fighters moving from Donetsk to Marinovka that day, passing Shakhtarsk, Torez and Snizhne shortly after midday. From this footage is clear that between 12:15 and 13:25 EEST the sky was cloudy, but with large open patches too, especially towards the west, north-west, north-east and east (other directions are not visible).
On this video can be seen it was starting to get cloudy, but with fairly large patches of blue sky with sun, at Shakhtarsk-Hirne, 12.25-12:40 EEST. At about 0:55 the camera makes a turn from west to east over the north. All directions still show blue.
Only on this video some overcast southern sky can be seen as it was at about 13:00 EEST (see 0:07-0:13), but its not very well visible. As also the west seems to be overcast fully, maybe it could also be attributed to overexposure of light.
When the convoy was moving into Snizhne, at 13:15-13:25 EEST, still some blue sky parts in the south-west and shadows are visible.
The Vostok convoy near Shakhtarsk at about 12:25. The sky still shows large blue patches in a eastern direction (towards Torez/Snizhne). (Timing and location of the videos have been retrieved from blogs and reports written by Arnold Greidanus, Micha Kobs and Ukraine-at-war).
Also the Oplot convoy was on the road that afternoon. This photo shows an Oplot tank at the Lexus gas station in Snizhne, with a view looking towards the south-west, timed at 14:08 EEST (NB: though the time of capture appears to be an hour earlier, from other sources the right time is known).
There are blue patches, sun, shadows, when we are looking towards a southern direction (watch the original photo to see them more clearly). And this was about 1-1.5 hours later than the video was timed.
By the way, many people argued even the photo made at about 16:25 EEST from the alleged launch plume, with a point of view oriented towards the south, was captured when a cloudy sky was punctured by patches of blue and sunshine.
So looking at all this extra imagery we are able to conclude at this moment there is no corroborating evidence available to establish there actually was a fully overcast sky to be seen towards the south from midday to the late afternoon on the 17th.
Gamma filtering and the smoke plume(s)
Maybe there is another feature of the movie to give more insight. When using a filter to convert the video to a so-called gamma version, the background becomes more clear. On this gamma version the smoke in the background of the video becomes visible:
We can see a fairly large plume of smoke moving from east to west – or from left to right from the point of view of the video maker. In the first moments of the video even a second, rather small plume is visible too. To establish from where this plume (or plumes) could originate, a line could be drawn from the location of the video maker over a well detectable marker, i.e. the red house in line of sight:
Image credit: Micha Kobs
This way the line can be extrapolated on a satellite image of the area of the 16th (the 17th is not available) to see what was going on there.
Image credit: Micha Kobs. Imagery from Google Earth, 16.7.2014.
Remarkably on the image of the 16th at least five sources of smoke are visible!
From those five sources, two seem to be recognizable on the video too, especially in the first moments captured. They are on the right from the red line on the video, so on the left from the yellow line drawn on the satellite image.
The video seems to show the two sources of smoke on the left of the satellite image, a rather big source, filling almost the entire width of the video, and a small one.
The two most western located smoke plumes, a big one showing a plume for over kilometers wide with a small one just east from it. From the point of view of the videomaker the small one is on the leftmost position, as shown in the first moments of the gamma version. These locations fit with the line of sight as drawn from the location where the maker shot the video.
To verify the time of capture of the satellite image, Digital Globe Image Finder shows satellite WorldView 02 was flying over the area on the 16th. As @masamikuramoto found out:
“The list is short. Only one passover could produce useful imagery: at 08:52 UTC, 11:52 local time. Elevation was >81 degrees, almost perfect top-down view on the area between Snizhne and Stepanivka. All the other pass-overs that day were too low.”
So time of capture is known. Its 11:52 EEST, about three quarters of an hour in time before the video maker shot her movie from a Buk driving southwards from Snizhne. The smoke plumes match so well, we can almost assume the video actually was made on the 16th. That was the day WorldView 02 flew over Snizhne-Stepanovka and showed dark plumes of smoke, originating from burning fields, plumes also captured on the video.
1. The weather issue
We could place the Snizhne Karapetyan pic (13:45) and the Snizhne vid (12:35) against the Torez picture (12:07) and the parabellum_ua picture (12:05-30): The first two show an overcast sky but also shadows, the others show bright sunny weather at about the same place, the same time.
Especially the difference in weather between the parabellum_ua picture and the Snizhne video is remarkable, as they were taken at about the same place, the same time, and to the same direction. The clouds must came in very suddenly and completely, shortly after 12:10-30. On the other hand could be established that the cloudbase probably never was visible in full on that afternoon, as images and videos testify. Only the Snizhne Buk image and video presumably show a fully overcast sky.
Besides, maybe it would be possible a sky with some obvious blue patches or a blue sky would be rendered as overcast because of camera settings and saving conditions. This may cause a blue sky eventually appearing to be grey and overcast, as the images below show.
1. Top: Image with a blew sky, image taken against the sun
2. Middle: Increased brightness , copied and pasted , saved to another file
3. Bottom: That file – decreased brightness
Image credit: Elena Evdokimova
This way even the 16th could be a weather match, as it showed a blue sky or a blue sky with some clouds as was predicted for that day somewhere between 12 and 15 EEST. However, Arnold Greidanus performed some color tests and came to the conclusion the sky was in fact really overcast rather fully.
Of course, even when we assume it actually was clouded and overcast, with some faint sunshine, the trail got stuck with problems.
Though the picture from Karapetyan street and the video from south of Snizhne both show some overcast sky –but nevertheless with apparent shadows – they both don’t fit together in the same order of events. If the chain of evidence of the trail would be right, the picture in Snizhne city would have been taken before the video from the Buk leaving town south ways. It has been calculated to have been captured more than an hour after the video.
The “official” estimate for the time in Snizhne city is about 13:30 EEST. As far as I know no shadow casting analysis other than the one from Micha Kobs has been executed to recover the time of the Snizhne video. In the “official” order of events it must have been taken at about 13:45 or later. This is a pretty large gap with the time Kobs calculates. Therefore, from whatever day the Snizhne video originates, its probably not the same day as the Snizhne picture.
2. The smoke issue
Smoke could perhaps originate from GRAD shelling, which was reported on the late morning of the 17th. But it seems not likely the smoke plume on the video, stretching itself over a distance of several kilometers, is smoke originating from GRAD volleys.
Could the smoke plume on the video have come from fields burning on the 17th? In that case, we have two possible candidates:
These are the Bellingcat site (47°58’26.28″N 38°45’50.32″E) and a field just south-east from it (47°56’56.45″N 38°48’24.80″E). Both were unharmed on the 16th, but were burnt on the 20th, as can be seen on a Digital Globe preview not published on Google Earth.
Left: Digital globe preview of 20 July showing both burnt fields. Right: Google Earth image from the 16th when both still were unburnt. Imagery from 18 and 19 July shows clouds, so cannot be used for comparison.
So the Bellingcat field is a candidate that might have been burning on the 17th to corroborate a smoke plume on a video taken an hour after midday when the sky suddenly was overcast fully by clouds. Since Micha Kobs has calculated this field is physically and mathematically an impossible launch site, see part 1 and part 2, the odds that it was not a Buk but some farmer that set the field on fire, have become significantly higher.
Of course, if it would be the Bellingcat field that would be burning on the 17th and captured on the video, it would be impossible to sustain this was a launch field set on fire by Buk launch later that day.This way the argument the field possibly was burnt on the 17th, but in that case around midday, becomes an extra argument against this alleged launch site. However, looking at the position of both fields, the other field matches the location on the Snizhne video pretty well, actually (the yellow line almost disects this field).
If we assume the video doesn’t show two plumes but only one AND both fields were not burning on midday the 17th AND the sky turned into clouds within moments after 12:10-30 AND there was a time frame entirely without patches of blue sky in the southern direction, THEN we have a lead the video was made on the 17th.
Trying to squeeze the 17th in the video doesn’t diminish the problems for the track-a-trail chain of evidence.
First, as discussed above, the picture of an off-loaded Buk in Snizhne city was captured on a time after the video and not before, as it must have been in the suggested order of events. Its is not likely in the Bellingcat trail story the Buk drove away from Snizhne to the south, moved back, turned around, drove by Karapetyan street for the second time and then back to the direction of Pervomaiskiy south from Snizhne again.
Second, with the official launch site out of the way and, with this, the plume pictures under severe doubts, there actually is no need to suppose there ever was a launch south from Snizhne. The only lead for that remaining, apart from the undated video, is layed down in a sloppy report from the DSB, who calculated an area with the now debunked Bellingcat launch site located right in the middle.
The calculations and simulation modeling seemed to have been optimized for this launch site – the JIT criminal investigators even tried to retrieve soil samples to prove presence of a launch over there. After examination, however, could be concluded this simulation model was not only optimized for Snizhne, but also founded on absence of Buk hardware (and theoretical parameters about it as well) and a very limited assessment of the damage pattern of the MH17 wreckage.
Furthermore, simple logic and a clear understanding of physics combined with a sketch from a Buk manual showed the assigned area was really not that well demarcated, as Micha Kobs showed.
Micha Kobs raised the question after looking at a trajectory analysis from the Buk manual why the DSB has cut off a possible launcharea south-west from their designated area. Salient is that this south-western area was, as was a part of the south-west of the DSB area, under control of Anti Terrorism Operation troops of the Ukrainians. On the 17th these troops launched a massive attack with full force from Amvrosievka, a city where also their rearbase was located. The attack was directed to the north-east, especially to Saur Mogila, Stepanovka and Marinovka.
So also this official DSB endorsed part of the trail raises hard-boiled question marks. In fact, one may conclude regarding cluster one evidence focused on the debunked launch site, its all is open again. Even fakery.
Could there have been made a fake video of a Buk driving south from Snizhne on 17th? It would be short notice to make it, as time of capture was about 12:35 and the video was put on the net shortly before 20:30. Only the inconspicuous Buk had to be “shopped” in, making its appearance more credible by putting some loud noise behind it. It is a hypothesis that could be supported by the fact the focus seems to be on the horizon instead of on the Buk, and the video maker never zoomes in on the Buk itself.
Theoretically even the weather on the video – ambiguously, rather fully overcast, but also showing sunshine and shadows – could have been inserted to match best the weather on the 17th. Although the shown weather is problematic, as discussed, it may match the actual weather best if we have to pick from 15-17 July.
Asking Sergey Mastepanov, who wrote an elaborate study about possible forgery of Buk photos and videos, he replied:
“I’m in no position to tell how exactly everything was done, but… How I think it was done is, assuming sky and smoke in Snizhne matches 17.07, is that there was a camera rolling 24/7 in some flat monitoring the roads for SBU (or for specifically fake video purpose) and connected to the internet.
This raw material was used to make Buk videos with maybe a couple of variants to accommodate for different weather scenarios and made so that the sky portion could be easily replaced. Then at around 12:00, 17/07, they took that sky from the same static camera and same position and replaced it in videos.
This is how I would do it if the sky was critical to match in certain video. 6+ hours is more than enough to replace the sky if the video project was prepared for this beforehand and the camera is at the same position.”
It would be possible. Actually, everything would be possible when anything goes technically. There is a video from the horizon as there also was a photo from the exact same position. A Buk could have been put in. A sky to match the weather on the 17th was put in also. There is your Snizhne Buk video.
But even without assuming the video has been forged, we encounter severe doubts about statements regarding its original date, statements labeling all social media stuff – without much merit – to have originated from the 17th.
To draw some conclusion, first the assumptions:
- The Vita photo is from the 15th;
- The parabellum photo is from the 17th;
- Timing of the Torez Buk picture, the Snizhne Karapetyan picture and the Snizhne video are more or less correct, in each case regarding their order of time.
Then we have the weather forecasts, but we have to take into account they are a very crude measure:
Possibility the video originates before 15 July
Vita’s picture of the 15th is showing almost the same vegetation patterns as the video she made, apart from two cut bushes in front of 1 house; This says the vid must have been taken shortly after and not before the picture of the 15th.
Possibility the video originates from 15 July
The weather was fully clouded all day. There was no sun predicted, so probably no clear shadows present, and therefore no possibility to perform a shadow casting analysis like was done with the video. However, it cannot be excluded fully there actually was some faint sun present in the afternoon to match the weather on the video. Footage from a convoy in Donetsk and Makeevka shows large blue patches in the north-eastern direction, but though the forecasts are the same for the entire region, Donetsk is tens of kilometers away from Snizhne.
A screenshot form a convoy driving in Makeevka on the 15th. Though we can see large patches of blue and no fully clouded sky, there are no clear shadows. Besides, point of view is directed to the north, time is in the late afternoon and the location is tens of kilometers away from Snizhne, though the weather forecast was the same for the entire Donetsk-Shakhtarsk region. It does, however, show a fully clouded weather forecast might actually turn out to have significant blue patches, perhaps even with some faint sunshine and shadows.
Regarding the smoke issue, probably there were no burning fields in line of sight of the video maker on the 15th, as there seem to be no burnt fields near the line of sight on satellite imagery of the 16th. Then, of course, also no source of smoke could have been captured.
Possibility the video originates from 16 July
The weather does not match, as it was bright and sunny with 0% cloud coverage around noon, though sometime between 12:00 and 15:00 clouds moved in. The weather at 15:00 was about the same as the weather forecast of the 17th around noon. A partly overcast or even blue sky could have been rendered fully overcast by camera settings, though the Greidanus test can’t verify this. However, neither could this test verify blue sky patches that probably were there on the 17th.
There were, however, two smoke plumes, a big one and a small one, arriving from burning fields, perfectly matching the line of sight of the video maker. The time of capturing the smoke plumes on video (12:35 EEST) matches the time of capture of the satellite image that shows these plumes (11:52 EEST), because it is likely the fields would have been burning at least another hour after they were captured on the satellite image to be visible on the video.
Possibility the video originates from 17 July
The weather forecast for the afternoon might have been partly in favor of the weather as seen on the video, as it was expected clouds would move in. The 17th seems to match best out of the forecasts for the three possible days, as around noon the 15th shows fully overcast weather without any sun and the 16th shows sunny weather and a bright sky.
However, the actual weather might differ a bit, so the 15th might have had some blue sky and/or faint sun and the 16th might already have had a partly clouded sky rather early after noon.
Second, according to the sunny weather on the parabellum picture, the cloudiness in the southern direction on the 17th must have come in very sudden and fully.
Third, though this is a possibility, from other images and footage can’t be corroborated the sky to the south was fully overcast, as the entire afternoon showed pretty significant patches of blue sky between the clouds. Anyway, it wasn’t overcast in the west, north and east between noon and 14:00. Actually, on a photo from the Oplot convoy, taken at 14:08, some blue sky patches towards the south-west can be seen from a Snizhne perspective. If the Snizhne video was taken after 13:45, as it should have been according to the “official” timeline, the chance is slimmer the southern sky hadn’t blue patches as seen on the 14:08 Snizhne photo from Oplot.
Fourth, if the video showed overexposure of light/(re-)adapted brightness to render a (partly) blue sky fully overcast, this is valid for the 15th and 16th as much as for the 17th. That way the weather issue shows itself to be inconclusive, because in all cases the actual weather is hidden.
With respect to the smoke issue, there is a possibility a field in the line of sight of the video maker was burning on the 17th, causing a plume of smoke to be captured. This could have been the infamous Bellingcat/Ukraine-at-war launch site. However, this field could have been burned on 16 and 18-20 July as well.
Actually, the smoke plumes visible on the 16.7 satellite image lay down a path for a heavy competitive explanation to the 17 July origin of the Snizhne video in the track-a-trail chain of evidence.
Maybe the video was slightly adapted digitally to show – unintentionally – a fully overcast sky. Anyway, this fully overcast sky does not match the weather on the 16th but there is a fairly big chance it neither matches the actual weather on the 17th. With the weather issue inconclusive only the smoke issue, in favor of the 16th, remains – setting leads for possible fakery aside.
Apart from difficult dating of the video, there are some more issues that should be verified by the witnesses:
- Why didn’t the alert infowarrior parabellum_ua, busy capturing separatist movement to the south of Snizhne on the 17th at midday, capture the Buk?
- Why didn’t Vita zoom in nor focus on the Buk?
- Why didn’t Vita, who was watching the south of Snizhne fightings closely those days, capture the launch plume?
There could have been perfectly credible explanantions, but overseeing the entire trail evidence, its actually the absence of evidence that keeps on haunting us.
According to some people the 16.7 satellite imagery could show a Buk just beside a separatist block post next to the debunked Bellingcat launch field.
Peter Leonard, reporter for American Press, showed at the first anniversary of the crash he had made a note of information AP reporters (the Buk witnesses) in the field had given him on the 17th.
The note shows a Buk launching system entered Snizhne from the south at 11:00 AM, probably local time (later was stated they had seen it on 13:05 EEST, a very precise estimate pinning an extra, perfectly matching dot to the Snizhne part of the Bellingcat trail). Let’s assume for the moment this actually was the right time of a genuine sighting.
Then in this order of events a Buk was near Pervomaiskiy on the 16th after it was filmed by Vita, drove back on 17 July at about 11 AM, and was seen by the AP reporters in Snizhne city from a location near the parabellum crossroads. To match the Bellingcat trail of the first cluster evidence it must have turned left, to drive further into the city. There it turned around and was photographed at Karapetyan street 2.5 hours later, before it drove back to the south again. Maybe it just needed some gasoline at a gas station.
Problems are evident also. The Buk was’t off-loaded in Snizhne city that day to “fill an entire town square with smoke”, as another (?) witness claimed in this BBC interview. The Buk was not photographed in Torez at noon on 17 July. WowihaY, Euromaydan and Roman were fed with false information. It was not filmed in Zuhres on the 17th.
Not to speak about the second cluster of evidence, because this Buk could never have entered Donetsk in the early morning of the 17.7.
Or was there another Buk transport in that area between 9:00 and 11:30, as captured on satellite imagery acquisitioned on 11:08 EEST? Were both Buks routed together behind the Furshet Market in Snizhne at about 8 PM, as Gerashchenko’s source had told him? Were they evacuated over the border together in the early morning of 18 July, as message from the Ukrainians on that day implied?
Either way, this story line is putting heavy blame on the Ukrainians for letting at least one Buk be present in the disputed area for significant time and not doing anything about it (Or did they, by trying to bomb the militia base in Snizhne city in the early morning on the 15th?). And, of course, it would fully devastate any Bellingcat credibility.
It is actually not that crackpot thinking to say the entire 17.7 trail is a fraud. The impression is there the possible presence of a Buk in the Snizhne area was used as a focal point for constructing a story fit to print the Bellingcat way. The actual launch site may have been more to the south-west, as there seems to be no reason to exlude that area and some witnesses near the Bellingcat site actually point to the south. Did this area cover Ukrainian or rebel positions? No one knows at this moment – but doubts are in order, all the more so when we look at the strange area the DSB assigned a launch to, cut off to contain less of Ukrainian controled territory.
Anyway, after this exercise the final conclusion must be that taking some dots from unclear sources and draw straight lines between them, supported by the hidden assumption these dots originate all from the same day without any proof for that, really doesn’t match forensic standards. It does however fit an easy-to-print propaganda story of blame very well. The main question is: Was the trail constructed to put blame to a side that was culpable anyway? Or was it tailored to cover an entirely different chain of events?
With special thanks to Elena Evdokimova, Arnold Greidanus, Micha Kobs, Masami Kuramoto, Sergey Mastepanov and Ole
Appendix 1: First cluster parts of the trail, Torez/Snizhne
12:07 EEST: Past us, toward the center drove air defense installation. 4 rockets, said to be Buk #stopterror #Torez in the direction of #Snizhne
12:16 EEST: Buk travels through Torez at Snizhne #stopterror
Torez, 12:17-20 EEST: Euromaydan Facebook posting
12:17 EEST ¨In Torez in the direction of Snizhne drives a BUK. Information from local residents¨
12:19 EEST ¨In Torez in the direction of Snizhne drives a BUK. Accompanied with machines and terrorists. Information from local residents¨
12:20 EEST ¨In Torez towards Snizhne drives a BUK. Accompanied with machines and terrorists. Information from local residents¨
16:32 EEST Update: According to the spokesman of the RNBO [=Andrei Lysenko from the Ukrainian National Security Council; HR] there is information the terrorist are in possession of advanced missile launching systems.
Torez, 12:26 EEST: Roman tweet
Missile system was driven on a tractor + two cars for cover through Torez towards Snizhne at 12-10.
Snizhne, 17:51 EEST: Daily Mail, AP reporter saw a Buk in the city;
An Associated Press reporter on Thursday saw seven rebel-owned tanks parked at a gas station outside the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne. In the town, he also observed a Buk missile system, which can fire missiles up to an altitude of 22,000 meters (72,000 feet).
— 18:20 EEST, Anton Gerashchenko Facebook posting: accusations on Putin’s address mentioning “Buk”. (Gerashchenko was advisor for the ministry of the interior and, as was found out later, contact of WowihaY).
Snizhne, 1923 EEST: Wowihay tweets plume picture.
Snizhne, 19:58 EEST: Anton Gerashchenko Facebook posting: two Buks hiding in Snizhne city behind the Furshet Market – a message that never was confirmed.
Torez, before 20:09 EEST: Buk picture
Snizhne, 20:18 EEST, Ukrainian politician Dmitry Tymchuk posts on this Facebook site a message about the Buk, seen in Snizhne at 13:30 EEST moving in a convoy that appears to be the Vostok movement (translation by a supporter), as ultimately was claimed too by the realtime Euromaydan posting. (Also the 17.7 Ukraine-at-war blog would mention the information from this posting, but with it a still from the Zuhres video and two photos from the Vostok movement at the same site. The SBU followed with this on a 19.7 presser by counter-intelligence chief Nayda).
Snizhne, before 20:33 EEST: video of a self-propelling Buk leaving Snizhne from the south, published on a Vkontakte site (Russian Facebook) but deleted a few hours later. The original was in portrait format.
Snizhne, 23:04 EEST: photo of an off-loaded Buk in the city, on Karapetyan street.
Appendix 2: Setting the trail on track, Euromaydan
Especially the astroturf organization Euromaydan was very eager to support a story of Russian guilt, as they were – as it seems – the first working on a trail. On 21:07 EEST they tweeted a live-blog bulletin written in English for international propaganda consumers. On it appeared:
- Gerashchenko’s diary from separatist military movements that day, including the alleged Buk transport, the Vostok and the Opot convoys.
- A screenshot from the Roman tweet, posted at 20:17 EEST
- A screenshot of the first Strelkov_info posting about an alleged retracted confession to construct the fatal mistake narrative, added at 21:01 EEST
- In between they tweeted the Torez Buk photo on their own twitter account, at 21:09 EEST.
- Then on tackk.com/MH17 bulletin also the Torez Buk photo appeared: 21:11 EEST
- At 21:26 EEST, on the Euromaidan twitter account the original of Vita’s video was linked, with the message: “Anti-aircraft “BUK” vehicle near Snizhne, area controled by proRussian terrorists“.
- Then on tackk.com/MH17 again they posted the Snizhne vid, but now linked to the “Euromaydan” Youtube channel, a re-upload from 21:44 EEST of the then deleted Volobueva video. Included in the caption was some line between the dots mentioning “from Torez to Snizhne” – whereas in fact the Buk on the video drove from Snizhne to Pervomaiskiy. Obviously the Buk part reminded them of their realtime message about the Buk and the machines with terrorists who went, according to “locals” (WowihaY, Roman?), “from Torez towards Snizhne”.
- A video with the intercepts, or “Bezler confession taps”, was posted at 23:19 EEST on the “maidanorgua” Youtube channel, to corroborate the fatal mistake narrative.