Tabloids Revive Old And Debunked MH17 Conspiracies

April 25, 2016
Photo: Maxim Zmeyev / Reuters

With the upcoming broadcast of a BBC documentary on the conspiracy theories surrounding the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 17, 2014, several media outlets, both Western and Russian, have revived some old and debunked claims.

This morning, Britain’s Daily Express ran, in a break from its usual staples of Princess Diana stories and shocking revelations about the healthiness of red wine or coffee, a story titled:

SHOCK CLAIM: Ukrainian fighter jet SHOT DOWN Malaysia Airlines’ MH17

The Express was followed by other outlets, including The Daily Mail and was greeted by Russian media and officials as evidence that the BBC was now coming round to the Kremlin version of events.

However the BBC has been at pains to stress that this is not the case:


Several alternate theories are discussed in the Express report, one being that Ukrainian jet fighters shot down the Boeing 777 in the skies over the Donetsk town of Grabovo — a claim debunked by Russian journalist Pavel Kanygin of Novaya Gazeta who interviewed the townspeople. In one of these versions, not only a missile, but also cannon fire was used in the attack.

These claims are, no doubt, familiar to readers. This is because they were widely disseminated by Russian state media in the weeks following the disaster.

The nadir of this cycle was this pathetic photoshop job which was bandied about on Russian state television:

160425 - mh17 fake

Even leaving aside the fact that the cloud formations seen indicate that the source photo came from Google Earth, it takes not time to realize that airliners fly much closer to the ground than they do the orbit of satellites. Therefore a Boeing 777 that appears nearly the size of Donetsk city, was clearly not photographed from space.

The most common variant of this disinformation was that a Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-25 attack jet had fired an air-to-air missile.

As noted in The Interpreter‘s report into the evidence in the MH17 case, published last July, even the Russian authorities no longer endorse this view:

The Su-25 theory was put forth by the Russian government four days after the grim event (but after significant, often contradictory, and widely conspiratorial speculation by the Russian state-owned media). It was immediately dismissed by experts who pointed out that the Su-25 is not capable of flying the flight plan described by the Russian government nor, in all likelihood, was it capable of shooting down a plane flying at over 33,000 feet. Furthermore, the Dutch Safety Board’s initial finding was that the missile which shot down MH17 exploded “from above the level of the cockpit floor,” not at the engines or below the aircraft, which is what we would expect to see from missiles fired by a Su-25. As the investigative bloggers at the citizen journalist website Bellingcat noted the problems with this theory are legion.
Even the Russian government seemed to abandon this line of thinking quickly. Engineers for the Russian manufacturer of the Buk missile claimed that, yes, the airliner was shot down by a Buk…

Another theory put forth in the Express piece, is that the CIA planted a bomb on board the doomed airliner.

This theory is attributed to one Sergei Sokolov, described here as a “private investigator.”

He deployed more than 100 of his agents to investigate the site and examine evidence.

He said they found no shrapnel from a Buk missile. Sokolov said he was “sold” a phone intercept between two CIA agents that suggests they masterminded the planting two bombs on MH-17.

The CIA, he claimed, was helped by the Ukrainian secret service. Sokolov said: “The driving force of the operation were CIA agents and the Dutch security service also had a part to play as the bombs were put on the plane in Holland and this couldn’t have been done anywhere else.”

He added “This terrorist act was a pretext for firstly intensifying sanctions on Russia, secondly to show the world that Russia is a barbarian country and thirdly to strengthen the presence of Nato in Europe, particularly Ukraine.”

Sokolov recently popped up in a bizarre piece of botched character assassination on the state-owned Rossiya-1 channel in a documentary titled The Browder Effect.

As The Interpreter‘s editor-in-chief, Michael Weiss, wrote today at The Daily Beast, Sokolov was introduced in the documentary as the leaker of the comically implausible “CIA documents” that purportedly established key opposition figure Alexey Navalny as the CIA’s own “Agent Freedom.”

Here Sokolov is identified as the former chief of security for the late Boris Berezovsky. Ukraine once again comes into play, as it was from here, Sokolov claimed, that he extract the startling documents from “CIA servers.”

Further adding to the confusion, the web version of the Express article intersperses an untranslated video from Russia’s state-owned RT channel, in which Oleg Storchevoy, the deputy head of Russia’s Federal Air Transport Agency, speaking in Russian, claims that a Ukrainian Buk missile was in fact responsible for the downing.

Read the in-depth report on MH17 by The Interpreter‘s James Miller and Michael Weiss at The Daily Beast: