the home of online investigations

You can support the work of Bellingcat by donating through the following link:

MH17 – Forensic Analysis of Satellite Images Released by the Russian Ministry of Defence

May 31, 2015

By Bellingcat Investigation Team

In this new report Bellingcat examines satellite images released by the Russian Ministry of Defence as part of the July 21st 2014 press conference on the downing of Flight MH17.

The Russian MoD stated at the press conference that the satellite photos show the activities of Ukraine’s air defences on the day that Flight MH17 was shot down. In particular, the position of two Ukrainian Buk missile launchers south of the village Zaroschinskoe were shown to be within firing range of MH17. The Bellingcat investigation has found the following –

– Satellite images presented by the Russian Ministry of Defence claiming to shown Ukrainian Buks linked to the downing of MH17 on July 14th and 17th are in fact older images from June 2014.
– The discrepancies visible in the Russian MoD satellite map imagery which shows they are incorrectly dated are visible in publicly available imagery on Google Earth.
– Error level analysis of the images also reveal the images have been edited.
– This includes a Buk missile launcher that was removed to make it appear the Buk missile launcher was active on July 17th, and imagery where Buk missile launchers were added to make it appear they were within attack range of Flight MH17.
An example of incorrectly dated imagery used by the Russian Ministry of Defence

An example of incorrectly dated imagery used by the Russian Ministry of Defence

Full versions of the report are available in Russian, German, and English. Images used in this report can be found here, and here without text..

With this new report all four major claims made at the Russian Ministry of Defence press conference have now been shown to be false:

– The flight path was not altered in the way claimed by the Russian Ministry of Defence. Data from the Dutch Safety Board’s preliminary report and other sources show Flight MH17 made no major course changes such as the one described in the Russian Ministry of Defence press conference.

– The Russian Ministry of Defence claimed the video of the Buk missile launcher presented by the Ukrainian Ministry of Interior was filmed in the Ukrainian government control town of Krasnoarmeisk. This has been proven to be untrue, with analysis of the video showing it was filmed in the separatists controlled city of Luhansk.

– Radar imagery was described as showing an aircraft close to Flight MH17 after it was shot down. Experts interviewed by various media organisations have stated this is almost certainly debris from Flight MH17 as it broke up over Eastern Ukraine.

– Satellite imagery shows Ukrainian Buk activity around July 17th. As this report shows, those claims are untrue, and were based on fabricated satellite imagery.

These claims, representing the majority of information publicly presented by the Russian government since the downing of Flight MH17, are a clear attempt by the Russian government to deceive the public, global community, and the families of the Flight MH17 victims, only days after Flight MH17 was shot down.

Bellingcat Investigation Team

The Bellingcat Investigation Team is an award winning group of volunteers and full time investigators who make up the core of the Bellingcat's investigative efforts.

Join the Bellingcat Mailing List:

Enter your email address to receive a weekly digest of Bellingcat posts, links to open source research articles, and more.


  1. name

    привет, почему вы не задаетесь вопросом о том “почему маршрут объекта протекал через зону боевых действий?” / hello, why do not you wonder about ” why the route object to flow through a war zone ? “

    • Roman

      Потому что это не цель этого анализа. Because of it isn’t the main aim of the analysis.

  2. Jason

    Dr. Neal Krawetz, founder of FotoForensics, calls Bellingcat “Forensic Analysis of Satellite Images” report a “how to not do image analysis”

  3. Alexey Kruglov

    Looking at pictures at pp. 10 and 11 of the English version I honestly don’t see the claimed difference in noise levels over clouds. They look about the same. (Except the blocky prominence on the left part of D region, which clearly corresponds to the building roof.)

    Of course, the 2 to 6 weeks wrong imagery date is enough to refute these images. But it weakens the report.

  4. Matthew

    I remember when it happened. It was said the flight was redirected on the news. Now they are saying it lost communications. If so, why wasn’t it classified as a hijacking like in 911? Same with MH 370. Why do these planes conveniently lose communications? In this case it is to divert blame from the Ukrainians because if they claim that the separatists have BUK missiles as they did and send a commercial plane to a war zone via traffic control while conducting air strikes it would look like the Ukrainians wanted it to get shot down. The loss of comms says conspiracy. Interpret this any way you want to believe since people believe what they want to believe but me, I just call it as the evidence stacks up and I’m calling conspiracy.

  5. Tom Van Meurs

    Firstly I am eagerly looking forward to Russia’s comments on these allegations?
    But what I have asked many a time is what could have been Russia’s motive for shooting down an passenger plane For what purpose, for what military, strategic, political or other advantage would this bring, other than Russia shooting in its own foot for committing such a heinous and utterly senseless crime? That question has never been answered, not by Bellingcat, nor by the Dutch Safety Board, because they are unable to do so. Let’s keep that in mind when considering the MH17 question. On the other hand it is not so difficult to find a motive for the Ukraine to shoot down the plane. The resulting propaganda value is immense as we can see by reading the western media as well as a motive to impose more sanctions on Russia and demonize its president.

    • James Davis

      The motive that the Russians might have had is easy to guess. If Ukraine were blamed for downing a civilian aircraft, then sanctions against Russia would have been reduced, if not lifted altogether. International support for Ukraine would also be over. Ukraine would be labeled as a terrorist state. Life for Mr. Putin would be so much easier! But something went wrong for the Russians…

  6. m kassies

    if the date really has been updated that is not good. But the original on Wayback-page could not be downloaded! Other than that, the editing looks minor – like adding some contrast. What did the Dod have to say in response?


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

You can support the work of Bellingcat by donating through the following link: