As we have reported, the statement posted to the VKontakte group “Strelkov’s Dispatches” on 17 July within 20 minutes of the downing of the Malaysian airliner MH17 is not a hoax or a fake.
While some journalists have impugned the reference, we have explained that it represents a genuine report that came from him or other rebel leaders, using a group that he had used for months to issues his dispatches. Most importantly, it is corroborated by other reports in Russian state media which used different separatist sources directly, not the VKontakte group.
Neither Strelkov or any other top separatist leader have repudiated the group that posted the message, much less separate Russian news stories that showed them bragging about airplane downings with Buks on 14 July and on 17 July; instead, they’ve merely tried to shift the blame to the Ukrainian military.
Yet challenges to this admission continue by pro-Kremlin social media users in particular, so we are answering some of the frequent challenges made to this claim, which tend to follow a pattern.
Here are some of their common arguments, and our rebuttals:
But Strelkov doesn’t have any social media accounts so this must be fake.
It’s true that Strelkov is not known to have any individual accounts on social media under his own name, so some media that reported this admission of the shooting-down of a plane as on “Strelkov’s VKontakte page” in the sense of his personal page have misreported it.
But it doesn’t matter. The post was published on “Strelkov’s Dispatches,” which is a VKontakte pablik or community, like a Facebook group or page. This group has been known for releasing his statements for months; it has used his name for months precisely because it has been allowed to. So it doesn’t matter if it is not his own personal account; it’s a community account reliably used to disseminate his statements in the past — and which has gone on reliably distributing them to date, despite remove of the 17 July post on the downing of the airplane.
But it’s just a fan group.
No, the group is authorized to release statements from Strelkov personally, which is releases with his banner, and other separatist statements or news. It currently has a dedicated post at the top for fund-raising for the separatists by an authorized person who published his identity and contact information, and has had dozens of posts authorized by Strelkov, with his banner, since 17 July. It has more than 130,000 followers.
If this group wasn’t representing the interests of the separatist leadership, it would be gone by now or followers would have left it; political consultant Aleksandr Boroday, who is is charge of the separatist PR, would not alllow it to continue.
But they posted the news of the downed plane without the banner, and later removed it and said it came from “chatter of militia” on “a forum”.
Plenty of non-banner posts on Strelkov’s Dispatches have been corroborated by facts on the ground or by what he himself later said at news conferences. Their removal of the post doesn’t mean their group or their reports aren’t authentic, it just means they realize the post’s implications. Again: Russian state media reported the same facts of a separatist claim of an airplane damning, only from different separatist sources, not VK.
So, ultimately, we don’t need this VK post alone to make the point that separatists believed they had downed a plane and reported it to both social media and mainstream media.
That’s because as we have explained, we have at least a half dozen official Russian or regional state and independent media outlets reporting the same story, some copying the VK message because they trusted the source, but most not referencing the VK group at all, but their own direct, separatist sources.
But Strelkov himself is known only to post to the Antikvariat forum and has only blessed iKorpus at icorpus.ru as an outlet for separatist statements, including his own.
This claim doesn’t reflect the actual ambiguity and lack of definitive “blessing” or “condemnation” from Strelkov about various sources he has used and continues to use as outlets.
Strelkov is known to post on a “hidden blog” called Antikvariat often translated as “Antiques” but better translated as “Antiquity.” It’s a forum for his favorite pass-time, which is enacting reconstructions of historic battle scenes. He’s been known to post recent information about the separatists’ warfare in southeastern Ukraine on this forum.
Supporters usually don’t mention the name of the forum or try to avoid linking to it to keep its “hidden” status. Perhaps they don’t realize it’s already outed and various versions of its address have appeared. A blogger provided a link to it some time ago but other addresses have also been claimed and it may move around. Vesti claimed in May that Strelkov had posted on the forum “every half hour” and that other members had criticized him for “turning reality into an Internet game.”
Update: It is interesting that those who invoke the authenticity of the Antikvariat.ru forum, where Strelkov is moderator (under the name “Kotych”) as a means of refuting the VKontakte post don’t seem to realize that the original post about the “bird fall” and the admonition to “stay out of our skies” in fact came from the Antikvariat forum, written by a user named “Margo-Donetsk” close to the separatists. Here is a copy of the original, from which the VKontakte post was taken:
Sent Today 17:37:05
In the area of Torez, they just downed a plane, apparently an AN-26, it has fallen somewhere beyond the Progress coal mine.
We warned them – don’t fly in “our sky” : )
And here is a video confirmation of the latest “bird fall”
The bird fell behind a slag heap, it didn’t touch the residential sector. Civilians did not suffer.
And there is also information about a second downed plane, apparently a SU.
Then the post has an automatic notice: Edited by Margo-Donetsk today, 18:04:33. It has her tag-line which says:
Keep safe the one who prays and weeps for you…God keeps you safe due to her tears.
But the VKontakte group removed the post and explained that it was made in error based on “the discussion of some militia on a forum” — it was not authenticated and was erroneous.
As noted, the post appeared in the first person as “Strelkov’s Dispatch” in a group that had long been posting his statements, but more to the point, the same information came from other sources and was published by the Russian state media because the separatists took credit for a plane downing.
In fact, the reason why separatist leaders have switched from denying this credit was taken for the downing of “a Ukrainian cargo plane” to trying to focus attention on “Ukraine’s responsibility for its air space when they know the separatists have Buks” is because they realize that the evidence is strong for their shooting down of the plane and taking credit for it both from their own statements 14 July and 17 July and eye-witness reports.
It’s also important to remember that this admission isn’t the only piece of evidence to build the case for assigning blame for MH17 to the separatists — and their backers, Russia. Here’s our round-up of all our reporting and eye-witness reports gathered by Western media on the scene.
So how can we tell when Col. Strelkov himself is really talking and what sites can be trusted to really have his direct statements?
Short answer: you can’t, unless you are in the same room with Col. Strelkov giving a press conference or you have a YouTube video of his press statements with internal date-stamping and corroboration. Long answer: but if you watch the VKontakte group for bannered statements, and watch both icorpus.ru and ikorpus.ru as well as other separatist sites like ruvesna.ru you will have a good notion of Strelkov’s thinking and the claims of the separatist leaders.
Maybe the confusion is deliberate — to always avoid ultimate responsibility about anything said – or maybe it’s just a function of the pressures of a group at war, but the communications of the separatists are indeed scattered and contradictory, because they fight among themselves, don’t speak with one voice, and haven’t designated just one outlet to represent them. They’ve preferred to keep a variety of supporter groups from Moscow ultranationlists who themselves squabble with each other, to local forums. They prefer a variety of media, from Twitter to LiveJournal blogs to VKontakte to Zello, an instant chat app popular with separatists and their supporters.
But there’s a video where he designates the site entrusted to relay his dispatches.
Over a month ago on 18 June, Col. Strelkov released a YouTube statement, which was uploaded to the YouTube account created by icorpus.ru, which is confusingly called iKorpus in its logo:
The Interpreter has translated the audio as follows:
“At this time, the militia has created its own information resource. The site iKorpus has been created [screen shows http://icorpus.ru] where there will be posted, among other things, our dispatches, my own statements, reporting from Slavyansk directly and from other cities which are occupied by militia units. I also give the opportunity…the right to the staff of iKorpus to organize cooperation with those resources which have already recommended themselves as deliverers or to be more precise gatherers of delivery of humanitarian aid, as propagandists of the militia in South East, our comrades-at-arms in the struggle against the henchmen which bomb and shell our cities every day. I hope that Information Corps will justify the trust we have placed in it, we the militia and staff headquarters and will work fruitfully for the good of the people.”
There are several problems with trying to use this YouTube message as a definitive statement on sources releasing statements directly from Strelkov or his subordinates. First, it is more than a month old, and was written before the retreat from Slavyansk and the downing of the Malaysian plane when his statements and their authentication began to get a lot more scrutiny.
Second, he doesn’t spell out within the video the exact name of the web site or the group letter-by-letter, and this has opened the door for two competing web sites to complain authenticity, one spelled icorpus.ru and the other ikorpus.ru Since icorpus.ru uploaded this video, they’ve put that Internet address into the video – but their channel is named iKorpus. They’ve denounced the other site ikorpus.ru as a “fake”; meanwhile ikorpus.ru says icorpus.ru is merely its “old” address. Both carry up-to-date and often identical reports from Strelkov and other separatists.
A number of other sources supporting or commenting on the Russian-backed separatists have also denounced ikorpus.ru as “fake” and there have been numerous Internet debates about it.
This discussion between a frequent English-language translator for the separatists’ statements, Gleb Bazov, the Toronto-based author of the blog Slavyangrad.wordpress.com, and @IndependentKrym or Crimea&East, an anonymous separatist supporter, indicates the arguments and confusions about what is reliable which persist.
— Gleb Bazov (@gbazov) July 19, 2014
@gbazov i could not find a statement by Strelkov saying "ikorpus.ru is fake". so I'll keep considering it as some unofficial militia source
— Crimea&East (@IndependentKrym) July 19, 2014
Ultimately, nowhere in the 18 June video or subsequent appearances does Strelkov address the issue of the VKontakte group “Strelkov’s Dispatches” (the Svodki Igora Ivanovicha Strelkova, literally “Dispatches of Igor Ivanovich Strelkov,” which we have translated as “Strelkov’s Dispatches”).
He does mention people doing collection of humanitarian aid, which is one of the things Strelkov’s Dispatches does, but he doesn’t identify it by name.
Meanwhile, the VK group has reiterated that when it wishes to indicate they have a report straight from Strelkov, they will use a sketch of his head and the words “Strelkov Reports”.