“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
– Aldous Huxley
[Edit log: added Postscript section, July 13th]
Sometime ago Marcel asked me to contribute to his blog with one or more guest blog posts.
It’s a nice opportunity to focus on some topics here – so thanks, Marcel!
In this first contribution I’d like to discuss the Luhansk video and the way it has been dealt with by Bellingcat.
In the Western mainstream media the Bellingcat storyline of events around MH17 has become the major scenario for what happened on July 17th. Many links within their chain of events however may be questioned for authenticity and coherence.
The Luhansk video is one of these.
Regarding authenticity and coherence in general: my main objection to Bellingcat’s demeanor is that they present photographs and videos without questioning their authenticty or the context in which they surfaced. The materials are taken for granted, as long as they make up a stirring narrative, leading to a seemingly obvious conclusion.
In (proper) research one always needs to assess competing facts or observations and evaluate alternate views. Also one needs to make a sturdy restriction on any conclusion when proof is not decisive yet.
Nonesuch with Bellingcat. The way Bellingcat presents the results of their investigations reminds me of what Daniel Kahneman described as “What You See Is All There Is” – resulting in bias by neglect or omission.
There are several indications that the Luhansk video is not what the Bellingcat report published in November 2014 suggests it is: a video of the BUK in Luhansk, on the way of returning to Russia, after having launched one missile, with which MH17 was downed (https://www.bellingcat.com/news/uk-and-europe/2014/11/08/origin-of-the-separatists-buk-a-bellingcat-investigation/).
Avakov posting the Luhansk video
The Luhansk video was first presented by the Ukrainian minister of Internal Affairs, Arsen Avakov, in a Facebook post on July 18th at 10:32 UTC (https://www.facebook.com/arsen.avakov.1/posts/670837696339673) as well as in an official statement (http://www.mvs.gov.ua/mvs/control/main/uk/publish/article/1103327).
In that post the video of the BUK was situated near Krasnodon, on its way to the Russian border, and it was claimed to have been made at 4:50 in the morning of the 18th, which is very shortly after dawn.
(Some people have quibbled that the Avakov-post should not be translated saying “near” Krasnodon but “in the direction of”. However, Anton Gerashchenko published a Facebook post shorly after Avakov and he uses the word “near” very clearly. See: https://www.facebook.com/anton.gerashchenko.7/posts/695217807231736. Also, there is a statement in English which uses the word “via”.)
A day later Avakov, in a comment to his Facebook post, added that the video was made in Luhansk: https://www.facebook.com/arsen.avakov.1/posts/670837696339673?comment_id=671408826282560
This comment was scarcely noticed though by the many bloggers who had started trying to geolocate the video in the first days after its release, suggesting several places.
Again a few days later, on July 22 – one day after the Russian Ministry of Defense held its press conference on MH17 in which it had claimed the video had been made in Krasnoarmeisk – Avakov released the coördinates of an intersection in the southwest area of Luhansk: https://www.facebook.com/arsen.avakov.1/posts/670837696339673?comment_id=672844756138967
Since the video was made by a “covert surveillance” unit of his own ministry, as Avakov stated in his initial post, why then was it situated near Krasnodon instead of Luhansk?! Why provide incorrect information on this?
The only sensible explanation seems to be that in order to deliver the BUK back to Russia from Shizhne, the BUK would have to pass Krasnodon, regardless whether it would follow a route through Rovenky and Swerdlovsk or a route past Lutuhyne or Volukhyne. So, Krasnodon was the most obvious place to pick as the BUK would certainly have to pass there to get to Russia.
Why go to Luhansk?
But, following either route, the BUK would also not have had to travel through Luhansk, as that city is a detour from any escape route. Now, if the video was made in Luhansk as it turned out, could it be that it had been made earlier than claimed by Avakov?
Pondering on this I recalled a screenshot from the Ukrainian Pravda website, published shortly after the crash by Anatolii Sharii. Sharii pointed at the striking coincidence of a headline of a message on the downing of MH17 preceded by a headline of a message in which it was revealed that the separatists had possession of a BUK.
At the time I hadn’t given much attention to it, but now I became curious.
Another Luhansk video? – the Lysenko press conference on July 17th at 17.00 hrs
On April 18th I did some searching and found several short articles which summarized a press conference by Andrej Lysenko on the 17th in which it was mentioned that separatists had a BUK. But it also mentioned that this BUK was sighted in a convoy in Luhansk and that a video had been made! See: http://www.pravda.com.ua/rus/news/2014/07/17/7032182/ and also e.g. http://news.liga.net/news/politics/2564391-v_ukrainu_zashli_rossiyskie_zrk_buk_snbo.htm
That same evening I wrote Marcel about my discovery. I also provided some links on statements by Pavlo Klimkin, proving he did have knowledge of the separatists’ possession of a BUK, in reaction to a tv interview broadcasted that same day by the Dutch news programme Een Vandaag in which Klimkin denied this knowledge.
(See my tweets of April 18th: https://twitter.com/ArnoldGreidanus/status/589418673204568066 + https://twitter.com/ArnoldGreidanus/status/589419094547505152 + https://twitter.com/ArnoldGreidanus/status/589508157501767680 + https://twitter.com/ArnoldGreidanus/status/589508811611889664)
Marcel digested the links on the Luhansk convoy video and on Klimkin’s earlier statements into a blog post: http://www.whathappenedtoflightmh17.com/ukraine-foreign-minister-states-we-had-no-info-on-sam-in-east-ukraine-however-that-is-very-unlikely/
Later on I did some additional searching on the Lysenko press conference and I found an official summary at http://www.ukrinform.ua/ukr/news/anons_1955805 This item also contained a link to a YouTube video of the press conference (in Ukrainian).
I discovered that on the 17th Lysenko gave 2 press conferences, the first at 12.00 and the second at 17.00.
In the latter the information on the separatists’ possession of BUKs was discussed, during a questions round. At the time Lysenko was not yet informed on the downing of MH17, forty minutes earlier.
The statements regarding the BUK(s) start at around 21 minutes, during the questions round:
[21:04] Question: On social networks, info is shared about BUK rockets, spotted near Snizhne. They are not Ukrainian ones. Can you comment on this?
Lysenko: We’ve got info, not only about this rocket system. We realize that it’s a very serious weapon and our Air Force and Intelligence will do their best to destroy these systems, so let’s wait and see. We have this information.
[21:41] Question: I would like you to clarify. So, can you confirm about this BUK, that it can hit airplanes ?
Lysenko: We’ve got information that some rockets complexes have passed into Ukraine territory, which can hit planes from high altitude. There was even a video how these BUK rockets drove through Luhansk. We know this.
[22:48] (Another question on another subject)
[23:18] Question: On social networks there is also information, that near Rozsypne, near Torez, maybe a Ukrainian plane was shot down.
Lysenko: When did this happen?
Question: The news appeared an hour ago, maybe less.
Lysenko: I can’t give an answer now, I have no information about this, but we will inform you later about the plane. All our fighter jets are operating, except yesterday’s case. Thanks for your attention.
On May 15th I provided these new links and the previously mentioned links to Vincent Verweij of Brandpunt Reporter, an investigative tv programme, as he was preparing two new documentaries on MH17. The first of these will be broadcasted this evening, the second on Tuesday evening.
What’s important about the statements made by Lysenko in this press conference is that:
– Ukraine knew separatists were in possession of BUKs
– the video referred to by Lysenko may very well be the same as the Luhansk video presented by Avakov and thus would have been made before or on July 17th, instead of the early morning of the 18th.
Contradicting statements by Anton Gerashchenko and Vitaly Naida
There are even more indications that the Luhansk video was not made early on the 18th, due to statements by Anton Gerashchenko and Vitaly Naida.
Just after midnight, on July 18th, Anton Gerashchenko reported that the BUK had been seen just a little earlier that night, near Shizhne, fleeing towards the border: “Ten minutes ago a row of military machinery including the above mentioned “Buk” has passed the point 48.011623, 38.763036 on the road T-0522. It is only ten kilometers left to Russia.” See: https://www.facebook.com/anton.gerashchenko.7/posts/694953173924866 (And also, later that day, https://www.facebook.com/anton.gerashchenko.7/posts/695141617239355, and here: http://www.ukrinform.ua/eng/news/terrorists_move_buk_missile_system_that_hit_boeing_777_to_russia_official_says_323978) His post was confirming a tweet by @euromaidan.
If the BUK was spotted at Shizhne around midnight, then it would still have quite a journey ahead going to Luhansk first, so it could be filmed at 4:50, and after that heading for the border.
But this was not the case at all – that is: according to SBU’s Vitaly Naida’s statements during a press conference on the 19th!
Several press articles cover this presser.
(E.g. http://interfax.com.ua/news/general/214444.html + http://news.liga.net/news/politics/2589163-posle_krusheniya_boeing_777_boeviki_vyvezli_v_rf_tri_buk_m1_sbu.htm + http://www.ukrinform.ua/rus/news/rossiya_zametaya_sledi_posle_terakta_boeing_777_vivezla_iz_ukraini_tri_buka___sbu_1650443 And also on the SBU website itself: http://www.sbu.gov.ua/sbu/control/en/publish/article?art_id=129116)
From 4m18s on a slide is shown with a picture of a BUK (that would later be identified as Ukrainian BUK 312…) and next to that a screenshot from the Luhansk video is shown.
At 5m14s Naida says Russia ordered the separatists to withdraw all BUK systems from Ukraine: “There were many of them, not one”.
Naida continues telling that at 02.00 in the morning of the 18th 2 trucks with BUK systems passed the border, one BUK with 4 missiles on top, the other carrying three missiles. The latter being the BUK that allegedly downed MH17 from the area of Shizhne.
At 04:00 another 3 trucks passed the border, Naida continues, one empty, one with a BUK system with four missiles, and a third with a “direct guiding” vehicle (probably a TAR unit).
Further on in the video Naida confirms the separatists had “at least” 3 BUK systems and that Ukrainian intelligence was aware of BUKs to be transferred as of July 14th. And at 23m00s he says there were 3 Russian military who accompanied the BUK system.
The statements made by Naida clearly contradict the earlier cited statement by Avakov: if the BUK with 3 missiles on it passed the border at 02:00, how then could it be filmed at 4:50 in Luhansk?!?!
That the BUKs had come into view of the SBU on July 14th was already suggested by intercepted phone calls released earlier on July 18th; these calls were later reused, anonymized, in the JIT video calling for witnesses.
The fact that the separatists had more than one BUK had been mentioned earlier by Anton Gerashchenko in his post on the sighting of a BUK in Shizhne in front of a super market (which turned out to be in Torez though): https://www.facebook.com/anton.gerashchenko.7/posts/694826243937559
Uhh, what about the other BUKs?
Very recently, in what seems to be another hagiographic sketch of Eliot Higgins by Maxim Tucker for Newsweek, a Ukrainian deputy chief of the air force was cited mentioning the locations of the other two BUKs. To my knowledge this is the first time any statements on the whereabouts of these BUKs have been made.
According to his testimony they arrived a lot earlier than July 14th: “In June, three Buks arrived, situated near Donetsk, in Torez and to the north of Novoazovsk,” says Oleg Zakharchuk, deputy chief of Ukraine’s air force. “[Our planes have] a radar warning receiver system, and our pilots on patrol were exposed to the radar’s activity from time to time. The pilot could see in his cockpit that he was within the area of a Buk’s activity. That was exactly the area the Boeing went down.”
If this testimony is correct, it would mean that Ukraine had noticed the BUKs in separatist held area already back in June, yet they did not undertake any efforts to eliminate them.
Anyway, even if the statement is incorrect, they knew for certain BUKs were (arriving) there as of July 14th, but nevertheless did not act decisively.
End of story
It is apparent that the different statements by Lysenko, Avakov, Gerashchenko, Naida and Zakharchuk do not fit nicely.
We do not know which accounts are correct, but we can conclude that they do not make up a straight story – unless we abandon Avakov’s claim that the Luhansk video was made at 4:50 on July 18th.
It is also obvious that the storyline Bellingcat presented since its November report is quite selective, to put it mildly.
Even though “the Bellingcat team” did mention the statements by Naida in their report on Russian convoys published on May 13th, they do not reflect on their earlier assessment that the Luhansk video was made at 4:50 on July 18th.
(See p. 43-51 of the report: https://www.bellingcat.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Routes-Destinations-and-Involvement-of-the-2nd-and-147th-Automobile-Battalions-in-the-June-and-July-Convoys.pdf )
Thus Bellingcat keeps repeating the same old story. No reassessing or nuancing of their earlier conclusions in November.
No reflection on Naida’s claim that there were 3 BUKs present in separatist held area.
No reflection on the contradicting time frames of Avakov’s post on the Luhansk video and the Naida press conference statements regarding border crossing.
Just ignore all that and stick to the story. Just keep telling the story, over and over again.
Postscript (July 13th)
The aim of my post was to show that the statements presented by government and military officials are contradicting. Which claim is correct still remains to be seen. Some of these statements may go together, some may not:
- if the Luhansk video was not made on the early morning of the 18th, then the statements by Lysenko, Gerashchenko and Naida may be correct and they complement each other;
- if the Luhansk video indeed was made on the 18th, then the statement by Naida must be incorrect, but Gerashchenko’s may still be valid. It would also mean Lysenko is referring to another video of a BUK in Luhansk – which is possible, but not very likely in terms of probability;
- if the statements of Zakharchuk on the time of entrance of the BUKs in East Ukraine are correct, then Naida is wrong (or at least incomplete).
Zakharchuk was not only quoted by Newsweek, but was also interviewed earlier by Novaya Gazeta on June 30th (and reprinted today). In that interview he said (translation): “Pilots, who have worked in the area of ATO constantly, observed radiation and made their reports. We were analyzing material and we came to the conclusion that at the time anti-aircraft missiles were in the area of Torez, Yenakijeve and Mospyno”.
Torez is mentioned as well in the Newsweek article, but with other locations “near Donetsk” and “north of Novoazovsk” (which is between Mariupol and the border).
What’s most important with these Zakharchuk statements is that the BUKs already were spotted in the East of Ukraine by June!
This is aligning with what General Philip Breedlove said on June 30th, 2014, in response to a question at a press briefing: “What we see in training on the east side of the border is big equipment, tanks, APCs, anti-aircraft capability, and now we see those capabilities being used on the west side of the border” (my emphasis).
The Zakharchuk statements not only raise the question why these BUKs were not destroyed or why the air space was not closed entirely – they also open up the possibility that (some of the) videos or photographs now attributed to sightings of the BUK on July 17th may in fact have been made earlier, but surfaced only after MH17 was downed.
The Novaya Gazeta interview with Zakharchuk is interesting for another reason too because he makes a firm statement on the activity of jet fighters on the 17th: “I can attest to and document: in the daytime of July 17th there was no flight combat aircraft in the area of responsibility of the Air Command”. Already on the eve of the crash this was said also in a Facebook post by the ATO. This contradicts Lysenko’s words at the questions round of the press conference cited above: “All our fighter jets are operating, except yesterday’s case.” (The latter ‘case’ referring to a SU25 downed the day before, as reported here (Ukrainian) and here (English).
And a bit more variation…
Today Novaya Gazeta published a lengthy article on MH17 – it can also be found here. This article presents a different storyline regarding the transportation of the BUK, based on several sources (also within the separatists).
According to this article the BUK entered on July 14th from Russia, at Sjevernyi, to the northeast of Krasnodon, during curfew. The BUK was then stored in an empty military warehouse, where it remained for the next day. According to Novaya’s sources it came without missiles. On the night of July 14th-15th the BUK was transported on the “not entirely logical route” Krasnodon – Pervomais’k (between Artemivs’k and Luhansk) – Krasnyi Luch. On the night of July 15th-16th the BUK was brought to “the area of Torez-Shizhne”.
In the morning of the 17th it was sent to “the area of Snizhne”. At 12:15 it was seen “at this point” by local residents and “our freelance correspondent” saw the BUK with 4 missiles moving on its own. The article also mentions: “According to witnesses, people who were traveling on the launcher, did not look like local separatists”.
The story continues: “Around 20.00 hrs the BUK was spotted on the road leading from Snizhne in the direction of the Matveyevo-Kurgansky District, Oblast Rostov, Russia. On the night of July 17th-18th the unit was transferred across the border.” Though the route is not specified any further, this suggests the road towards the border which passes Marynivka.
This reconstruction of the BUK’s route towards Snizhne seems to differ from the Bellingcat scenario, since it mentions the BUK was seen in Snizhne at 12.15, whereas Bellingcat positioned it in Torez at that time, reaching Snizhne about an hour later. (Please note: assuming this article refers to the local time, not Moscow time).
However, it is unclear on what sources the phrases regarding the sightings by local residents are based. Also, who is “our freelance correspondent”? This person would be a new witness, in addition to the anonymous AP journalist quoted in the Bellingcat report.
Also, the article quotes the same intercepted conversations that were presented in the JIT-video mentioned above – however, one of these refers to the BUK (and trailer) in Donetsk, a location that isn’t mentioned in this article. It may just as well be that sources are summarized inaccurately by Novaya. (Already questions have been asked on these and other matters.)
What’s also interesting is the route of departure suggested: ‘straight to the border’ from Snizhne, passing Marynivka, towards Kuybyshevo, and the time of the sighting: 20.00 hrs, where Gerashchenko referred to a tweet by Euromaidan mentioning the same area, but much later that same evening.
For now, we’ll have to wait if Novaya Gazeta will provide additional material to backup and specify their story.
As for the many topics raised in the comments: I hope to address some of these in a subsequent post.