International news agency Reuters has reported that a Russian television station has obtained photos that suggest the doomed Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, which was shot down over the restive eastern part of Ukraine earlier this year with the loss of all 298 passengers and cabin crew on board, was the victim of a missile attack by a Ukrainian fighter jet, widely believed to be a Mig-29. The state-owned TV outlet broadcast what it claimed were ‘sensational” pictures allegedly taken by a Western satellite that purport to show the Boeing 777 being shot down by a Ukrainian air force plane, giving credence to Moscow’s theory that the Ukrainians perpetrated the atrocity.
Ukraine has vigorously denied any involvement in the shooting down of MH17, which was en route from Amsterdam’s Schiphol-Rijk Airport to Kuala Lumpur. Separatists fighting in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, which are mainly populated by ethnic Russians, have agitated for closer union with Russia, and the Russian government has been accused of supplying fighters in eastern Ukraine with weaponry and troops, including powerful BUK surface-to-air rocket launchers capable of bringing down aircraft at an elevation of 30,000 feet. It has been claimed that such a BUK launcher was responsible for MH17, which the Putin government strenuously deny.
Several commentators who have studied the pictures have disputed the authenticity of the images, claiming them to be propaganda ‘forgeries’, Reuters reports. Witnesses who viewed the pictures describe them as showing a fighter jet firing a missile at a passenger plane at the same time as MH17 was flying over Ukrainian airspace. Moscow has claimed the pictures add weight to its theory that a jet in the employ of the Ukrainian Air Force ruptured the plane’s fuselage for reasons unknown, while Western military experts refute this, saying that there is evidence that a BUK missile manufactured and imported from Russia was fired by pro-Russian separatists, tearing holes in MH17’s fuselage and causing the plane to disintegrate mid-air and crash in a ball of flames.
The MH17 photographs were shown on a Friday evening show named “Odnako”, which stated that they had been forwarded to a Russian ‘expert’ by a man named George Bilt. Mr Bilt is said to be a graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His specialism or field of study is not mentioned in the Reuters report, but further research suggests that he is an aviation expert with twenty years of experience.
Odnako is a Russian langauge programme broadcast by Channel One. A presenter with the station, Dmitry Borisov, spoke with Reuters about the Bilt images of MH17’s alleged final moments: “We have at our disposal sensational photographs presumably made by a foreign spy satellite in the last seconds of the Malaysian Boeing’s flight over Ukraine,“
“The pictures support that version which has hardly been heard in the West.“
Since Channel One aired the pictures at the end of last week, debates in Russia have begun on their authenticity, with many observers ridiculing them as staged fakes or having been manipulated with photo-alteration software.
Andrei Menshenin, a commentator for independent Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy, called the TV report a “pseudo-sensation“, and said the angle of attack indicated by the photographs did not correspond to the location of the damage.
Bellingcat, a British investigative journalism website, described the photographs as “a crude fabrication“, highlighting what it said were several inconsistencies, which included signs that the photos had been partly derived from historical Google Earth mapping imagery dating from 2012 and sewn into the images. Several Russian media outlets are staunch supporters of President Vladimir Putin and are frequently accused of peddling a government-backed policy of overt nationalism, anti-Western and anti-Ukrainian bias, and reporting news heavily influenced by sensationalism and propaganda which said to be sourced from the Kremlin itself.
In July, an opinion poll by the Levada Center polling agency said only three percent of Russians believed the Malaysian airliner was hit by rebels, with 82 percent saying it was shot down by the Ukrainian armed forces.
The publication of the photos came on the eve of a G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, where President Vladimir Putin faces strong criticism from Western leaders for Russia’s actions in Ukraine, including allegedly arming separatists and supplying weapons and troops. Russia had also recently invaded and annexed the Ukrainian province of Crimea, an occupation not recognised by much of the international community.
The Reuters reports has not yet made any mention of the official Ukrainian response to the images.