From the series “How to use sloppy thinking for disinformation”. This series contains the following blogposts:
Part 4. The Leonid Kharchenko intercepts
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 June 19, 2019, the JIT announced that the prosecutor’s office will formally indict Leonid Kharchenko, subcommander of Sergey Dubinski alias “Khmuryi”, for his role in the acquisition of the Buk that downed MH17:
Leonid Kharchenko, also known as Krot, is the only Ukrainian suspect. He has no military background. He received his orders directly from Dubinskiy [Khmuryi] and in July 2014 he was commander of a combat unit in the Donetsk region. At that time, there was an armed conflict in that area between pro-Russian fighters and the Ukrainian armed forces.
The suspect Kharchenko is of Ukrainian citizenship and we assume he is living in Eastern Ukraine, in an area that is currently not under control of Ukrainian authorities. On 17 July 2014, all four suspects were in Eastern Ukraine. They played a crucial role in the armed conflict and held important positions.
Kharchenko plays a prominent role in the socalled “Missing crew member taps”, an intercepted conversation between him and a subordinate:
We also previously posted the following conversation of 17 July 2014 at 21.32 hours online. It is a conversation between the suspect Kharchenko and a man, whom he calls ‘Ryazan’ and who addresses Kharchenko as ‘commander’.
Apparently, one of the crew members of the BUK-TELAR who had just shot down MH17 lost contact with the rest of the crew. Kharchenko orders the crew member to be brought to him. The JIT would like to know who that crew member was.
This telephone conversation does not demonstrate to which Brigade this crew belongs. (…)
Transcripts of the intercepted conversation are as follows:
A : Yes,… ?
B : Hello, commander. Have you already left, yes?
A : Me ? Yes. I have left for my task, you – for yours.
B : I got it. Within that very region or not ?
A : No. I´m not within that region. I´m to the other direction.
B : … (inaudible) a fighter has got lost there from this one… (inaudible) launcher. He has… lost his crew, …(name blurred out)!
A : What a launcher ?
B : From a Buk.
A : From a Buk ???
B : Yes.
A : And where is he, … (name blurred out) ?
B : Here he is standing at the checkpoint.
A : Take him and bring him in here, … (name blurred out). I´ll be waiting for him in Snizhne near the petrol station.
B : Ok.
A : (Not translated)
B : (Not translated)
A : (Not translated)
B : (Not translated)
The person addressed as commander (person A, so presumably „Krot“ alias of Leonid Kharchenko) reacts surprised when his interlocutor mentions that it was a Buk launcher‘s crew that lost its member – as if all panic about the downed passenger plane and its launcher was not immediately at the forefront of his mind. Could this intercepted call have been misdated, perhaps?
This could hardly account as a clear case from which can be established Kharchenko played a central role in the acquisition of a Buk that shot down a plane with 298 passengers on board.
Another intercept would prove that he did, as he gave directions to a presumed Buk crew. According to the JIT, Ukraine and Bellingcat, this tape would provide evidence the Buk crew was ordered by “Lionia” (or Lyonya), callname of Kharchenko, to go to the alleged launchsite, a farmfield near Pervomaiskyi. (See here from 7:35):
Already in 2016 I established that this conversation was rigged, as “Lionia” conveys information that shows that he gave directions in the opposite direction in relation to the official Buk route. The calling soldier, Oleg, apparently was on its way to the separatist checkpoint along the T0522, the road south from Snizhne and north-west from Stepanivka.
[The JIT even made a mistake in the translation of the town mentioned, which had to be straightened out first]
“Lionia gives directions to go from Stepaninka (with a “N”, so not Stepanivka – or Stepanovka in Russian – with a “V”, which is an actually existing village located south from Snizhne; see map below) to the right. However, there is no hamlet, village or quarter known named Stepaninka. According to people who have Russian as their native language actually the village heard is Stepanivka, with a “V”.
But when Lionia says to go from Stepanivka to the right towards fucking Snizhne, so actually to go from south to north, he in fact gives Oleg a clue in an opposite direction to the alleged Buk route!
Indeed, if one should go from Stepanivka/Stepanovka rightwards towards Snizhne, the way continues along the T0522 through a rural area and the alleged launch field is passed by. Next to this field the DPR hosted a blockpost. Maybe Oleg was on its way – for whatever reason, as columns and vehicles drove regularly through Snizhne to the southern front those days – to this checkpoint at the left side of the road [as perceived from his position].
The impression remains the two persons talking here, did actually not participate in the same conversation at the same time.”
As Bellingcat followed the JIT back in 2016, they even mixed up the interlocutors in the conversation to prove that the Buk crew came from Russia. (see here ). As Lionia stumbled upon “this fucking Snizhne”, his words were put into Oleg the Buk driver’s mouth (see screengrab below) to allude to the impression the crew was not from the area, and so Russian.
Sloppy reading makes sloppy thinking.
In their June 2019 report they implicitly admitted their mistakes, though they never elaborated on the consequences – ie. that this actually was a JIT facilitated fraud. Instead they resume their story by referencing that Ukraine also used the same conversation in their case against the Russian Federation (see their report, page 67 and screengrab below).
“The directions that Lyonya gives suggest that Oleg is approaching him from the frontlines near Marynivka/Dmytrivka, southeast of Stepanivka.”
This is exactly as I concluded back in 2016. Well, sort of. Lionia gives directions to someone – not Oleg – to travel from Dmitrivka via Stepanivka to Snizhne – to wait there for further instructions. However, Oleg wants to go from Snizhne to the south, to the blockpost on the left side of the road (going from north to south) – the one at the other side of the road of the alleged lauchsite.
But then they just start a new sentence:
In Ukraine’s application concerning their case against Russia, submitted to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on 12 June 2018, the call between Lyonya and Oleg is also mentioned, but the two men are instead referred to by the call signs “Krot” (Mole) and “Zmey” (Serpant).
The contradicting evidence is concealed again in the fog of war. In Dutch we have a saying for this: “Acting as if your nose is bleeding”, which says something like “whatever is happening, ignore it and keep on going the same course”. Bellingcat did not spend any word more about this tapped conversation which obviously had nothing to do with a BUK transport, as a Buk could not have been brought in from the frontline. And neither did the JIT, that implicated itself in this fraudulent piece of evidence.
In a Note of Suspicion that the Ukrainian Central Office of Criminal Investigations published on Igor Girkin, an intercept featuring Kharchenko is also mentioned as proof in a case against the former DPR commander. It shows one line from which people concluded that his guilt had been established or even that this was “the smoking gun”.
It says according to the UCOCI, as translated in English (see screegrab from the Note of Suspicion):
Reasoning behind this presumed expression of guilt shows exactly the same faulty path as the misinterpretation and manipulation that made proof from the retracted message on VK.com group Strelkov_info and the other case in this series of blogposts. Someone high up in the military asserts shortly after the crash that the separatists shot down a plane – now a SU25 instead of the AN-26 as was the case in the Strelkov_info fabrication – which eventually turned out to be MH17. As Bellingcat states:
Though the narrative that was based on the Strelkov_info message stranded, it managed to resurrect itself again, just holding on to other parts of alleged evidence. In the end it was assumed tacitly again that a separatist leader, in this case: Kharchenko, showed first hand knowledge that an actual separatist downing had taken place. Other possibilities were discarded along the way – perhaps even unconciously, as dogmatic thinking has the characteristic that it takes over the entire capacity for reasoning.
In this case manipulation could have been added by translation from Russian into English in active voice, as was done with the “Strelkov message” too. Not: “A plane has been downed”, which sounds a lot more neutral. But: “WE have downed a plane”, in active voice, as this reinforces the suggestion laid out that this line comes from someone implicated in the shooting himself or in its direct chain-of-command.
With the assumption mentioned, from the line “They are on the spot. We shot down a Shushka”, more assumptions and conjecture can be made by interpreting towards the desired narrative. “They” must be the Buk crew and “the spot” must be the launchsite. Of course, the Shushka appeared to be MH17, acccording to the fatal mistake narrative. There you have your smoking gun.
An alternative explanation could be that the commander got information that ultimately arrived from local residents or spotters near the crash site. As written above in part 3 of this series, it is known from a reconstruction by citizen investigator Arnold Greidanus and from conversations on local message board that local residents thought two planes had been downed.
They thought this, for example, because the cockpit fell at Roszypne and the fuselage of the plane near Grabovo or because of two large debris fields that were located on either side of the road in Grabovo.
There were also reports about people thinking they were bombed, pilots that had ejected (and were crawling) and bodies of civilians that were found. From this they may have concluded that a Sukhoi fighter jet (“bombing”, “pilots”) was shot down after it had downed some civilian plane (large or two debris fields, “bodies of civilians”).
This provided a frame for assuming a Sushka was involved in the events that had taken place right before. Also a conversation on the smartphone app Zello, which blogger Ukraine-at-war posted for other reasons, showed clearly how people reasoned:
[1:22] So, there’s information, information, that Sushka [— slang for “Su”; meaning a Ukrainian fighter jet] has shot down this AN26 with foreigners.
[1:33] I was just going to say, couldn’t one plane shoot down another one?
Citizen investigator Arnold Greidanus mentioned in a study:
By combining several sources I determined that the first unit of separatists arrived at Grabovo in between 16:45-16:55 approximately – see my post on this topic.
Actually, this matches with a time of 16:48 of the Kharchenko intercept. The “they” will be a group of separatist recon troops that were dispatched and reported they had arrived (ie. the group as featured in part 3 of this series); “the spot” will be the crashsite where, according to received information from some locals, “a Sushka was shot down”.
“They are at the spot and have already downed one Sushka”
If the argument here is true, the phrasex “already” and “one” may have been inserted by the SBU to inflict an impression that the shooting is related to the arrival of the Buk – which reached the alleged launchsite about 2.5 hours before the missile launch. Implicit message would be that a Sushka has been downed – by us – and there will follow more, because we have this magical weapon.
However, question is if it is plausible that Kharchenko reports to his superior that the Buk arrived at the launchsite only after more than 2.5 hours, exactly at a time when all this information from residents was arriving at his desk as well.
Maybe the intercepted call mentioned:
“They (=the recon unit) arrived at the spot (=crash site). And a (not: already one) Sushka has been shot down (as many people around the crash site suggested).”
Hopefully the full original intercept will be disclosed in court. Anyway, taking the history of the SBU tapes into account, we can not trust this source upfront when they show intercepted conversations.