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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.

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  1. Phil Grant

    Guys you have potential long term or turning this idea into something of a success but your failure is going to be the fact this is turning into nothing other than an anti-Russian blog.

    You realise that Russia and the west’s cold relations are thawing? What then? We know there are forces at work that don’t want this to happen as there’s no money to be made in peace times for the war machine. What will BellingCat become if there’s no evil Putin anymore?

    I enjoyed reading your stuff but it is becoming mind numbing at this stage. A lot of this “evidence” wouldn’t pass a year 1 law students bullshit thermometer.

    How about a report on Turkey arming Al-Nusra in Turkey? Not like Eliot to miss that. But maybe he chose to ignore this as his wife is Turkish and he travels there on family visits. Impartiality? No chance.

    • field marshall vague

      Why don’t you write the report on Turkey arming Al-Nusra? You’ve seen how it’s done, go and do it. Then it can be featured under the Rest of World tab at the top of the page..

      Furthermore If you don’t think the evidence provided passes “a year 1 law students bullshit thermometer” well, instead of mouthing off, once again, disprove what is stated using open source material so that we can all, everyone of us, check the validity of your work.

    • Will Toynbee

      I suspect Elliot is being paid by people who want to promote a certain agenda, so if he gives both sides he will stop getting paid.
      Elliot will you clear this up and reveal all your funding sources?

      • Not Mark

        Yeah… Might as well give ’em a hard time while we are here, eh chaps? Can’t be letting them spread their troll droppings all willy nilly!

  2. Artem

    video that blame Ukraine in the crash has more then 600000 views. Not millionaires and politicians, but ordinary people prefer lie.
    “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled”

    • Rob

      Artem said “video that blame Ukraine in the crash has more then 600000 views.”

      Yawn. Let me know when they get to the level of things that actually happened,
      like a sneezing Panda :

  3. Andy

    “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.”

    I might have missed it, but I did not see the evidence for this in the linked report. As far as I can see, what their analysis shows is that the photos provided by the Russian Defense Ministry were incorrectly dated, viz., that photos actually taken in June were claimed to have been taken in the middle of July. So any military hardware shown in the photos would not necessarily have been on site in July. But I did not see any discussion indicating that images of hardware were actually added to the pictures, other than their evidence that the pictures were altered.

  4. They Knew

    @Phil Grant,

    “What will BellingCat become if there’s no evil Putin anymore?”

    Very simple, he create another one, just like his masters tell him.

    The Syrian Sarin gas attack was a great deception for Brown Moses to start WW3, so, let’s try it with the downing of an civilian airliner? If that fails also, maybe Mr. Higgins has some ingenious idea’s for a Chinese fals flag? You never know with Mr. Higgins, it’s a guy full with surprises to start WW3. I don’t know what “they” have promised him, but “they” are not the people to rely on. Even Hr. Higgins don’t know who “they” are, he’s just a tool for “them”.

    • They Knew

      Maybe when he fails, “they” find him in a cave in Tora Bora, or in a hideout in Abbottabad? You never know what “they’re” upto? If “they” don’t need you anymore, and you become a burden, it’s done with you! Maybe you get a burial at sea, like English tradition, or you never heard of? It’s the choice Mr. Higgins made, not mine.

      • Rob

        Is that what “they” told you if you fail, “They Knew” ?
        Are “they” talking to you in your sleep as well ?

  5. Nicolas Reid

    RJ, Abort-Abort-ABORT!

    You blew your cover. Save your ass!

    And yes, you did“– accuse Bellingcat of being a biased media connected to “the highest levels of policymakers, intelligence and extremely wealthy individuals in the USA / West””

    • Gabriele Gordon

      I wonder that you didn’t discuss the SBU claim that the Russian satellite images are fakes:

      “On 30 July 2014, Ukrainian news agency UKRINFORM published analysis4 of the satellite imagery conducted by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). The SBU judged that the satellite photos published by the Russian MoD on 21 July 2014 were faked.”

      Or the Russian response:

      “In response, the Russian MoD published its own analysis on 1 August 2014 contradicting the SBU’s findings.5 Included in this analysis was a higher quality version of Picture 5 than that which was published at the 21 July press conference.6”

      Which proves Ukrainian falsifications. Because SBU showed a clear sight at July 17, which is improbable.

      Now you try to argue better than the SBU (a fact which demonstrates your agenda clearly enough) – and because journalists are lazy nobody will examine your 45-pages-report which isn’t convincing at all.

      Of course the presented Russian satellite-fotos are photoshopped – how else you could add inscriptions and magnifying crops?

  6. Dan

    This really brings out the perfect storm of fringe leftist, West-haters, putinista trollbots and nazis; the more evidence we get, the more angry they get. Not far to “the Jews did it” now, at least there was some serious attempts to debunk Higgins with regards to Syria. Here it is just BS and more BS.

    • Lawrence A. Oshanek

      Well, lets be fair here – maybe, just maybe, it was a Russian Jew – like KGB Nazi Ras-Putin?

      • Not Mark

        You brought up an interesting point! Why haven’t the Jews been implicated yet? That is always the russian’s first line of response if I have learned anything from the comments section.

  7. They Knew


    You can call it BS till Mr. Higgins wish to reply. If he stay silent, the BS don’t work anymore.

  8. leonard

    I was excited when Bellingcat started, but I have since become disillusioned. It does not champion the truth.It starts with a premise(co incidentally the favoured western one) and then proceeds to “prove” it. This is not science , this is propaganda, using selective data. So, no better than any of the propaganda from either side. A disappointment

    • Not Mark

      They can only prove where the evidence takes them. Please present some data you feel was unjustly left out so we can analyse it for you. I am sure these guys would be more than happy to do that. Remember now, can’t be any “he said, she said” stuff. This has to be information that can easily be fact checked and open sourced.

  9. Alex

    @Bellingcat – thank you for your hard work ! It will help us, ukranians, protect our innocent with this bloody case.

    • Rob

      Alex, I completely agree with you.
      The Russian lies and hypocrisy are not just about MH17, but what is clear to anyone who follows the war in Eastern Ukraine at any level of detail, Russia uses the same hypocritical, and deadly, media tactics for ALL its war crimes and atrocities committed in Eastern Ukraine.

      More and more publicly verifiable evidence emerges on fact checking sites like Bellingcat and ukraine@war and interpretermag, that East Ukrainian civilians are being shelled by Russian forces while Russian media use the images of these atrocities to blame Ukraine.

      Such as the Mariupol attacks, or the Volnovakha checkpoint, or Kramatorsk, and Artemivsk, both attacked with cluster munition, and in Donetsk, against the very people that these “separatists” claim to protect, the deadly attacks on school 63, and the Leninsky bus stop, and the Jan 30 mortar attacks, ALL of these CLEARLY were fired from Russian controlled areas.

      We in the West understand what is going on.
      And we are with you.

      • Joe Morton

        [comment deleted because of scolding, the use of vulgar language and writing off-topic]

        • Rob

          Interesting that most of these “separatists” are foreigners, fighting in Ukraine, against Ukraine.

          Fighters from Chechnya, yelling “Allah u Akbar” on youtube videos, neo-nazis from Serbia , contract soldiers from Vladikavkaz and even Eastern Siberia, as well as Russian criminals avoiding Russian prisons. Not to mention the scores of Russian FSB officers, and Russian military personnel on “vacation” or “volunteering”. Very few Ukrainians.

          Since these guys now have more Russian supplied armor than an average NATO country, does anyone know who pays for this entire “NovoRussia” project ?

          Is that the Russian tax payer ? Or the Russian Oil oligarchs ? Or Yanukovych, using the billions he stole from the Ukrainian people ?

          • Not Mark

            No no… Don’t you know that the poor eastern Ukrainians are all Muslim? That is why they shout Allah u Akbar. With Allah’s will they will become one with russia.

          • Rob

            Interesting that you are not answering the questions as to WHO you think is paying for this Russian sponsored “NovoRossia” project that is devastating Eastern Ukraine, nor recognizing that MH17 (incuding the rhetoric by Russian media) is similar to the many attacks on Ukrainian civilians by Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine.

          • Mike

            @Joe Morton

            How are you? Are you ok? You sound a little upset/butthurt.
            Don’t worry nobody will ever drag Putin to court.

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