Dutch satellite expert states Russian MoD Zaroshensk’ye satellite photo is fake

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Russian Ministry of Defense in 2014  presented a satellite photo which showed two Ukriane BUKs in a field near the village of Zaroshensk’ye (Zaroshchenske).

There are various indications this picture must be fake:

  • nobody living in the area saw a BUK at July 17. Several reporters went to the area. See this post
  • Bellingcat came to the conclusion the area was not under control of Ukraine armed forces.
  • Secret service of Ukraine at July 30 already stated the photo was faked.
  • Bellingcat did error level analysis on the photo. Bellingcat concluded the photo was faked. This conclusion however has to be taken with a grain of salt. On his Hacker Factor Blog the inventor of error level analysis N. Krawetz criticized both Bellingcat’s use of error level analysis as “misinterpreting the results” but also on several points J. Kriese’s “ignorance” regarding error level analysis.

Also Metabunk.org clearly shows that the Russian satellite photo of the BUK army depot north of Donetsk is clearly not taken at 14 July as the Russian MoD claims.

Dutch satellite expert Marco Langbroek also stated the photo is fake. He is a tracker of satellites and is able to determine the exact location of a satellite at any time.

Langbroek has a website on satellites and was invited as an expert by the Dutch Parliament for a public hearing on MH17.

Langbroek states that the Russian satellite Resurs-P1 who made the picture  was at  08:32:46 UT at an angle of 57.5 degrees related to Zaroshchenske.

There were no other Russian satellites with a view on Ukraine at that time.

Langbroek wrote on January 30 a detailled blog about his findings.

However the satellite photo provided by Russia shows as if the satellite as overhead Zaroshchenske. (90 degrees angle).

A real photo would show the BUKs in the field partly from the side. This is clearly not the case.

The satellite track shown below was provided by Marco Langbroek.



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32 Comments on Dutch satellite expert states Russian MoD Zaroshensk’ye satellite photo is fake

  1. If it takes one to know one then Bellingcat and Ukraine’s SBU surely know a lie when they see one, right?

    Actually if Bellingcat and the SBU say it is a lie, then I’m more likely to conclude the opposite.

    The Russian MOD presentation on 7/21/14 wasn’t intended primarily for the media and general public. It was intended for western governments who knew how to read between the lines of the presentation.

    I don’t know what the western governments read between the lines, but after the presentation there was a clear reduction in the venomous output of western politicians and western media. They got the message.

  2. Deus Abscondis // January 30, 2016 at 6:01 am // Reply

    So, Russian satellite was at 57.5 azimuth which doesn’t correspond to shadow angle on BUKs, but if BUKs were there they could have been imaged and should show longer shadows?

    By excusion, was any Russian sattelite pass on a prior date able to account for the image presented?

    The Russian claim that an American satellite was also able to observe MH17 is wrong too.

    “@MaxvanderWerff In any case, it is NOT that one of the Am. STSS satellites above the area would have been sitting, as they claim.”

    Does this include SBIRS?

    What possible satellite images could Joustra have been shown?

    Perhaps in the past military were able to show falsified images to hide capability and signal “we know” without showing direct evidence. It seems now ammateur observers of the location of secret sattelites have caught up with them.

    So is it fair to say that both the Ukrainian and Russian satellite images are false?


  3. Deus Abscondis // January 30, 2016 at 6:40 am // Reply

    Ooops, relative length of shadows would remain the same, with image shot from 57.5 deg the perspective of the BUKs changes not the sun.

  4. Hector Reban // January 30, 2016 at 7:08 am // Reply

    The supportive evidence this article mentions is very flimsey.

    1. Nobody saw the BUK according to several reporters should of course be “nobody the western reporters asked saw the BUK”. Furthermore, the BUK was not positioned in the village itself and could have manoeuvered after short time largely through uninhabitated area to Velyka Shyshivka, according to Andrew’s report on kremlintroll.nl

    2. Bellingcat assumes and reasons itself a way to establish Ukrainian control over the area, but Andrew’s report makes a very good case against it.

    3. The SBU claimed the pics were fake based on terrain inconsistencies which, according to them, appeared on satellite imaging they got or bought from the US. But these inconsistencies are perfectly explainable by looking at the difference in characteristics of both providers, Russian MoD and US.

    4. This ELA analysis was outright mistakenly performed as several experts contended, including the developer of the tool itself. ELA is about saving and compression, not per se to detect digital alterations.

    These facts are all publically known and written on my blog and kremlintroll in various postings.

    • > Nobody saw the BUK according to several reporters should of course be “nobody the western reporters asked saw the BUK”

      — Actually, there is a report by “Eastern reporters” with a guy claiming to have seen the Ukrainian ‘Buk’ near Zaroshchenske on July 17, 2014, I’ve mentioned this report a couple of times at this site: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTrzUmSI-b8 (in Russian).

      What you can clearly see within the first 1 minute 5 seconds of the report is that the guy was first instructed about what a ‘Buk’ formation is and then tried to repeat his stage text but learned it purely and, besides, was over-theatrical.

      First, he spoke about “radars” several times, in plural, while a ‘Buk’ battalion has one radar per nine TELAR and TAR launch vehicles.

      Then, he misunderstood the Russian code name for the radar that had been told to him, ‘Kupol’ (“a cupola”), for a physical “cupola” radome usual for many radars and told a reporter about seeing “a radar with such a cupola,” showing something big and spherical with his hands to look more persuasively.

      The poor guy had not been told that the radar, 9S18, code-named ‘Kupol’ by the Russians and ‘Tube Arm’ by NATO (another name, ‘Snow Drift,’ is also known), has no “cupola” but is a flat metal rectangle!

      And, finally, having “personally seen the Ukrainian ‘Buks’ near Zaroshchenske,” the guy never saw or heard the launch of the missile which, as Russia claims, “shot down MH17.”

      On the other side, there were numerous reports in the social media from around Snizhne by local pro-separatist people who heard some powerful missile being launched immediately before MH17 was shot down.

      • Hector Reban // January 31, 2016 at 8:22 am // Reply

        There are a few, not even a handful, pro-separatist accounts of hearing a a roar or seeing something they interpret as being a rocket.

        On the other hand, there are also some accounts of people in the Shakhtarsk area hearing these kind of things things right at the time of the crash.

  5. The twitter comment is not opening. Is it just me? There is no discussion on “Russian satellite Resurs-P1” on the main blog. At least I can’t find.
    Why is he using 08:32:46 UT as reference time?

  6. Okay, as I prefer to be judged on my own words rather than sceondary sources: here is what I have to say about STSS, Resurs-P1 and one particular image

  7. Some background first.
    January 28 following tweet was sent by me to Dr Langbroek:
    “If you have time, I’m curious about your opinion in your field of expertise about this study”: https://www.dropbox.com/s/6a3zgwnx6kmxt0n/mh17_zaroshchenske.pdf?dl=0

    Dr. Langbroek asked me what is the source of this document and in another tweet he writes:
    “That satellite photo is false. BUK’s perspective is wrong with viewing perspective satellite. Should be much more against “side”.”

    About the source of the document I wrote:
    “Some info in HTML version http://kremlintroll.nl/?p=569 per DM can I connect you directly with the author.”

    Now I can start commenting on Dr Langbroek’s article.

    1)Direct quote from his article:

    ~The blog by “Kremlintroll” discusses the image as part of a larger narrative. In addition (and this was my initial focus), he claims that a US spy satellite actually overflew the MH17 disaster area at the time the missile was fired:

    “According to our data from 17:06 till 17:21 Moscow time on July 17 over the South-Eastern territory of Ukraine flew a US space satellite. This is a special device of the experimental space system designed to detect and track various missiles launches” ~end quote

    My response: this is factually incorrect, because:
    a) I am Kremlintroll http://kremlintroll.nl/?page_id=188 , but author of the study is Andrew – American, Civil Engineer, works for American engineering company. http://kremlintroll.nl/?p=569
    b) It is not Kremlintroll as Dr. Langbroek claims nor real author Andrew who makes the claim, but Andrew quotes Lt-Gen I.Y.Makushev http://archive.mid.ru/brp_4.nsf/0/ECD62987D4816CA344257D1D00251C76 who makes the claim.
    See also https://twitter.com/MaxvanderWerff/status/693418185291231233

    2) Quote from Dr. Langbroek’s article:
    “US spy satellite fly-over?
    Let us examine the latter claim first, as this is squarely within my field of expertise. As we will see, the claim appears to be false.
    The description seems to refer to one of the Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) demo satellites in Low Earth Orbit….”

    My question: why does it really seem to?

    Quote Dr. Langbroek:
    “In other words: the claim by Kremlintroll about a US missile-tracking satellite in Low Earth Orbit overflying the Ukraine at 17:06-17:21 Moscow daylight saving time (13:06-13:21 UT), is factually incorrect.”

    My comments:
    a) As explained nor me nor Andrew made the claim
    b) I could not find evidence that Lt-Gen I.Y.Makushev claims a US missile-tracking satellite in Low Earth Orbit overflew Ukraine at 17:06-17:21 Moscow daylight saving time

    My question to Dr. Langbroek: In the next paragraph you explain about SBIRS. Is it not logical Lt-Gen Makushev was pointing to that or similar satellite type since he mentioned the word “experimental”?

    3) I was surprised Dr. Langbroek did not comment on all relevant matters in the study related to his field of expertise, but contrary, made just one claim about a subject that is NOT in his field of expertise.

    I explicitly do not want to hold this against Dr. Langbroek, because on twitter there is another set of rules than in scientific discussions.
    Besides, he himself clearly regrets he made this comment about the false sat pic. He writes:

    “I prefer to refrain as much as possible from making any statements that might be misconstrued as ‘taking sides’.”

    However, he did tweet this 19 September 2014:
    “Russia should STFU….they know damned well that the investigation eventually will uncover their involvement.”

    My question for Dr. Langbroek: have you changed your opinion about certain Russian culpability in shooting down MH17?

    4)Within four hours the ‘truth’ was out:
    “Dutch expert says the Russian MoD presented false sat imagery of Ukrainian Buks on July 17th”

    My questions for Dr. Langbroek:

    1) Do you agree with me that your initial claim reflects your opinion based on some assumptions you make outside your field of expertise, but should not be quoted as fact?

    2)Will you soon write an article discussing, within your field of expertise, all relevant claims and issues in this this study”: https://www.dropbox.com/s/6a3zgwnx6kmxt0n/mh17_zaroshchenske.pdf?dl=0

    Thank you

    • So there are 2 satellite photos from Russian MOD from 17 July 11:32. The distance between locations is considerable. Is it feasible?

  8. First, in response to some of the comments on twitter about this discussion: it is unbelievable that some of you seem to think I have to be standby 24/24 to answer questions a la minute! Get a grip! Some of us have lives. It’s weekend, for Christs sake!

    Now, in answer to Max:

    – it was not clear to me that the pdf report on your blog was not written by Kremlintroll (you). Thanks for pointing this out. I will update my blogpost accordingly and also note that the quote purportedly is from a Russian general.

    – About the spy satellite fly-over, STSS and your question “why does it seem to?”.

    Answer: because no other US missile tracking system matches this description.

    – In response to your follow-up question on this: “In the next paragraph you explain about SBIRS. Is it not logical Lt-Gen Makushev was pointing to that or similar satellite type since he mentioned the word “experimental”?”

    Answer: resoundedly no. The quote clearly indicates a pass duration of 15 minutes. This means the object must be in Low Earth Orbit. This excludes SBIRS-high.

    The SBIRS-high satellites are in very high orbits that in the case of SBIRS-GEO mean they are above a more or less fixed point on Earth, with 24/24 hour vision rather than just 15 minutes; and in the case of the SBIRS-HEO, these are in a highly elliptical orbit with many hours of continuous vision, not 15 minutes. So no, this Russian general was clearly not referring to SBIRS-high. The only system that matches his description and is in Low Earth Orbit is STSS.

    Then, your other comments.

    The first part of my blogpost discusses where at a certain time what satellites were, and what their orientation was with respect to a certain imaged location. That is within my expertise. It is the starting point for the subsequent photo analysis.

    About whether the image analysis in the second part of my blog-post is somewhat out of my normal expertise: yes, and I explicitly acknowledge that at several points in my blogpost. However, the laws of perspective are not that complicated: something seen under a 57.5 degree angle cannot be imaged as if imaged top-down. It isn’t exactly rocket science you need to appreciate this.

    With regard to my position to the question “who did it?”: as I make clear in my blog-post, I have taken a step back on this. Given all that has transpired the past 1.5 years and the many questions that have popped up since, I am waiting for more, verifiable evidence before pointing fingers.

    Last but not least: No, I will not start to analyse every photo published by every party. That is not my task, nor indeed my desire, especially given the internet fire and aggressive responses that this one analysis started.

    To be clear: and there is not a single valid reason why I would be obliged to do so.

    In the course of checking satellite positions and relative viewing angles from orbit (my expertise), I noted a peculiarity in one particular image. My curiosity then led me to analyse that one image further. I have no desire, nor any obligation, to analyse more images. Nor do I have the time, for that matter!

    I think many of you do not realize that my preparations for the parliament hearing already have taken quite a lot of my time and energy last month. With the hearing over and my contribution made, I think it has been enough for now.

    • Hector Reban // February 1, 2016 at 8:52 am // Reply

      Marco, is it possible to find out WHEN the Russians could have made the 90 degree image?

      • Hector, I am not an expert in satellite tracking (just analytical mechanics) but from the top of my head on previous or next orbits the satelite was even further away. However, to the degree i can calculate in my head, it seems roughly the day before or the day after (+-20 mins) the satellite was almost spot on (from the fact that it revists places on a third day). When at my desktop i can verify these estimates of mine. Or Marco can answer with more confidence eventually.

        • Hector Reban // February 2, 2016 at 7:05 am // Reply

          I fear Marco will not return to answer this question, as he was moved heavily by the fall-out of his statements in this case. so if you can, please do!

          • I looked better into the date when the satellite could be seen directly above the place. I was probably wrong in my original assessment (I took the orbit time to be roughly 1 hour while it’s over 1.5 and, secondly, the orbit does not exactly match itself after three days – only approximately). To answer the original question a computer simulator is needed.
            This link bit.ly/1Rbq6fh allows you to see the satellite’s passes over Zaroschenskoe. You’ll need to select “all” as opposed to “visible” (otherwise you’ll get only nightly passes), and with the help of the left arrow (“<") scroll to the date of interest (you'll need to press "<" quite a lot to reach July 17 2014). Then the 7th column (Highest Point Alt.) will tell you how high the satellite was at the time – the closer to 90 the better.

            The site says that on 18th July RESURS-P1 was quite close to be directly above (11 degrees off-vertical), which is practically vertical.

            The problem is that I don't see the orbit drawn on Marco's picture (this is the closest for July 17: bit.ly/23OH8oD). This might be because HeavensAbove simulates the orbit backwards from the current orbit parameters, as opposed to using stored orbit parameters from the past. And, therefore, HeavensAbove cannot be relied upon for going far back in time. I don't know really.

            Anyway, if HeavensAbove is wrong and Marco is right then my original estimate that on a previous or next day the satellite was just above was indeed incorrect. You'd need a gap of more days, and an orbit simulator with precise input data to get the answer.

            On the other hand, if HeavensAbove is right (and Marco is, consequently, wrong) then on 18th at almost noon the satellite was almost exactly above: bit.ly/1X9vq3f
            On July 15 even closer (9 degrees off-vertical): bit.ly/1SRgki8

          • …on July 6th hitting the spot: bit.ly/20yljKX
            One can see that after each three days it gets ever closer. But on a 1m resolution picture one would not be able to tell 90 degrees from 80 degrees. Even the Marco’s 60 degrees is on the border of being resolvable. So his argument, even having a lot of merit, is not *absolutely* conclusive.

          • If the HeavensAbove is wrong for such an old date, I still can tell you the dates of closest passes by offsetting HeavensAbove data. Therefore the final answer for you Hector:

            If Marco is right (likely):
            July17 – 9 days – 15 mins ==> 89 degrees
            July17 – 6 days – 10 mins ==> 78 degrees
            July17 + 4 days – 19 mins ==> 70 degrees
            July17 + 7 days – 21 mins ==> 82 degrees
            July17 + 10 days – 10 mins ==> 86 degrees

            If HeavensAbove is right (unlikely):
            July17 – 2 days ==> 81 degrees
            July17 ==> 30 degrees
            July17 + 1 day ==> 79 degrees

          • Just noticed that the generated by HeavensAbove ground track pictures have been purged from cache, unfortunately. They looked like this: http://savepic.ru/8561508.jpg

            Also the orbits for July17 have completely changed. This confirms my suspicion that the past orbits are obtained by backward simulation from the current orbit data. The small change in the current data drastically changes the simulated orbits in the past.

            So HeavensAbove cannot be relied upon to get the satellite ground tracks far in the past.

          • You are right. Marco Langbroek told me that HeavensAbove is not reliable. It does some sort of predication or backward simulation of a track. The group of satellite watchers which Langbroek belongs to, do actual tracking.

          • To be clear, the part of my “final” answer above, labeled “(likely)” remains valid.

          • Even expert satellite watchers like Marco Langbroek cannot continuously record the location of every satellite. The location of any satellite at any particular time is therefore more a calculation than a verified observation. The only practical way for satellite watchers to make those calculations is to track the orbit backwards or forwards from some verified observed locations at other times.

            It would be good if any assertions about a satellite’s position could be presented along with as much information as possible, such as raw data and some details of how the calculations were made. Without that information, all that anyone can do is to decide for themselves who to believe about satellite images – either Marco, HeavensAbove, DigitalGlobe, the Ukrainian SBU, John Kerry or the Russian MoD.

          • It would also be helpful if Marco or anyone else can say how sure they are that it was not some other undocumented Russian satellite, instead of Resurs-P1, that took those photos. How sure are they that they have identified every Russian satellite flying hundreds, maybe thousands, of kilometers overhead?

          • > expert satellite watchers like Marco Langbroek cannot continuously record the location of every satellite. The location of any satellite at any particular time is therefore more a calculation than a verified observation

            HeavensAbove has current orbit parameters for all satellites. I am quite sure they maintain a history of them too, as it’s only a small record for each satellite (once per day is enough). So the only thing they are missing is the use of that history when generating orbits for the past. (Also they could have warned the user about the errors associated with long simulation spans).

  9. Denis Cashcov // February 1, 2016 at 10:50 pm // Reply

    It must be fake because the SBU and Bellingcat say so?
    I think you would do better to say “could” rather than “must”

  10. Denis Cashcov // February 2, 2016 at 12:48 am // Reply

    It is unfortunate that Mr. Langbroek wrote the following…“Russia should STFU….they know damned well that the investigation eventually will uncover their involvement.”
    As now there will always be the suggestion that he is biased.
    Will Russia be given opportunity to respond if his work is presented to the Dutch parliament

  11. Hugh Eaven // July 3, 2016 at 5:02 pm // Reply

    Small find related to the statement in the report: “These vehicles do not seem to be used much” while referring to the image from (possibly) Persona 2, 2013-028A of the “BUK” army depot. In Google Earth historical imagery, on September 3, 2014 these added vehicles disappear again and are back on the next photo on September 6. In exactly the same spot…. Then on October 6 it’s gone again? It reappears slightly dislocated in 2015 although some images are harder to read.

    This would indicate the sudden disappearance and reappearance of the *same* vehicle on that spot within a short time window in this rather static area seems not unusual. Unless some weird stitching or image dislocation at Google is at work? Or someone on the base might have had a preferred spot and took the vehicle out at random times? Therefore this is not to be used as argument for any Russian “trickery”, in this case at least!

    Google Earth: 48°05’56,75″ N 37°45’09,23″ E

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