Conspiracy and old fakes. How Russian propaganda reacted to verdict in MH17 case

Conspiracy and old fakes. How Russian propaganda reacted to verdict in MH17 case

On November 17, The Hague District Court passed a verdict in the MH17 case, finding three Russian militants – Russians Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinsky and Ukrainian citizen Leonid Kharchenko — guilty of shooting down an airliner of Malaysian Airlines and sentencing them to life imprisonment. The court also found that Boeing was shot down by the Russian Buk anti-aircraft missile system, which was located in the territory controlled by the Russian proxy forces, whom Russia controlled and provided with weapons.

Although the verdict does not concern Russia or Russian officials directly, the Kremlin cannot help but see it as a dangerous precedent. Therefore, the efforts of Russian propaganda were aimed at discrediting the verdict, the trial in The Hague and exposing another “conspiracy of the collective West.”

The official position of the Putin regime was set out in a statement by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Russia refused to recognize the verdict, calling it “a frameup” and “politically motivated.” If the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs at least stated something, the Prosecutor General’s Office, which is responsible for international legal cooperation, decided to keep silent. Making the statement that Russia is not going to give Girkin and Dubinsky to European justice was entrusted to an anonymous “source in law enforcement agencies” in the commentary for the news agency “Interfax.”   

Russian propagandists also worked on the topic. Television broadcasters apparently got the task of not delving very deeply into the essence of the verdict and not stirring up the topic. Federal “Channel One,” “NTV,” and “Russia 1” did not even announce the verdict in their evening news. It was placed at the end of their programs, where the least important news topics usually end up. The authors of the reports focused on the position of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the “anti-Ukrainian hysteria” in the EU rather that the facts established by court. TV propagandists questioned the evidence gathered by the investigation, the right of foreign courts to try Russian citizens, and the right of the “collective West” to condemn and even assess Russia’s actions. Even when it comes to the murder of 298 foreign citizens.

Komsomolskaya Pravda published an extensive piece, the task of which was to demonstrate bias of The Hague court and the unfair nature of the verdict. The argumentation was limited to the following points:

●     Russia was “found guilty” even before the trial was launched;

●     The Dutch Prosecutor’s Office, with the help of the Security Service of Ukraine, falsified evidence;

●     In The Hague, witnesses were “filtered,” considering the words of only those who testified against Russia;

●     The court did not consider the results of the “examination” of Russia's “Almaz-Antey,” which “proved” that the missile had been launched from the Ukrainian-controlled territory.

An additional “proof” of the West’s “malicious intentions” towards Russia for propagandists was the reaction of NATO leaders, who claimed the responsibility of Russia for the death of two Polish citizens in Przewodów during a massive missile attack on Ukraine.

If the above-mentioned media tried only to give Russians a hint as to who was “really” responsible for the MH17 disaster, the pool of propaganda Telegram channels gave an “answer” to this question. More precisely, a bunch of “answers,” generously providing readers with the conspiracy and eight-year-old fake stories:

●     “Ukrainian” Buk fired a missile at the plane from the Ukrainian-controlled part of the Donetsk region (the version that “Almaz-Antey” provided to the investigation);

●     “Ukrainian fighter jet” did it, while the evidence of the attack on “Boeing” is allegedly being concealed by Ukraine. As “evidence,” the propagandists present a photo of the “secret order of the SBU” with a number of Russian words and grammatical errors in it;

●     Thiis is the fault of the Ukrainian government, which either through negligence “did not close the sky” over the combat zone, or misled the militants by setting up a passenger plane instead of a military carrier to “frame” Russia and draw the West into the war;

●     Dispatcher Anna Petrenko is guilty as she guided the Boeing into the danger area by order of oligarch Kolomoiskyi;

●     Western and Ukrainian intelligence agencies shot down a “plane carrying corpses on board.”

Consequently, no new “version,” which has not appeared in propaganda media since 2014, has been formulated this time. In addition, Telegram propagandists reproached the Russian authorities for not actively interfering with the investigation and even giving foreign detectives access to the scene of the crash and jet wreckage — important evidence in the case.

Reiterating the mentioned “versions” of various levels of absurdity and “nitpicking” in the verdict of The Hague court, Russian propaganda does not even try to convince its audiences that Russia is not involved in the downing. The idea is to impose an idea that “everyone is lying.” Simply, someone is doing it “in favor of Russia,” and someone is doing it “against” it. And the possibility of a relatively calm existence in the Russian coordinate system depends on the choice of what to “believe” and what to “doubt.”

Center for Strategic Communication and Information Security

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