Web users debunk Russian TV's MH17 claim

By Vitaly Shevchenko
BBC Monitoring

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Image source, Channel One

Russian state TV has broadcast what it claimed to be a photo of the moment Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet. But many commentators dismissed the image as a "crude fake".

Late on 14 November, Russia's state-controlled Channel One TV broadcast what appeared to be a satellite photo of a passenger plane and a jet fighter in the skies above Donetsk, a separatist stronghold in Ukraine. It was, the report said, the moment the Ukrainian jet fired a missile at MH17.

This theory has long been promoted by pro-Kremlin media, and it came to the fore again as President Vladimir Putin was preparing to meet world leaders at the G20 summit in Australia. He is widely expected to face some tough questions over Russia's alleged role in the Ukraine crisis and the downing of MH17.

Channel One said the "sensational photograph" came from a certain George Bilt, who claimed to be a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate with more than two decades of experience in the aviation industry. He emailed it to Ivan Andriyevsky, the first vice-president of the Russian Union of Engineers, the report went on.

"We can assume that the photograph was taken by an American or British satellite," Andriyevskiy told Channel One, "we have studied the photograph in detail and found nothing suggesting that it is fake."

The presenter, well-known pro-Kremlin commentator Mikhail Leontyev, agreed. "To fake something like this, you'd have to be an even bigger professional than to have access to this kind of information," he said.

Mr Leontyev also suggested that the timing of the report was not accidental either. "We know that Australian Prime Minister Abbott threatened to ask our president some difficult questions about the Malaysian Boeing. Let us help him," Leontyev said at the start of the broadcast.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Western investigators say the plane was likely hit by shrapnel from a surface-to-air weapon

Online scepticism

But shortly after the broadcast, many web users concluded that the image broadcast by Channel One was a crude forgery rather than a solid piece of evidence.

Several commentators pointed out that the "Malaysia" logo on the plane from the photograph was in the wrong place. Maksim Kats, a Russian blogger, said the plane in the picture looked like a slightly altered version of the one that tops the search results if you Google "Boeing view from above" in Russian. It also happens to be a publicity photo of a Boeing 767, not a 777, which was shot down over Ukraine in July.

Others noted that the fighter jet looked different from an Su-25 - the type which the Russian media had consistently claimed shot down MH17.

There were also claims that the shape of clouds in the satellite image proved that it actually came from a Google Earth photo of the area taken on 28 August 2012.

Furthermore, those who carried out a reverse image search on Google found that the photograph with the two planes was not so new or exclusive after all: it was first uploaded to a Russian forum on 15 October. Its source was claimed to be "enthusiasts from the Russian wikileaks".

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Both Russia and separatists in Ukraine deny involvement in the MH17 crash

'Crude fake'

The apparent flaws in Channel One's report triggered a torrent of ridicule. Ilya Varlamov, one of Russia's most popular bloggers, called Channel One's claim "a crudely photoshopped fake... just one episode in the information war". "Keep your brain clean, don't watch TV," he urged his readers.

And one user on Russia's Aviaforum website said: "We'd have a good laugh about it, if the topic wasn't so tragic".

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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