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The Russian Government Goes Back to Parroting Dodgy Internet Rumours

July 21, 2014

By Eliot Higgins

In the wake of the August 21st Sarin attacks in Damascus it was increasingly apparent the statements made by the Russian Foreign Ministry were guided by the latest stories floating around the internet.  They began by parroting reports of videos from the attack being uploaded a day before the attacks, something that had already been debunked by Storyful, then parroted reports in Mint Press about Saudi involvement, fringe groups, and dodgy nuns, with consistency seemingly irrelevant.

Now it appears in the wake of the downing of flight MH17 the Russian government may be replaying the same game plan.  The following video was posted by the Ukranian Ministry of Interior, claiming to show the Buk linked to the down of MH17 being driven out of the country

While the transporter appeared to match one seen in Torez, around 15km away from the impact site of MH17 on the day of the crash, it seems difficult to ascertain the time or location of the transporter, confirming the government’s claims were untrue.

After the video was published posts were made across Russian social networking sites and blogs claiming the video was in fact from the city of Krasnoarmeysk, with The Interpreter providing a translation of one of the posts that was widely reproduced across social networks

A video is being disseminated in Ukrainian communities where supposedly the militia are hauling the shooting BUK toward the RF [Russian Federation – The Interpreter]. But the city of Krasnoarmeysk is in the video, the billboard with the advertisement for the car dealership at 31 Dnepropetrovskaya St. Since 11 May and until now, the city has been under control of the junta’s forces, conducting the ATO! [anti-terrorist operation].

The BUK is missing one missile. In the photo and video with the trailer (the same one) there is a StroiDom [construction material] store. Address: Krasnoarmeysk, 49 Gorky Street. That is, the shooting BUK was located on a territory under the control of the junta and is still there. What questions are there? Everything is as clear as day — the Boeing was shot down by Ukrainian military by this very BUK, and now, in order for the video which leaked on to the web not to become compromising material, they decided to stupidly lay the blame on the militia, that they are hauling it. Remaining true to their lying nature (the Odessians burned themselves, the Luganskites blew up their own air conditioner, the DPR itself shells towns and so on). Mongrels.

As The Interpreter points out, this appears to be an attempt to use open source information to dismiss the claims made by the Ukranian government, but the posts fail to provide any supporting evidence, and investigation by The Interpreter and others appears to point to key elements of the story being incorrect (see here for details).

As with August 21st, we have dubious claims posted on the internet, and as with August 21st, these claims are now being repeated by the Russian government

Videos allegedly showing the transportation of a Buk air defense system from Ukraine to Russia are a result of manipulation, a high-ranking Russian Defense Ministry official said on Monday.

“This is clear manipulation. The images were taken in the city of Krasnoarmeisk, which is borne out by the roadside billboard giving the address of a car dealer in the city,” Lieutenant-General Andrei Kartapolov, head of the Main Operations Department of the Russian Army General Staff, said at a news conference.

“Krasnoarmeisk has been under the Ukrainian army’s control since May 11,” he added.

One question that remains is how this story began?  It appeared to spread like wildfire over Russian social media sites, so was this a purposeful effort to disseminate the story before it was repeated? Or is it just another rumour the Russian government latched on to and parroted in response to a political headache?

Eliot Higgins

Eliot Higgins is the founder of Bellingcat and the Brown Moses Blog. Eliot focuses on the weapons used in the conflict in Syria, and open source investigation tools and techniques.

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  1. bopollo

    I can’t follow the Russian/Ukrainian discussions, so perhaps this has already been addressed, but I’m skeptical about whether those are actually trolley wires in the video.

    First, the wires seem way too high off the ground, like twice as high as they need to be.

    Furthermore, it appears that on the other side of the road (below where the wires are) there’s a downward slope, meaning that the wires would be even higher off the ground.

    Another clue I spotted (which may have already been spotted) is that there’s a small bright light just on the right edge of the billboard. It look like an electric light, but I think it might actually be reflected sunlight. If that’s the case, it would suggest that the video was taken right before sunset and that the camera is pointed in a westerly direction, or that it was taken right after sunrise and that the camera is pointed in an easterly direction. From the lighting in the sky, I think certain experts (photographers, meteorologists?) should be able to confirm whether it’s sunrise or sunset.

    And another clue (more of a question): What’s with the leafless tree behind the billboard? It might just be dead (which would be a bit weird. Dead trees near wires usually get cut down pretty quick) but it might also be a late blooming tree, which might allow us to better establish a date for the video. I know very little about trees, and perusing wiki commons files on Ukrainian trees didn’t help.

    On another subject, does anyone else find it strange that there seems to be no effort to hide the murder weapon? It seems like a no-brainer to at least put a tarp over the thing. And why is it being driven through dense urban areas? Aren’t there back roads that circumvent these places?

    I realize that a lot of these things I’m bringing up are questioning the Ukrainian version of events, but I want to believe the Ukrainian version of events, and my policy is to try and disprove the things I want to believe.

    I’m new to the site (just learned about it from Reddit) so I hope my comments here are in the proper spirit of things. I’ve been doing this kind of sleuthing for a while on my own and I’m excited to be doing it for a bigger project, rather than just for the upvotes.

  2. Hamish

    In reference to part of your comment “What’s with the leafless tree behind the billboard? It might just be dead (which would be a bit weird. Dead trees near wires usually get cut down pretty quick)”

    – Two things on that one, this is provincial Ukraine under pro-Russian control (they’re poor arse bro), heck even in rural Russia pro-active roadside maintenance doesn’t happen, almost zero programmed maintenance of anything happens in these provincial areas, till it becomes an issue that is. Our Western mindset and life experience of how stuff is “meant to be done” doesn’t apply here.
    Heck even some of the refrigerated rail cars carrying the bodies from MH17 had expanded foam (from a spray can) applied to the doors as the door seals were perished… to say things are a tad backward would be an understatement.
    Hey good questions though, that’s important, so props for that bro. Chur!

  3. al

    This video was made in the town of Krasnoarmeisk, as evidenced by the billboard you see in the background, advertising a car dealership at 34 Dnepropetrovsk Street. Krasnoarmeysk has been controlled by the Ukrainian military since May 11/
    What for is all the rest you write?


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