A new report from an independent group of analysts has concluded that Russia edited photos related to the Malaysian airliner MH17 that was shot down last year.
Independent analysis group Bellingcat found that Moscow doctored the photos in order to implicate the Ukrainian army in the disaster. Russia has maintained that neither its military nor pro-Russian separatists shot down the airliner. This latest report casts doubt on the official version of the story, writes Patrick Reevell for ABC.
Group analyzes open source material
Bellingcat has previously used open source material, such as photos and videos posted on social media, in order to provide evidence that Russia is sending troops and armaments into Ukraine. Moscow has consistently denied it is doing so despite allegations from Ukraine, NATO and other sources.
The group’s latest report concerns the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines plane MH17 in July 17, 2014. The disaster caused the deaths of all 298 people on board, and aviation experts believe that it was shot out of the sky by a Buk anti-aircraft missile. That specific kind of missile is used by Ukrainian and Russian military forces.
In the aftermath of the crash, the Russian defense ministry released satellite images in which it claimed that Ukrainian Buk missile launchers could be seen near the city of Donetsk around the time of the disaster, part of an attempt to pin the shooting down on Ukraine.
Solid evidence of Russia’s deceit
The Bellingcat report runs to 30 pages, and “unequivocally” concludes that the aforementioned satellite images were edited in order to make them appear to have been taken around the time of the crash. The group says that the photos were in fact taken in the first two weeks of June.
“The discrepancies visible in the Russian MoD [Ministry of Defense] satellite map imagery which shows they are incorrectly dated are visible in publicly available imagery on Google Earth,” Bellingcat wrote in its report. “Error level analysis of the images also reveal the images have been edited.
As well as having altered the dates, Bellingcat alleges that the photos were edited in Photoshop in order to hide objects that would have revealed that they were taken a month earlier. Moscow apparently added cloud cover to conceal its deceit, and Bellingcat claims that the photos are solid evidence that Russia lied about the crash.
“These claims, representing the majority of information publicly presented by the Russian government since the downing of Flight MH17, are a clear attempt by the Russian government to deceive the public, global community, and the families of the Flight MH17 victims,” Bellingcat said in a statement which it released alongside the report.
Russia failing to suppress evidence of activity in Ukraine
The MH17 disaster was one reason for the imposition of harsher sanctions on Russia, introduced because of its arming of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine and the annexation of the Crimea. Since time various different theories have been propagated by the Kremlin, all of which blame the Ukrainian military for the disaster. Russia has falsely claimed that a Ukrainian fighter jet was nearby, and also provided a false flight plan for the airliner.
The separatists also have another bizarre theory that the plane was full of corpses when it took off.
Bellingcat claims that its report shows that 4 major statements from Russia on MH17 were deliberately false. Evidence has been mounting that Russia is attempting to cover up its military activity in Ukraine, but Moscow is struggling to keep a lid on information from the area.
Modern tanks only used in Russia have been seen in the area, and serving soldiers have uploaded photos of themselves fighting in Ukraine to social media. To this point there is no definitive proof of who was to blame for the shooting down of MH17, but an official inquiry by Dutch government investigators is set to release its results this summer. Most of those on board MH17 were Dutch.
Ongoing campaign to conceal information
Russian President Vladimir Putin made releasing details of troop deaths during special operations in peacetime a state secret last week, as reports continue to appear that Russians are dying in Ukraine. Evidence is mounting that Russian troops are using mobile crematoriums in order to dispose of their bodies, and remove evidence of their involvement in the conflict.
A rising tide of domestic discontent threatens to destabilize Russian activities in the region, with bloggers and activists mobilizing to uncover the truth about troop deaths in the conflict. The activities of groups such as Bellingcat, crowd-sourcing investigations using open source materials, are contributing to our knowledge of the conflict and the extent to which misinformation is rife.