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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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406 Comments

  1. Sinon Walker

    All the photos that Bellingcat (and 60 minutes) use to show a BUK was in separatist territory around July 17 2014 comes from or through one person….@WowihaY or Vladimir Djukov.
    Vladimir Djukov , a graduate enigineer in telecommunications who specialises in computer technology and digital imagery. Who aligns himself with the far right in Ukraine.
    It seems that he made the fake photos.
    http://www.ravage-webzine.nl/2015/05/28/mh17-bellingcats-missing-link/
    I

    Reply
    • Rob

      Sinon said “All the photos that Bellingcat (and 60 minutes) use to show a BUK was in separatist territory around July 17 2014 comes from or through one person….@WowihaY or Vladimir Djukov.”

      Did the 3 ParisMatch pictures come from or through Vladimir Djukov as well ?

      Reply
      • Rob

        And how about the video of the BUK driving south of Snizhne ? Did that one come from Vladimir Djukov too ?

        Reply
      • Rob

        And about the Zuhres video, did that one come through Vladimir Djukov as well ?

        Reply
        • Sana

          It is easy to explain. That means that the Ukrainians like to make a lot of fake pictures and video

          Reply
          • Not Mark

            Easier to make a fake photo from scratch or just take a photo of an event with a camera?

  2. Rob

    Using the scientific method, you can never prove a correct statement to be true.
    But, if you present enough evidence, you can prove a false statement to be false.
    And you just did that. Again.

    So, THANK YOU Bellingcat.
    Thank you for exposing yet another lie by the Russian Defense Ministry.

    And make us all wonder WHY the Russian Defense Ministry would have to LIE if Ukraine downed MH17.

    Or why the Russian Defense Ministry would have to LIE if (pro)Russian “separatists” downed MH17 using a Ukrainian BUK.

    Come to think of it, the ONLY reason why the Russian Defense Ministry would LIE, would be if the Russian military was directly responsible for this atrocity.

    The only question remaining is if they downed MH17 by accident, or deliberate.

    Reply
    • Michael

      Well you could also just ask the question “And make us all wonder WHY the Ukranian SBU would have to LIE if Russia/Separatist downed MH17?”.

      Reply
    • Peter Hermann

      They received sms from their spy in Dnipropetrowsk that a AN26 was going to come their way. Shortly after, the spy was caught and the flight cancelled. Unfortunately, the spy had no opportunity to let them know the flight was cancelled, and that no military arcraft would start from Dnipropetrowsk that day. So they waited for a high flying AN and found MH17 instead: The TELAR firedome could not tell the difference, so they used spotters. ‘bird is flying to you’ ‘Can’t really see its to high too many clouds’. but then they shot the missile anyway. A classic chain of events leading to disaster.

      Reply
        • Mike

          The accuracy (i.e., validity) of polygraph testing has long been controversial. An underlying problem is theoretical: There is no evidence that any pattern of physiological reactions is unique to deception. An honest person may be nervous when answering truthfully and a dishonest person may be non-anxious.

          KGB teaches how to cheat those things. The test was not approved by any non – Kremlin related organisation’s.

          Reply
        • Peter Hermann

          You bet it would, when you get the spy who was caught to testify and the sms telling rebels a military pane was starting. I didn’t make the story up. This is what happened.

          Reply
    • Rob

      Mike said “ONLY THE PERSON WHO PRESSED THE BUTTON OR THE PERSONS WHO GAVE THE ORDER CAN TELL WHO SHOT THE PLANE DOWN.”

      That is correct.
      But is is interesting that that the person who pressed the button was sitting inside a TELAR from the 53rd BUK brigade from Kursk.

      Which makes you wonder who gave the order….

      Reply
    • Tatyana

      He is obviously paid and was specifically hired for a purpose, no doubt. When no proper evidence might be released, people like Higgins are used to brainwash the public.

      Reply
      • Mike

        You are citing Russia Today and talk about others being brainwashed?

        The Russian public is being brainwashed by Kremlin media and paid trolls. RT is a part of this brainwashing.

        Reply
        • Mike

          The article you cited in an other comment was based on the Kremlin financed Propaganda Russia Today.

          Read the Wikipedia Article on RT and then on BBC if you don’t know the difference.

          Hint: RT is owned by the government.

          Repeating your ******** is a good disinformation tactic but won’t work on most people.

          Reply
        • Tatyana

          Which other comment? Daily Mail or Australian web-sites? Sorry, I did not know they are all Kremlin agents…

          Reply
        • Mike

          You cited this or don’t you remember anymore

          war updates blogspot

          Search for your comment *****. I won’t set back links for this shot which points directly to the lies of Russia Today

          Reply
      • Not Mark

        Dude, the world’s perception of russia is already set. It didn’t take CIA paid trolls to create this attitude towards russia. It was the flagrant disregard for human rights and rule of law that is so prevalent in the russian dictatorship.

        Reply
  3. Andy

    были там украинские буки, есть на ютубе видос на украинском, какая то патриатическая хуета, там бравый какел, дает интервью, на фоне развернутых буков, называется место и показывается на карте где они стоят, это было 14.07.2014 так что ваши высеры это полная хуета, ида бук 312 сейчас стоит на аэродроме Краматорска кактотак

    Reply
  4. Jktu23

    Establishing the true culprit in the deaths of people have the duty and responsibility of any civilized nation. As well as those to catch those who are trying in one form or another to conceal criminals by the fabrication of false evidence. I have a question why not analyze photos from NATO allegedly proving the presence of Russian troops on the territory of Ukraine. Is this not also an indirect attempt to hide criminals. Or this information is taboo for “free” media.

    Reply
  5. visitor_z

    So much Kremlin’s trolling here, and sometimes smart. Be careful boys, Moscow’s regime spend billions to make discussing its crimes a total mess. Good luck.

    Reply
      • Not Mark

        I totally agree. I even emailed Bellingcat requesting that timestamps be added to the date referenced from UTC time. This would allow a motivated individual to analyse this troll activity for themselves. You could probably figure out which shifts they work on and which usernames are the same individual. I know this revelation would not change anything but it would be pretty interesting if you ask me.

        Reply
        • Daniel Romein

          We have all IP addresses (and e-mail addresses for their posts), some of them clearly can be tracked to Russia. We also can block certain IP addresses. Sometimes we already censor comments when it really gets out of control, but we should indeed be stricter with this. Anything off-topic or comments with scolding and/or vulgar language should be deleted.

          Reply
          • Not Mark

            That is excellent to hear. I agree. While I am generally against censorship, I think comments that are not pertinent only clog up the comments section here and make it more difficult to have meaningful/constructive conversation about these articles because one has to sift through hundreds of off topic conversation threads.

          • Hector Reban

            Are u serious? People from Russia have an interest in the content from this site, but when they give an opinion that has to be villified in this way?

    • Not Mark

      Nobody said this. If you can bring a good argument to the table and you stand by it and defend it then nobody will be calling you a troll. You can tell you are talking to a troll when they present an argument and it is debunked or refuted and then you never hear another word about the point they brought up. Ten seconds later you will see that same username post something like “Kiev Junta must die” or something useless like that. Very easy “turing test” of trolls.

      Reply
  6. Muhahahahaha!

    Hey guys,
    I read bellingcat occasionally and I consider the site really, really helpfull!
    What is really annoying is the amount of trolling people, stating the same s*** over and over again. Have you ever thought of handling these Micky-Mouse-arguments by creating a site similar to FAQs? This would save tons of time writing answers and you would only need to tag the FAQs to stupid comments. This would also help people who are new to the site understanding why you did not answer. Just my 2 cents.
    Keep it up, guys!

    Reply
    • Mike

      Luckily there Is now much more publicity about paid russian trolls who flood the Internet with pro putin comments

      Btw For all Germans around here here’s a good piece about mh17 downinghttp://m.spiegel.de/panorama/gesellschaft/a-1011983.html

      Reply
    • Daniel Romein

      We started to block certain e-mail and IP addresses, besides that we delete off-topic comments and/or comments containing rude language (or we censor it). And of course we don’t answer such comments.

      Reply
      • Andrew

        MIke:

        I don’t have a problem believing the rebels possibly did it, as your articles state. They clearly had at least one BUK TELAR system that was repaired (I think the actual number was three). There is video of Sergei Kurginyan in Donetsk between July 6 and 10, 2014, if I recall the dates correctly, discussing with “people’s governor” Pavel Gubarev and I think also General Igor Bezler his having supplied Russian electronics specialists to Donetsk to fix the abandoned Ukrainian BUK’s captured at Donetsk airport around the end of June.

        I don’t see how that is “pointing towards Russia” though. Sergei Kurginyan is a private individual with plenty of contacts able to procure such individuals on his own. The US Government, as I recall, within days categorically excluded the Russian military as being involved in the shootdown. Its definitiveness is reminiscent of Siberian Air 1812, when the US military knew before Russia what had happened to the Russian plane when Ukraine accidentally shot it down with an S-200.

        I think there are only two prime suspects here – the Ukrainian military, which clearly had BUK’s in operation in the area as shown by the video – and the Donbass rebels, who I will say apparently had at least one operable unit.

        The only other question remaining is this. The BUK system operates via remote electronic link-ups to the main KUPOL radar and fire control vehicles to transmit data and firing commands. This implies an ability to hack the system with spoofed remote commands fed into a component unit of the system from outside. If Ukraine had an active BUK deployment at the time and the rebels also deployed a captured Ukrainian BUK, is it possible the rebel BUK TELAR accidentally or on purpose was linked up to one of the Ukrainian KUPOL radars and was fired remotely as a provocation? Or vice-versa? Or even, dare we ask, could someone with the American forces in the Black Sea who were practicing in war games various forms of electronic warfare at the very time have done this, using the wargames as cover for a provocation that would baffle both sides? Or could the Russians have done so from their territory in Rostov with forces who were undertaking military exercise? Is it possible there is a known “back-door” the Russians purposefully put in to hack into the BUK such as the NSA forces American computer companies to leave for it in their software? Could anyone with knowledge of such a “back-door” and the ability to send the correct signals do it? We have devices where I work (in the railroad industry) that can remotely operate sophisticated electronics from over 100 miles away by use of commands entered into a cell phone and transmitted as a text message to the device. Do we know for sure that a BUK cannot be similarly operated, because to me it sounds like it can from what I have read.

        Reply
        • Will Toynbee

          @ Mike :We do know the rebels captured a broken BUK . What evidence is there that it was repaired?

          Reply
          • Andrew

            Will Toynbee:

            There is a long video of Sergei Kurginyan from early July 2014 on his Essence of Time show. In the video, he claims that he supplied Russian electronics experts to repair the damaged Ukrainian BUK systems abandoned at the missile base at Donetsk.

            I found an excerpt of it here:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?=v2qIe7wRWNHY

            Interpretermag published the following as a transcription in English:

            “Everyone has seen that civil society, on a private basis, have been supplying a large amount of armored vehicles and other forms of military technology. Civil society of Russia, I say this with responsibility, will never cross the line and will always be aimed at supplying the most modest technology of what is considered needed. Civil society will not supply to the southeast of Ukraine Iskanders, or S-300 or other ambitious systems. Because it’s not within the capacity of civil society, and we also consider it not necessary.

            “But, our very talented and even brilliant electronics experts will of course reapir — I think they’ve even already repaired, it seems to me – the Buk system seized from the Ukrainian bandits — the Banderaites — I don’t want to say the ‘the Ukrainian people’ but the bandits and the Banderaites and in the very near future, I simply know a brillian electronics expert who has flown there — precisely as a representative of civil society who will help the fraternal people. In very short time it will get it back working. It will be fixed, yes? It might even turn out there are even several systems.”

          • Not Mark

            Wow. So there you have it. It is possible the russians were repairing the damaged equipment of their “fraternal people”. Perhaps they did a shoddy repair and that contributed to the accidental firing of a missile? We will likely never know.

          • Not Mark

            What was broken about it? That it didn’t move under its own power and therefore had to be towed on a flatbed Volvo? I honestly don’t know how it was broken. I haven’t seen that anywhere.

          • Andrew

            Not Mark:

            The Ukrainian MOD claimed that the vehicles electronics systems were removed and/or purposefully damaged when the remaining vehicles were evacuated in late March 2014 ahead of the seperatist uprising in Donbass (that movement is the source of the pictures of BUK 312 near Kramatorsk). There were apparently other issues with the vehicle that caused it to be abandoned instead of being towed off. Possibly it had a broken down motor as well and it was decided it was better to abandon it crippled.

          • Not Mark

            When did the Ukrainian MOD claim this and how can you be so sure this is the same Buk? Would you agree that the russian MOD did something fishy with this evidence they have released regarding the sat photos?

          • Not Mark

            What was broken about it? That it didn’t move under its own power and therefore had to be towed on a flatbed Volvo? I honestly don’t know how it was broken. I haven’t seen that anywhere.

      • Not Mark

        Ahhh… Finally someone that posts something that doesn’t sound like pure troll garbage. Andrew, you bring up a whole number of new theories. Some of them more plausible than others. The fact is it will be very hard to prove them one way or another. The reason it has been pretty well narrowed down to the handful of common theories that still hang around is because there is some kind of circumstantial evidence to support these theories. Sure I could say “maybe Aliens were testing a new plasma weapon” and that certainly is not impossible but there isn’t anything to point to that conclusion. Not even an alien facebook post. :p

        Reply
  7. Some Stranger

    Я оставлю комментарий на русском (у меня займет существенное время перевод терминов на английский на нормальном уровне).

    Рассматривается русская версия исследования (/2015/05/Forensic_analysis_of_satellite_images_RU.pdf).

    Цифровая обработка для спутников снимков происходит во всех случаях. Как минимум, необходимо выполнить привязку подобного снимка к координатам по Земле.

    Исследование уровня ошибки кодирования подходит для простых фотографий и требует существенного обоснования для подобных снимков. Оно зависит от применяемой предварительной обработки и характеристик способа передачи данных космического аппарата.

    Перед сравнением мелких деталей различных снимков необходимо привести их к одной частотной характеристике съемки. Детали, вроде указанных на страницах 37-38 русской версии (сравнительный анализ снимка 5) могут существенно различаться при разных характеристиках оптической системы.

    Указанные выше существенные методические ошибки ставят под сомнение обоснованность сделанных выводов.

    Reply
    • Mike

      Eто расследование для долбойобов которые до сих пор английский не виучили

      Reply
    • Michael

      where is the problem to hit the google translater?

      “Digital processing of images for satellites occurs in all cases. At a minimum, you need to bind a similar picture to the coordinates on the Earth.

      Study level coding error for simple photos and requires substantial justification for these pictures. It depends on the applied pretreatment method characteristics and data of the spacecraft.

      Before comparing the various images of fine details need to bring them to a frequency response of the shooting. Details like these on pages 37-38 of the Russian version (comparative analysis of the image 5) can vary considerably with different characteristics of the optical system.

      The above significant methodological errors cast doubt on the validity of the findings.”

      Reply
      • Some Stranger

        e.g.
        “It depends on the applied pretreatment method characteristics and data of the spacecraft”
        means
        “It depends on the preprocessing methods applied and some properties of the data transmission algorithm used on the satellite”

        Reply
      • Mike

        The main target for russian trolls is the Russian speaking population.

        If somebody is interested to look at an often cited cite like bellingcat, because they don’t believe what Russian state media like Russia Today says,
        then they visit the site.

        Of course those who don’t understand English will look for russian content.
        the opinion of russian speaking comments on that site will have a big impact on their opinion.

        Reply
        • Some Stranger

          Well I understand you. I will make some English translation in a day so the authors (and I hope them want to know the truth, not only affect Russian auditory) may fix a large issues on their studies.

          I can add some more details but there is a problem that I cant check which part of my knowledge is classified and which is not. I hope I may say at least the following: a conclusion that neither image is the source is right at least because satellite photos precise enough are classified by Russian law and photos MUST BE downscaled.

          Unless proof problem does not mean the conclusion problem, conclusions made on so weak arguments is a kind of propaganda, not a serious scientific work. The study should even check the Google Earth images to be truth within the methods the research used, not only try to check and refute alternative explanation of the facts them detected.

          Reply
          • Mike

            “so weak arguments is a kind of propaganda, not a serious scientific work.”

            lol which science?

            This work claims to be plausible. If you find a gap, it doesn’t mean that the plausibility is at risk.

            The report becomes even more plausible because Russian gov was caught lying almost everytime they had a different version on Ukraine related stuff.

          • Some Stranger

            Mike, propaganda may be plausible, not a facts inspection. There is a method called “scientific approach”. Every fact you used and every conclusion.you made should be proved. Any gap you made makes everything dependent on this gap a good hypothesis, not a fact or conclusion. And there are a lot of plausible, but wrong facts even in science, not in an everyone-will-lie-you area like geopolitics.

          • Mike

            Please write all the things you think are false in the in a comment. The auhor will be happy to see any constructive suggestions as am I.

            best regards
            mike

          • Mike

            Russian gov many times before = fact. For example about Russian troops in Crimea.

            Simple question: Do you accept the fact that the Russian Government lied about the presence of Russian Troops in Crimea? YES or NOT?

          • Michael

            “Simple question: Do you accept the fact that the Russian Government lied about the presence of Russian Troops in Crimea? YES or NOT?”

            Ever spoken to a lawyer? A soldier without an identifier/contract in a foreign country is a self-defense force. If you kill them, no one can claim that you killed a soldier. What did Putin said again?

    • Nick

      Применяемая предварительная обработка спутниковых снимков и характеристики способа передачи данных космического аппарата не влияют на обоснование уровня ошибки кодирования, поскольку частотные характеристики снимков, сделанных в разное время априори будут отличаться. А характеристики оптических систем в исследовании не играют роли, поскольку анализу подвержены фото, используемые для фальсификации, а не множество достоверных снимков сделанных различными спутниками в разное время (стр. 9)

      Reply
      • Some Stranger

        > Анализ уровня ошибок (Error Level Analysis, ELA): Посредством анализа уровня ошибок (ELA) выявляются области изображения с другим уровнем сжатия (страница 9)
        То есть анализируется локальная высокочастотная область спектра изображения. Внимание, вопрос: почему игнорируются локальные искажения изображения, возникающие из-за особенностей съемки спутника? Если исходный спутник снимает на линейку, части изображения получены в немного разное время и с немного разного ракурса. Для исправления подобного эффекта необходимо переконтрастировать изображение, кроме того, этот эффект может приводить к изменению информационной точности изображения в направлении, соответствующему направлению полета спутника, а следовательно, искажению высокочастотной составляющей изображения. В области Е изображения 4 происходит явная засветка. Из чего делается вывод, что характеристики оптической системы локально неизменны для этого изображения?

        Reply

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