Russia Update: Posts Deleted Last July at Strelkov’s Forum; Another Group Reports ‘Ukrainian’ Crash

July 17, 2015
Screen grab of a video taken shortly after the crash of MH17 near Snezhnoye.

A forum of Antikvariat.ru, a site about military collectibles and historical re-enactment of battles moderated by former separatist commander Col. Igor Strelkov and tied to his VKontakte community “Strelkov’s Dispatches” shows signs of deletion of posts on July 17, 2014, the day flight MH17 was downed likely by Russian-backed separatists. Meanwhile, another social media group on VKontakte also mistakenly reported the downing of a “Ukrainian plane” last July 17.

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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UPDATES BELOW


Signs of Posts Deleted Last July 17 at Strelkov’s Antikvariat Forum; Other VK Group Reports ‘Ukrainian’ Crash

A forum section “War Dispatches from the South West Front” of
Antikvariat.ru, a site about military collectibles and historical
re-enactment of battles moderated by former separatist commander Col. Igor Strelkov shows indications of tampering and renumbering of the posts on July 17, 2014,
the day flight MH17 was downed most likely by Russian-backed
separatists.

As we have reported,
the well-known post on the Russian social media VKontakte showing how
separatists bragged about the downing of “an AN-26” — which actually
turned out to be the MH17 Boeing — isn’t “fake” or “from a fan group”
nor to be discounted; it came from a separatist support at Antikvariat.ru.

This post attracted wide attention when writer Anne Appelbaum and
others tweeted it July 17, 2014, soon after the news of the downing of
MH17 broke; The Interpreter analyzed it at the time and concluded it was indeed from a separatists’ social media account frequently used by Strelkov for news and announcements.

Three days later, Secretary of State John Kerry, in an interview with Fox News, referenced this VKontakte post:

We know that very shortly thereafter, separatists were bragging in the
social media about having shot down a transport plane. We know that the
so-called defense minister of the People’s Republic of Donetsk, Mr. Igor
Strelkov, actually posted a bragging social media posting of having
shot down a military transport, and then, when it became apparent that
it was civilian, they pulled it down from the social media.

The post (retrieved from Google cache and copied by numerous
bloggers) is from a community on the popular social network VKontakte
called at the time “Dispatches of Igor Ivanovich Strelkov” using his
first name, patronymic and nom de guerre. which indeed was
authorized to publish the official statements of Strelkov, and had
permission to use his name and picture as a persona for the whole
separatist movement and its news from the front. That is why Kerry —
and anyone else who saw the information fresh on July 17 — could have
the impression that Strelkov himself made the post.

Ever since then, pro-Kremlin debaters have seized on what seems
like a discrepancy to claim that Strelkov himself didn’t make the post,
but a “fan group” did — so it had no validity.

The original post as we reported on July 17, 2014 didn’t claim to
quote Strelkov, but said it was a “report from the militia,” the term
the Russian-backed fighters use for their forces. But the post was not
in a mere “fan group”; it was in a group authorized to issue Strelkov’s
direct statements and make reports on his behalf. While the name was
changed later to “Novorossiay Militia Dispatches,” the VK system still
shows the URL as “VK.com/strelkov_info.”

We explained the evidence
for the close association of Strelkov to this group last year as a
long-time observer of the VK group, but the evidence is also sill
visible in the stream of posts on July 17 in Strelkov Dispatches saved at the Internet Archive.
When the group moderators came on to explain why they deleted the post
about the AN-26, they said that only posts with the banner showing the
image and name of Strelkov and the phrase “Strelkov Reports” were
directly from him.

And on the afternoon of July 17, just as many days before (and
since), there was just such a post by Strelkov at 12:02 p.m. Moscow time
regarding a battle at the town of Metallist — with the iconic Strelkov
banner:

Metallist%20Report%20w%20Banner.png

It was a post copied exactly from Antikvariat.ru, a forum about
historical battle re-enactments and military antiques moderated 
Strelkov under  the name “Kotych” which means “Son of a Cat.” (The link
between “Kotych” and “Strelkov” has been widely reported by Russian and
separatist media and is not disputed.)

Strelkov was an avid poster on his own forum as we can see from
paging through it and from the accounts of separatists and from his
activity on July 17, 2014.

His first post came at 12:51 am on July 17 (#3123) about the Kalmius Battalion ambushing some Ukrainian soldiers, then he likely went to bed.

His second post that day came at 10:39 local time and was numbered #3130,
and was a detailed dispatch about the battle at Metallist — this was
copied exactly to VKontakte about an hour and a half later as we can see
above — like many such posts indicating the close relationship between
Strelkov’s verified, direct posts acknowledged on Antikvariat.ru and
reprinted soon after on the VK group authorized to use his name and
picture in the “Novorossiya” military campaign.

The third post was a reply to another forum user at 11:06 about the town of Serebryanka (#3134)

The fourth (#3135)
was a reprimand at 11:07 to a user who asked for the wounded “Banner”
to be sent home. “Who will we fight with? You can’t come,” he scolded.

The fifth (#3137) at 11:10 disclaiming that his fighters were surrounded.

The six (#3147) was at 14:23 saying the news that the fighters were surrounded was likely “disinformation.”

The seventh (#3149)
was at 15:53 in reply to another participant who wondered how long it
might take for the Ukrainian army to prepare a strike on Snezhnoye. “Not
long,” said Strelkov.

Then, after having posted 6 posts in about 5 hours, he stopped —
and may have had meetings, as after all, he had a war to run. There were
no more posts for the rest of the day.

Or perhaps he did make posts — but they were deleted.

How could we tell if anything was deleted? There isn’t any
interruption in the sequence of numbers — but then if a number of posts
were deleted, the forums software would just pick up at the next
number.

At at 16:08 (No. 3152),
Margo-Donetsk makes the post about the movement of Ukrainian troops
toward Kramatorsk which was reprinted (without reference to her, but
cited only as a “report form the militia” on Strelkov’s Dispatches as we reported.

Her post at 17:37 about the plane downed near Torez was deleted, as we noted,
citing participants of the Antikvariat forum, speaking on another forum
called Waronline.org, who discussed it. One of them showed a comment
from another forum user showing the notice that her post was deleted as
evidence.

And one user showed the post itself, as it had originally been
screenshot. If we look in the upper right hand corner, we see that the
number of her post is #3161.

Numbers%20Different.jpg

The next post after hers by someone named “Tiger1313,” showing that
it was sent at 18:12:12 is numbered #3162. It is cut off in the
screenshot but we can tell that it is a post of a video from the black
border and “i”. It’s this one,
titled “In the area of Snezhnoye, a plan was downed 17.07.2014” — the
top of the video embedded, with the smoke in the sky, and the words of
the title “In the area of Snezhnoye” can just be made out as this
screenshot shows:

Video%20top.png

Above her post in the screenshot is a line in purple. It says “Thank you! Respectfully, Leo.”

Back on the actual forum,
we can see a post at 16:36 o the 17th like that from a LeoT, with that
phrase  in purple, “Thank you! Respectfully, Leo” at the bottom — his
tag-line.

But when we look at the top of his actual post as it remains, the
number says “#3153” — although if it came before Margo-Donetsk’s post
about the downed plane (as seen from the screenshot), which was number
#3162, it would have to be numbered #3161.

Leo1.png

Leo%20bottom.png

That means 9 posts were deleted, and the post numbers the
automatically continued the sequence. Now posts #3161 and #3162 are
already by other people, on the next day, July 18.

Those nine posts must have contained a discussion of the downing of
the AN-26 that proved damning, in light of the later news, and were
removed.

Given that two posts were made on the Strelkov Dispatche’s group, the well-known one and one we found previously overlooked 13 minutes earlier — there’s the possibility that Strelkov himself made the report.

Two participants on the  Waronline.org forum claim they in fact saw a report from Strelkov about
the downing of the plane on Antikvariat.ru. One hastens to explain that
he himself didn’t brag that his men downed it; he merely said it was
downed.

There’s always the possibility that any social media screenshot was
photoshopped, but no one disputes that Margo deleted her own post, nor
the screenshot showing its number discussed on multiple forums. The user named “Tiger1313” who posted right after her and was captured in the screenshot is still on the forum; in June, he was a “newbie” from Saratov with no posts.

So Margo-Donetsk’s post was deleted; Tiger1313’s post with the
video of the smoking crash in Snezhnoye — and 7 others, unidentified,
before or after.

Col. Strelkov’s relationship to this fateful news — which we can
now see isn’t fictional — may never be established to the satisfaction
of some critics. Fortunately, this isn’t the only piece of evidence that
the separatists bragged that they had shot down a Ukrainian plane.

Strelkov’s Dispatches and Antikvariat.ru were not the only social
media where supporters of the separatists discussed what they thought
was a downed AN-26, a Ukrainian military aircraft, then with gradual
horror, realized it was MH17, a civilian plane — and grabbed at various
hypothetical explanations to deflect guilt.

A local community called “Russian Patriots of Torez” — the town
next to Snezhnoye where villagers also saw a rocket fired at a plane and
the crash of the plain — also reported the downing of “the Ukrainian
plane.”

A series of posts on July 17, 2014 follow a similar pattern as Strelkov’s Dispatches — except none of them were deleted.

Russian%20Patriots%20of%20Torez.png

Patriots%20of%20Torez%202.png

Patriots%20of%20Torez%203.png

Patriots%20of%20Torez%204.png

Patriots%20of%20Torez%204.png

Patriots%20of%20Torez%205.png

First, the moderator writes (translation by The Interpreter):

A downed SU fell above the Glukhovsky Woods.

The SU, nicknamed in Russian the sushka is the Sukhoi aircrafts.

These woods are marked here on Wikimapia, just south of Grabovo and southeast of Rassypnoye, the sites of the scattered pieces of the crash.

A member of the “Patriots of Torez” immediately posted a news item
from espreso.tv saying a Malaysian Boeing-777 had in fact been downed.

The
other participants, disbelieving, argue with him. One says “they are
trying to pin an international scandal on us!!!”. Another posts a news
item of the video from the pro-separatist rusvensna.su saying that “a
Ukrainian Air Force plane crashed.”

She avidly defends the
separatists’ innocence but another man intervenes to say “but a friend
called, he says there are a lot of bodies!!!”

Others kept saying
the claim that the separatists shot down a plane was fake, not believing
the Ukrainian media or the aggregated news on mail.ru.

Another
man named Alexander Nikolaenko said had just seen a photo from the crash site of bloody
bodies, many children were completely undressed,  and there were pieces of the plane and
dismembered bodies. “It’s horrible!” he exclaimed:

“A man just came from that place, he showed it to me
on a photo in the store. But he said the SU shot down a passenger and
from the ground, they shot down the SU!”

So the patriots believed a story quickly spun by the fighters
— the Ukrainian Air Force shot down the passenger plane — MH17 — but
the separatists then shot down the SU.

Confused reports of “two
planes” were common that day and ensuing days; there have never been
shown to be any other plane crashes on that day and in that area,
however, and the “air-to-air” missile theory has been debunked.

The group participants discussed the finding of the black box, and one man said he had heard it had already been sent to Moscow.

The
group moderator then came on and posted screenshots from two videos,
one of which was posted by Strelkov Dispatches and the other by
Tiger1313 on Antikvariat, with this comment:

The Dillweeds’ transport plane AN-26 was shot down
over Torez. It fell in Grabovo in the field in the area of the chicken
farm. The search for the two pilots is under way.

“Dillweeds” is a pejorative Russian word for Ukrainians.

But another member comes on and says “It’s the Malaysian Boeing” —
and the next post is from a reporter from Kommersant Radio in Moscow who is looking to
interview eyewitnesses of the crash.

Further on in the chat we
can see people reporting what they saw or heard — “It didn’t reach
Lesnaya”; “it was somewhere between Lesnaya and Grabovo” and continuing
in disbelief.

“It fell in Grabovo on the field by the chicken
farm. There are bodies, a car passing by suffered. There is no
electricity in Grabovo.”

Grabovo%20Woods.png

Such social media helps to corroborate the video evidence supplied by the Ukrainian government and journalists, and forensic evidence from
the scene that the separatists shot down a plane they thought was an
AN-26 or SU, in territory they controlled, then discovered their
mistake.

Thus, Strelkov’s Dispatches are compelling evidence but isn’t
required alone to make the case as other social media groups reiterated
similar reports from their own sources and the Russian media reported it
from theirs.

The fuller version of the video now released by News Corp Australia
is even more damning than any of these posts, however, as we hear in
the separatists’ own voices that they discovered that the victims were
civilians and the plane was foreign, and they immediately moved to grab
the black box, seal off the area, and cover up their involvement.

They immediately concoct a story: as James Miller and Michael Weiss, managing editor and editor-in-chief of The Interpreter write at the Daily Beast:

News Corp also says that their investigation has unearthed evidence that
the locals on the ground were being instructed to say that a Ukrainian
jet shot down the civilian airliner. […]

The commander continues to repeat that “they [the Ukrainians] brought
down the passenger plane [with a fighter jet] and we brought down the
fighter.”

It’s the exact same story told by Alexander Nikolaenko above, one of the “Russian Patriots of Torez.”

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick