Russia Update: Did Col. Strelkov Report the Downing of MH17 Before Other Social Media Users?

July 16, 2015
Col. Igor Strelkov and his bodyguards in Donetsk on 11 July 2014. Photo by AFP

Pro-separatist social media indicates that the Russian-backed fighters bragged about downing a plane they thought was a Ukrainian AN-26 cargo plane. Yet outside of VKontakte or any other separatist social media, ultimately, it’s the official or loyal Russian press that contains the most damning trails of information about the separatists’ brag.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.

Special features:

‘I Was on Active Duty’: Interview with Captured GRU Officer Aleksandrov
Meet The Russian Fighters Building A Base Between Mariupol And Donetsk
‘There Was No Buk in Our Field’
With Cash and Conspiracy Theories, Russian Orthodox Philanthropist Malofeyev is Useful to the Kremlin

Russia This Week:

Is ‘Novorossiya’ Really Dead?
From Medal of Valor to Ubiquitous Propaganda Symbol: the History of the St. George Ribbon
What Happened to the Slow-Moving Coup?
Can We Be Satisfied with the Theory That Kadyrov Killed Nemtsov?
All the Strange Things Going On in Moscow

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Did Col. Strelkov Report the Downing of MH17 Before Other Social Media Users?

As we noted earlier today,
pro-Kremlin commentators have taken two approaches in trying to
discredit the admission on social media of the Russian-backed
separatists that they shot down a plane on July 17, 2014 — which they
first believed to be an AN-26 Ukrainian cargo plane but before they
realized that a civilian airliner had been shot down.

First, they try to discredit completely the VKontakte group as merely “a fan group.”

if they concede that the group was in fact authorized to release
Strelkov’s statements (which indeed it was), they say the report about
the downing of the plane did not have his imprimatur for that particular
post and therefore was irrelevant.

So on some forums, we see
users earnestly proving that in fact the VK group was used for
Strelkov’s statements — which we ourselves observed and reported on
last year and was accepted as authentic — but only on their way to
proving that therefore, the statement didn’t come from him personally.

They don’t seem to realize, however, that even if the statement
can’t be proven to have been issued directly from his lips, the fact
that the report first came on a forum he moderated viewable only to members, and was copied on a
social media group he endorsed, from fighters he commanded, he is still
implicated — and it is evidence of Russian-backed separatist
responsibility for MH17.

In other words, in their zeal to show
that Strelkov himself couldn’t have made the statement, such bloggers
unwittingly only reinforce the fact that some fighters did — and
believed they had shot down a Ukrainian plane.

In this respect, a Russian-language discussion in a mainly pro-separatist forum at October 24, 2014
is interesting regarding the removal of the posts about MH17 — because
the participants directly witnessed the posts placed on Strelkov’s
forum,, and had screenshots of the removed post and

A user named Rurouni said on October 22, 2014 (translation by The Interpreter)

“Girkin didn’t announce the downed AN-26. A local
resident announced it, who understands nothing about airplanes. She was
re-posted by the Strelkov Dispatches community [on VKontakte]. No one
else spoke of the downed AN-26.”

A user named “Fish Chips Shaurma” said (translation by The Interpreter) then replied:

“It was in fact Girkin on the antiquities [i.e. on the forum–The Interpreter],
it was then efficiently erased, they made the resident Margo
responsible and began to twist about and discuss how to disassociate
themselves from this sad fact. Funny that they had to erase what they
supposedly didn’t take part in, lying to themselves, but after all it
doesn’t matter, those who needed to, saw it.”

Then another user, Mikhalych replied to Fish Chips Shaurma’s claim that Strelkov posted about the downed plane first:

“That’s not true. I read his report, it was literally
one of the first, there he didn’t state that supposedly he or his people
brought down the plane. There literally in the last paragraph of the
text — from memory it was something like — they also report, that in
such-and-such a district, another Ukrainian AN-26 was shot down. And
that’s it. There were no statements like “We shot down the latest Ukrop”
[“dillweed,” a pejorative term for Ukrainians].

Thus, the user denying that Strelkov himself bragged about the
downing inadvertently confirms something else intriguing — that
Strelkov was first to report the downing, not Margo.

The commenters are so bent on saying that the 17:50 report isn’t
from Strelkov, that even when they recall there was a report earlier
from Strelkov with the news, that implicates him; it means he knew very
early on that his men believed they had shot down an AN-26 and reported
up the chain to him.

Another user named minerva then posted the LifeNews report
copied by a YouTube account: “On the downed AN-26. Ukraine, 9:;00 17
July 2014.” This was later removed by state media but individuals had
copies by then.

Mikhalych challenges her:

“Is that a report from Strelkov? Or one of the militia? Or did the journalists still and all state that the source is unknown?

Minerva answers:

“So you’re claiming that the journalists of LifeNews could cite an unknown source? ; )”

is widely believed to be close to the Russian police and intelligence, and has
demonstrated this proximity a number of times, so minerva is indicating
that LifeNews reporters — first to the scene of the MH17 crash — had to know who the
source was.

The top of the clip shows the name “Sergei Sidorenko.” We
have attempted to find this reporter — it is not the pro-Kiev Ukrainian
reporter by the same name, but someone else, possibly using the common
name as a pseudonym.

While he was the first on the scene to cover
the black smoke of MH17 rising and distraught villagers discussing the
crash, he hasn’t been heard from again. His credit appears only for a
second, then the screen switches to Novosti Novorossii, Novorossiya
News, a separatist news outlet.

The forum user Rurouni then makes
the point that
lots of people saw Margo’s post, which was later erased; not a single
one saw any post by Strelkov (although in fact two other users in this
thread recalled it — Mikhalych and Fish Chips Shaurma). He also notes
that rReprints of Strelkov’s own reports are accompanied
by the banner “Strelkov reports” – it wasn’t put on this particular

In response to a question about where the news came from, he said:

was the user ‘Margo’ on the forum. Margo is a woman, a
resident of the Donbass. She’s pro-DNR, a civilian. The report is
ascribed to Strelkov because it was reprinted by the independent
community Strelkov Dispatches, there were not only his own dispatches
but those of any other militia.”

Fish Chips Shaurma then replied:

you haven’t understood/you’re being dense. I saw the original posts
from Margo and Igorivanych. In the course of an hour, they were
carefully erased and the concessionaires began a discussion about how
they had to disassociate themselves from the reports of Margo and insist
on the version that ‘the Boeing was shot down by an SU-25 from a cannon’
in all groups, the concessionaires are such lovers of the truth : )”
is the contracted form of Igor Ivanovich, the first name and patronymic
of Strelkov, used as an affectionate nickname. By “concessionaires,” he
means the people running the “concession,” or “DNR project” for the
Russians, i.e. the separatists.

What this user implies is that Strelkov not only read
Margo’s post and knew about the incorrect perception of the downing of
the plane; he himself spoke of it — then took pains to get rid of it.

Rurouni then demands to see evidence:

that was in the report from Igorivanych? Cite it. And where did they
begin discussing how to disassociate themselves? Under what topic? I dug
up a screenshot on the Internet of Margo-Donetsk’s post.


Now from you [we need] full info about IgorIvanych’s post. With all the confirmations that there are.”

Then he made another post:

You see there is a banner “Strelkov reports” which is in all reprints of IgorIvanych’s reports? Like this:

there isn’t one [a banner] in the report about the downing of the
AN-26. What does that tell us? That this is not Strelkov’s report.

And here is one more interesting thing. When Margo erased her report, people replied and this was screenshot.

‘A user named Kolyanchik writes in response to the message:

Sent a minute ago
Margo-Donetsk (17 July 2014 – 17:37) wrote:

del [deleted]

honey, you don’t want to take responsibility for the Boeing? You
immediately erased the heroic report about the downing of the “AN-26”?

That is, we have a bunch of confirmations of Margo’s posts. And not a single (!) confirmation of Strelkov’s post.

That’s all I have. Your move.”

doesn’t realize, however, that confirmation from a separatist supporter
from Strelkov’s moderated forum, that the separatists believed they had
downed an AN-26 is still important — it shows there was such a report
in the first place, regardless of whether Strelkov himself uttered it — and he might well have.

Fish Chips Shaurma then replies:

is nothing in the web archive, I also tried to find it. I only said
that I myself saw the original and don’t need any outside confirmations
at all. If you didn’t see it, that’s your problem, just like the fact
that you continue to believe in the lousy concession and the propaganda of
an interested party.”

 Rurouni retorts:

“That’s interesting.
You supposedly saw Strelkov’s post, but you can’t recall anything about
it. Not the time of the post, nor its content. And no one but you saw

But a bunch of people saw Margo’s post. And even took screen shots.”

even if there is no proof that Strelkov knew of the report at the time
and commented on it, there does seem to be evidence that a user on his
forum did and posted it, and he likely saw it. Something made Margo edit
her post at 18:04, yet leave the same news about the claim of the
downed AN-26 “in our sky”. Then she deleted it completely.

Is there any other evidence that there was a report before Margo’s on the forum or anywhere else?

stream of posts from Strelkovs’ Dispatches on VK shown in the Wayback Machine
at contain a
post on the downing of a plane 13 minutes before the famous one about the “bird
fall” at 17:50, copied from Margo’s post. This post does not appear to
have been mentioned before.


Here’s a translation:

“17.07.2014 17:37 (Moscow time) Report from the militia.

In the area of Snezhnoye an AN-26 was just shot down, it has fallen somewhere beyond the Progress coal mine.

Konstantinovka and Donetsk there were 3 checkpoints of Ukrops (on the
exit from Konstantinovka to Klepan-byk). Now they are removing them and
moving toward Kramatorsk. They are rolling things up, they are loading
beds into cars, and trucks are waiting for people, the tanks are already
laid out, they retrieved the cannon (they had been in the trenches) and
all the other armor has gone somewhere. What is this all for?!

A convoy with 5 BMP and 2 Urals with a cannon attached have come from
Uspenka, through Amvrosievka in the direction of Ilovaysk, toward
Novoizvanovka. Periodically, there is scattered artillery fire from

16:45 (Moscow time) fire has opened again from the
Ukrops’ artillery on Lugansk, the strikes are hitting in the area of
upper Kambroda, Aleksandrovka, Yekaterinovka, and Teplichnoye.”

that the time of this post of news from the front is
17:37 — exactly the same as Margo’s post. But it doesn’t contain a cut and paste
of her entire post about the AN-26 on the forum, only that same first line.

time and the inclusion of just that one line — with a later post
repeating that line and the rest of the report from her — suggests that there
was a report from somebody before her, and she
herself commented on the same report.

Further indication that posts may have been combined is that another, earlier post by Margo has the same paragraph about the Ukrainian troops move from Konstantinovka toward Kramatorsk — and only that paragraph:

While other possibilities
are that the source messaged both the VK moderator and Margo at the same
time, or that the person posting as moderator on VKontakte is the same
as Margo, able to instantly publish two posts, it’s more likely (as
she is described as an uninformed resident and the moderator is more
savvy) that the moderator  took the post from some other report before

Was that from Strelkov?

Anything related to social media is dismissed by the Kremlin and even some Western experts,  and as we explained previously,
the Russian state media’s own reports from their own separatist sources
that they bragged about the downing of a plane are more compelling and
harder for Moscow to refute.

Even so, this newly-unearthed material shows evidence of a cover-up
and an earlier report — and along the way, also establishes through
the Internet Archive that indeed, VKontakte did publish Strelkov’s
approved announcements directly from him, indicated by a banner, such as
this one, published also on July 17, 2014, about 2 and a half hours
before the first post about the downed plane, containing Strelkov’s
denial that the airport was surrounded by Ukrainian troops and that the
DNR had raised the white flag:


This post lets us know that the VK group moderator was in close
touch with Stretsov, obtaining his position for statements. In the
explanation for the deletion on July 17, as we reported, the moderator
said the post at 17:50 didn’t have the banner.

Yet now we can see it came from the separatists anyway — and there
was a report even before that which indicates Strelkov knew about the
tragic boast.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick