From the series “How to use sloppy thinking for disinformation”. This series contains the following blogposts:
Part 2. The separatist from Oplot (Corriera della Sera)
In the information war that was ignited moments after MH17 crashed, a lot of stories appeared in (pro)western mainstream and social media in which statements from separatists were misinterpreted. This was done to construct a story that actually an implicit admission of guilt was conveyed. Actually in all cases the conclusion was based on rather biased and sloppy thinking or even on deceitful intentions.
On July 22 the Italian news paper Corriera della Sera interviewed a soldier from battalion “Oplot”, at the trainstation in Torez.
It was renowned proKiev blogger Ukraine-at-war who used this article – and he was not the only one – to build a narrative of tacitly admitted guilt upon. For this he used the line below:
Abbiamo colpito un aereo di Kiev, ci hanno detto i nostri capi: pensavamo di affrontare i piloti ucraini atterrati col paracadute e ci siamo imbattuti in cadaveri di civili»
“We hit a plane from Kiev, our leaders told us: we were thinking of facing the Ukrainian pilots who had landed with a parachute and we ran into the bodies of civilians “
The way of thinking follows a structure that can be seen also in other parts of alleged evidence of separatist guilt as retrieved from their own accounts – foremost in the case of the retracted message at the Strelkov_info website as the quintessential example (see part 1 of this series).
The active voice in which the quote is formulated (“We hit a plane”) attached to a source up in the – apparently all-knowing – chain of command (“our leaders told us”), enhances the suspicion that an actual downing by seperatists had taken place. People high up in the chain of command MUST have had first-hand information about this shooting – by dogma, of course, as the separatist are guilty – and so this statement is a clear admission. Of course, only later it turned out to be the wrong plane.
However, let’s assume this hidden premisse, or dogma, has to be swept aside to start reasoning from a neutral point of view. Then the interpretation of the lines might sound very differently.
Then the actual Buk crew might not be the primary source of the original information about a downing; local residents near the crashsite were. They collected this information with their own eyes and in conversations – face-to-face and on social media – with fellow locals. They saw a plane had been downed as its remains were all over the place. As it fell on their turf and SU25’s and AN26’s were shot down in the days before, the assumption that “we” shot it down made sense for them.
The flow of information could have routed itself as follows: Residents loyal to the separatists or people from a network of spotters near the crashsite sent their information, rumours and perceived facts to the DPR bureaus, where it reached intelligence headquarters (ie. Leonid Kharchenko; see part 4 of this series). Then a commander dispatched a reconnaisance group to look on site what is going on, constructing a hypothesis about the events to go with (see part 3. of this series)
As there is not per se first-hand information from shooters available – as we are neutral and hence can’t preconceive guilt – the commanders could have gone with the mix of visual confirmation and assumptions that the locals put through. As this possibility is real, it obviously says that the conclusion reached from the interpretation by Ukraine@war and the like can not be established as being true.
The part about Ukrainian pilots who had landed by parachutes, is another element that says that the information must have arrived from local sources, who misinterpreted what they saw. Obviously, a testimony about pilots ejecting near the crashsite – 26 km away from the alleged launchsite – could never have originated from any shooters themselves.
Proseparatist locals were not the only people speculating. Questions from proKiev social media users about the well-being of the pilots could be read shortly after rumours about a crash were spread. For example, at 16:46 EEST twitter user Mayasha_Alex asks: “And what about the pilots?” Then someone answers: “They said they jumped”
Another question about the well-being of the pilots was also answered by someone who claimed that the pilot had jumped.
Ukraine@war is not cautious with asserting theories about the few words from the soldier who shared his mind with Corriera della Sera:
“There is a chance that this might be the guy who was phoning his commander to explain it was a civilian plane in these leaked phonecalls.”
The calls mentioned are the Major-Grek and Kozytsin-Separatist conversations that were intercepted by the SBU, misdated, mistimed and edited to construct a false story (see my blogpost here). Together with the story of the retracted Strelkov_info message, this was the cornerstone of the socalled “fatal mistake narrative”, that appeared on stage within hours after the crash.
Maybe the Oplot soldier was around in a reconnaissance group near the crashsite, but what would this say? Obviously, separatist people were involved in finding debris parts, as the plane fell on “their” territory.
By the way, he himself wanted to make absolutely clear that this information from his leaders was not from first-hand accounts by shooters:
“Ovvio che non siamo stati noi ad abbattere l’aereo. Non disponiamo di missili capaci di sparare tanto in alto. Questo è un crimine commesso dai banditi che obbediscono al governo di Kiev.”
“Obvious, it wasn’t us who took down the plane. We don’t have missiles with such a high reach. It was a crime committed by the bandits that follow the orders of the government in Kiev”.
Nevertheless, with some crafty thinking propagandists for Kiev constructed an implicit admission of guilt from his words.
Below: Screengrab from an academic study by J.V. Koshiw – “MH17 – The story of the shooting down of Malaysian airliner”, Artemia Press Ltd, Bristol, GB (2015). The article in the Corriera was used to depict a gruesome picture of the separatists and even contained a clear lie.