war crimes in Ukraine

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Russian TV produces ‘witness’ of Ukraine downing MH17, then quickly removes report

Halya Coynash

Russia has pushed plenty of conflicting stories to blur its direct involvement in the downing by Russian or pro-Russian militants of MH17 on July 17, 2014, but decided to remove a particularly absurd version presented by TV Zvezda, a channel linked with the Defence Ministry.  This was broadcast on October 6, a day after a report from the self-proclaimed and Russian-backed ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [DPR] made different allegations, this time based on a Ukrainian defector.

Before looking at these media renditions, it is worth noting the findings of the official Joint Investigation Team, published on 28 September 2016 and available for study on a Dutch government website.

The JIT “concludes that flight MH17 was shot down on 17 July 2014 by a missile of the 9M38 series, launched by a BUK-TELAR, from farmland in the vicinity of Pervomaiskiy (or: Pervomaiskyi). At that time, the area was controlled by pro-Russian fighters. Furthermore, the investigation also shows that the BUK-TELAR was brought in from the territory of the Russian Federation and subsequently, after having shot down flight MH-17, was taken back to the Russian Federation.

Russia has constantly disputed this finding which should result in war crimes charges at the International Criminal Court and massive law suits, but has never presented any convincing evidence. 

Nor has it now, though with all state-controlled media constantly presenting ‘alternative facts’ to blur the truth, it is likely that a large percentage of the Russian population genuinely believe that Russia is not culpable for the loss of 298 lives that day.

On 5 October, Russian media widely broadcast the supposedly incriminating allegations of a former SBU [Ukrainian Security Service] officer who was presented as high-ranking and as having just defected to DPR

‘Vesti’, for example, had a long feature in which they called ex-SBU officer Roman Labusov the ‘Ukrainian Snowden”.  He had, they claimed, passed “thousands of secret documents and scripts used by the Ukrainian security service”.  He was supposed to have defected to the DPR because he “was sick of watching how Ukrainian soldiers kill Donbas residents”.

The feature is highly manipulative.  The viewer would be unlikely to notice the total lack of connection between these supposed “thousands of documents” and the report that the  DPR have handed over to Holland “recently discovered” remains of passengers and parts of the plane.

No mention, of course, is made of the armed militants who prevented the international team endeavouring to find the remains and evidence during the first days and weeks after the tragedy.

Patrick Lancaster, a pro-Russian propagandist, is then shown with several boxes of “material evidence” about the Boeing disaster.  It seems unlikely that the relatives of those killed will believe his assertion that he is doing all in his power to help them. 

It is noticeable that the far more important representatives of the OSCE Monitoring Mission, present to receive the remains, were not invited to speak.

Instead, the Russian viewers learn from a “representative of the DPR Prosecutor General’s Office”, that  they are in position of facts that the BUK was launched from an area under the Ukrainian Army’s control.

Labusov is then presented saying that the Ukrainian investigators into the MH17 disaster were given the command “to collect facts which distorted information, firstly with respect to who did it, and secondly so that they didn’t reflect the truth.”

So spake the supposed “Ukrainian Snowdon”.   Labusov, in fact, is a deserter who has been on the SBU’s wanted list since 4 May 2016. 

This was clearly not sensational enough for TV Zvezda who came up with their very own ex-Ukrainian soldier Yury Baturin who obligingly talked to their viewers about “Ukraine being implicated in the Malaysian Boeing MH17 disaster in 2014”.  The report is entitled: “Ukrainian Army Major talked of the trajectory of the Ukrainian ‘BUKs that shot down Boeing MH17”.  The feature was later removed, though is easily seen on Google searches and can be found cached here.  It was widely reported in the Russian media which is unsurprising since Baturin recited all the details that Russia has pushed, including the basic assertion that MH17 was shot down by Ukrainian BUKs launched from the village of Zaproshchenske.

The only mention on the Internet of Yury Baturin appears to be from Russian state-controlled media, excitedly reporting that a “Ukrainian major” has confirmed that the BUK was Ukrainian.

Before his ‘interview’ was deleted. 

None of this is especially new.  Back in April this year, the same TV Zvezda misreported the findings of a new Bellingcat investigation to claim that a Ukrainian Buk missile launcher had been in Donbas just before the Malaysian MH17 airliner was downed in July 2014. 

The motives for deleting this supposed ‘ex-major’s testimony’ are unclear, but there is nothing new about Russian television deleting incriminating evidence.  There was a lot of such evidence since the militants, believing that they had downed another Ukrainian military plane were quick to boast of this to Russian correspondents, many providing photos of what they assumed was the Ukrainian plane.  Through the evening, either the entire reports, or the photos, which in fact showing the MH17 downed, were quietly removed



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