MH17: What suggests Ukraine is behind the fake Buk materials

August 15, 2016
Sergey Mastepanov

A conflict between the Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Arsen Avakov and the Governor of Odessa Mikheil Saakashvili, at the center of which is a presumably fake video distributed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs in December 2015, may have exposed the Ministry’s ability and willingness to manufacture fake videos for political gains. And while most Buk photos and videos have anonymous authors, we know that it was Avakov and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine who published and claimed the authorship of the famous video showing a Buk launcher with a missing rocket about a day after MH17 was shot down.

The article is split into three parts: The first part shows all known separatists’ Buk photos and videos and explains why they do not prove that a Buk launcher was at those places at any point. The second part is a timeline of important events related to the Buk photos and videos such as when and where Ukrainian officials advertized them. It makes up most of the article, and it is optional. The third part is about a presumably fake video distributed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine showing Saakashvili talking to a Russian oligarch. It also has a translation of a press conference, in which Saakashvili attempts to debunk the video.

Buk photos and videos

As of August 2016, there are only four publicly known photos and four videos of the separatists’ Buk launcher.[1] Most of them appeared on the internet within hours and days after the crash, while one video was uploaded almost two years later.

These materials are shown below at their best available quality. Located next to each of them is a modified version, into which a new vehicle was added with software. What these modified versions prove — with varying degree of success — is that the existence of these specific, mostly anonymous, low quality Buk photos and videos does not prove that a Buk launcher was on these streets at any point.

Torez photo

Buk launcher in Torez

Picture 1Photo of a Buk launcher in Torez allegedly taken on July 17, 2014 and uploaded on the same day.

Torez photo with an added tank.

Picture 2Torez photo with an added tank.

Snizhne photo

Buk launcher in Snizhne

Picture 3Photo of a Buk launcher in Snizhne allegedly taken on July 17, 2014 and uploaded on the same day.

Snizhne photo that now shows Topol-M ICBM

Picture 4Snizhne photo that now shows Topol-M ICBM.

Paris Match photos

Two Paris Match photos showing Buk in Donetsk city

Picture 5Two side-by-side Paris Match photos allegedly taken on July 17, 2014 in Donetsk city showing (according to Bellingcat) the Russian Buk “3x2.” The top photo was published on July 25, 2014. The small version of the bottom photo appeared on July 23, 2014. The bottom photo was resized to match the top one to make their comparison easier. A higher resolution version of the bottom photo can be found here.

An attempt at making a photo similar to the second Paris Match photo

Picture 6An attempt at making a photo similar to the second Paris Match photo using Photoshop: serial numbers, side skirt, and other parts were taken from the Russian Buk “3x2” and were placed on another Buk as shown here. The background and the truck was also changed, some similar effects that are visible on the PM photo were applied as well.

Zuhres video

Video 1Buk launcher in Zuhres allegedly filmed on July 17, 2014 and uploaded on the same day or at night on July 18 (EEST).

Video 2Zuhres video that now has a moving Kornet-D military vehicle.

Snizhne video

Video 3Buk launcher in Snizhne allegedly filmed on July 17, 2014 and uploaded on the same day.

Video 4Snizhne video that now also shows a moving TOS-1 military vehicle.

Luhansk video

Video 5Buk launcher with a missing rocket filmed in Luhansk city by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine allegedly in the morning of July 18, 2014 and uploaded on the same day.

Video 6Luhansk video that now has another truck added.

Video 7The following “3D” animation of a truck and Buk (it slightly changes the angle) was made with just the use of one photo and certain software, which is similar to what is seen in the original video.

Donetsk video

Video 8Buk launcher escorted by a column of vehicles (starting at 0:42) allegedly filmed on July 17, 2014 and uploaded to the internet in May 2016.

Video 9A part of the Donetsk video, into which a T-90 tank was added to the front of the vehicle column with the use of a 3D rendering and other software.

All modified versions were made by a novice user with no past experience, who made them after learning just the basics of certain photo, video editing and 3D rendering software (in case of Video 9). That is one of the reasons why some modified versions do not look great. Another reason is: When making such fake videos, it is best to use a good quality video, insert the vehicles into it, and then apply all sorts of effects such as blur, camera shakiness, distortions, color correction, etc., and degrade the quality by resizing it — all this will make the end result look more realistic. But since the author of the modified versions did not have access to these raw videos, the vehicles had to be added into these already processed low quality videos, which, in some cases, is harder to work with.

The original materials also have flaws that suggest they are fake, but discussing most of them is out of scope of this article (see previous works: about the videos and about the photos). However, it is worth to say a few extra words about the Paris Match photos and the new Donetsk video.

Paris Match photos

What separates the Paris Match photos, which appeared about a week after the crash, from the rest is that they look photoshopped even to the naked eye, and you don’t need to be a photographer or to know Photoshop to see it. If you compare them by clicking on Picture 5 and observe for a minute, you may notice that in both photos, the truck’s cabin is sharp, while the Buk looks fuzzy no matter where you look. The Buk on the bottom photo looks like a combination of two different Buk photos, as if part or half of a Buk was extracted from one photo and placed on another Buk using Photoshop.

In an article about the photos and in the description of Picture 6, it was shown how you can take parts from one Buk and put them on another with Photoshop. However, probably a better way to make such fakes is to use a 3D rendering software and to buy (and modify if needed) good quality 3D models of a truck and of a Buk launcher, of which there are plenty on the internet, to then place the Buk on a truck inside a 3D program, apply fisheye effect either in the 3D software or elsewhere, render the vehicles, and in Photoshop, use the rendered Buk as the target for the extracted, say, Russian Buk’s parts. There are many advantages to this method. It allows you to create a photo of a truck and a Buk at any needed angle, set up proper lights and reflections for the vehicles for any environment, most importantly, it allows you to create sun shadows for the vehicles for any location in the world and for any date and time (see this example).

Out of all these Buk materials, the Paris Match photos are also arguably the most important, because, as will be shown in the next part (“Timeline,” July 25), these low quality, absurd-looking photos were used as evidence throughout the two years by practically all the EU’s mainstream media that blamed Russia for sending Buk to Ukraine or that linked a Russian brigade to MH17 (usually indirectly by linking to one of five Bellingcat’s works, which completely rely on the Paris Match photos).

Donetsk video

The video was uploaded to the internet in May 2016 by an empty account. At 0:42 into the video, it shows a column consisting of various cars escorting a truck with a Buk (before and after it). As shown in Bellingcat’s article, the Buk shows similar characteristics as the one on the Paris Match photos. Therefore, according to Bellingcat, this is the same Russian Buk “3x2” as is on the Paris Match photos.

Just like all the previous Buk materials, the video is of low quality. You can’t even see the number plates of the vehicles from the column. Most of the Buk’s details are also hidden by the shadow and the video’s bad quality. This is convenient, because otherwise if we wanted to insert a specific Russian Buk, we would have to adjust the 3D Buk model to show all of the unique details. And if the vehicles in the column are actually 3D models, what numbers would you use for them?

The sudden appearance of this specific, low quality video almost two years after the crash does not make the Paris Match photos look more real, nor does it prove that the Buk and those escorting vehicles were actually there at any point. In fact, I think it was made because the Paris Match photos is a disaster, and only they showed the Buk close enough and were used by certain mainstream media (by referring Bellingcat) to link Russia with MH17. Video 9 showed how you can insert a vehicle (3D model of a tank) into that road. If you want to know how it is done, here are more examples, one of which shows the whole process: (1) how to add a car, includes window reflections and tree’s shadow; (2) another car; (3) statue; (4) tank; (5) fake viral videos. Degrading their quality by resizing them, reducing colors, and applying other effects would make them look even more realistic. And one would not even have to make 3D models of vehicles from scratch, as there are plenty of models out there for sell that can be used as a base (for example, this UAZ model or this).

Two years is enough time for one person to not only make probably a dozen of such videos, but to also learn the 3D rendering software and all the advanced techniques. And even if the weather and everything else in the Donetsk video shows that it is July 17, 2014, all that it means is that the raw video (Donetsk video without the vehicle column, at much better quality) was possibly made on that day (for example, to later create a more sophisticated fake video implicating Russia).


The following timeline shows important events and details related to the previously shown Buk photos and videos. One exception is a certain photo of Ukrainian Buk that the Ukrainian Secret Service (SBU) initially presented as separatists’. It shows who and when uploaded these materials, when they were deleted, how some of them were advertized by the Ukrainian officials within hours after the crash, how the EU’s mainstream media used throughout the two years the absurd Paris Match photos as evidence in practically all of their articles and videos that blamed Russia for MH17, and so on.

July 2014

Jul 17

At 17:00 EEST, about 30 minutes after MH17 crashed, the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (NSDC, or “РНБО” in Ukrainian, “СНБО” in Russian) held a press conference (video):

July 17, 2014 Ukraine's NSDC conference

The reason for this conference was not MH17. They held them probably on a daily basis back then. In fact, nobody in the video seems to be aware yet that specifically a passenger jet had crashed (there are only talks that a military plane was shot down). However, there are a couple of reasons why the conference is of interest.

At 21:03 into the video, a local journalist tells the spokesman Andriy Lysenko that there is information in social media that a Buk system was spotted near Snizhne and asks him to make a comment. Lysenko says that it is a serious system and that they have this information. Then at 21:55, a journalist asks the spokesman, “I want you to clarify, do you confirm that the Buk is there somewhere?” The spokesman says, “We have information that systems that can hit airplanes at high altitudes came into Ukraine. Buk system is among them. There was such information. And even on the video [it] was shown there when a column was moving through Luhansk. We all know.”

First, the problem is, the only publicly known separatists’ Buk video filmed in either the city or the region of Luhansk is the “Luhansk video,” which, as you’ll soon find out, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine showed on July 18 and claimed that their covert team filmed it fleeing to Russia with one rocket missing in the early morning of July 18. That is why it is strange that during this July 17 press conference, Lysenko mentioned some Luhansk video.

Second, minutes after Lysenko answered the questions, the following headlines appeared in Ukrainian Pravda news website:

Screenshot from Ukrainian pravda

The headline at 17:26 EEST translates to “NSDC said that militants have equipment that can hit planes at a high altitude.” The headline at 17:49 translates to “Source: A passenger jet was shot down in Donetsk region.” So, it is interesting that an hour after MH17 crashed and 23 minutes before they (and probably most other news) announced that a passenger jet was shot down, NSDC and Ukrainian Pravda announced that separatists suddenly now possess a Buk, which can reach a passenger jet.

That screenshot of headlines was made by Anatoliy Shariy on July 17, 2014. However, if you check Ukrainian Pravda’s archives now, you’ll see that while the headline from 17:26 is present, the headline from 17:49 is missing. The earliest article there mentioning a passenger jet being shot down is now timed at 18:58 and translates to: “A passenger jet was shot down in Donetsk region. With Buk?” What happened is, they edited the article and moved the time further. And while the article right now doesn’t show that it was edited, someone saved a copy of the article on July 19, 2014 via website, and there at the top we can see that the creation time was indeed 17:49:

Sreenshot from Ukrainian pravda

The Torez photo was uploaded to the internet in the evening either to a social media site or to an internet forum, most likely at around 20:00 EEST.[2] It is hard to trace the original source of the photo, as the original message could have been promptly deleted or edited.

It was reposted, for example, to VK social media page:

Torez photo uploaded to VK social media

Arsen Avakov’s (the Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine) advisor Anton Gerashchenko showed the Torez photo on his Facebook page at 20:59 EEST:[2]

Ukrainian official showing Torez photo on FB

He wrote: “And to finally close the questions as to who and when committed this act of international terrorism — here is another proof for the international tribunal: Buk launcher moving today in the morning through Torez! After a few hours, 295 innocent people will die that were peacefully sleeping in a comfortable plane at an altitude of 10 thousand meters flying over ravaged Ukrainian land!”

Just like with the Torez photo, it is hard to trace the original source of the Snizhne photo. One of the earliest known sources is the following comment on VK social media site left at 23:04 EEST:[2]

Snizhne photo uploaded to VK

It was geolocated few days later by the “koreandefense” website.

The Snizhne video was uploaded by a new YouTube account under a pseudonym, created on July 17, 2014, and it currently has no videos:[3]

Original Snizhne video's uploader

The original video[3] has been promptly removed from YouTube by the uploader, as shown by an snapshot made on July 18, 2014.

One of the earliest known posts in social media linking to the original video was made at 20:33 EEST.[3] A tweet made at 21:37 EEST says that the video is no longer available. Therefore, the video was uploaded after MH17 crashed (because of its title mentioning Malaysians) and removed within hours.

It was reuploaded that day by other people, including by British blogger “Brown Moses” (Eliot Higgins). All reuploaded versions were of significantly worse quality than the original and had lower resolution. It was only in summer 2015, when someone who downloaded the original video at the highest quality and resolution has shared it after another person requested it.[3]

The original video had no description and had a title written in Russian, which translates to: “The murder weapon of Malaysians. Snizhne 17 07 2014.”[3] It is worth noting that Ukraine has dozens of Buk launchers inherited from the USSR, some of which were on active duty in the conflict zone (“ATO”), ready to repel any Russia’s military intervention, and Ukraine’s military jets were actively used at that time, but this anonymous video uploader tells us within hours after the crash not only what happened, but that “here, this specific Buk (allegedly filmed in Snizhne 3–4 hours before MH17 crashed[4]) is the murder weapon!”

One of the reasons the uploader promptly removed it is that the video at the highest available quality showed a specific video artifact, at specific place, which suggested that the video is fake,[3] because it looks like a certain error was made during the video making process. That artifact is not visible at lower quality and resolution. Another reason might be is that he didn’t want many people to know that it was uploaded by a new anonymous account.

The Zuhres video was uploaded by an anonymous account that was created on September 27, 2013.[3] Right now the channel doesn’t have any videos.

The exact upload time is hard to determine via open sources, because the original video[3] no longer exists and there are few internet posts linking to it until July 22, 2014. However, there is an snapshot made on July 23, 2014. It shows that the Zuhres video is dated July 17, which, when taking into account the local timezone, tells us that the video was uploaded either on July 17 or on July 18 at night (EEST). According to the snapshot, the video’s title was “IMG 0647,” the video had no description, and the uploader had a pseudonym “Adrei And.”

Jul 18

At 03:06 EEST, a Twitter user called 3Andryu tweeted to an anti-Russia blogger called Ukraine@War (now has a different name) a link to the now deleted original Zuhres video, along with the exact coordinates, date, and time of the video:[3]


Since 3Andryu knew intimate details about the video, he is either the uploader of the Zuhres video or has a connection with the uploader.

Ukraine@War blogger either didn’t see the tweet or thought in the beginning that the video was fake and didn’t publish it initially.[3] In fact, the video was practically unknown to the public until July 22–23.[3]

The Twitter account 3Andryu no longer exists. There is a snapshot dated August 28, 2014 of his tweet shown on the above screenshot.[3] It says that the page no longer exists, which means that this account or the tweet for some reason was already deleted by August 28, 2014.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine uploaded the Luhansk video at 13:21 EEST to YouTube.[3] It is still online. The video’s title translates to: “Militants are moving “Buk” missile system towards border with RF:”

Luhansk Buk video on YouTube

Shortly after it was uploaded, the Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Arsen Avakov made a Facebook post:

Avakov's post about Luhansk video

He said that Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs covert surveillance team today (July 18) at 04:50 EEST in the morning have recorded a truck loaded with Buk moving via Krasnodon towards the border with the Russian Federation and that two missiles are visible, but the middle one is absent. He did not mention Luhansk city. Most of what he said in his post was also published on the official Ukrainian government’s page, a translation of which can be found here.

Even though many news articles have probably since been corrected, Daily Mail and Paris Match articles still say that the location is Krasnodon. Paris Match representative on Twitter even wrote, “regarding Krasnodon, we have official, on record Ukrainian source saying it’s the picture’s [video’s] location.” So, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, as the authors of the video, have deliberately misled the public concerning the location of the area shown in the video by saying that it is Krasnodon rather than the Luhansk city. Krasnodon is located 50 km south-east of Luhansk city:

Distance between Luhansk city and Krasnodon

The only reason not to reveal Luhansk city that I can think of is they knew that Russia at some point would have a major briefing aimed at international and domestic viewers (and they did on July 21), and they wanted to confuse Russia’s intelligence. Kiev might have been afraid that Russia would say during the press conference that Luhansk city was almost fully encircled at that time by Kiev forces or that Russia would show satellite photos of Buks stationed near Luhansk city (but Russia still showed one about 8 km north-west from Luhansk city even without knowing that the video was allegedly made in Luhansk city [Kiev officialy claimed it was Krasnodon until now, while alternative version at that time on the Russian internet was Krasnoarmeysk — more on that later]).

Anton Gerashchenko (Avakov’s advisor) made a post on Facebook in German about the video, which is similar to what Avakov wrote in his Facebook post:

Gerashchenko's post about Luhansk video

Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, who was the Head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) at that time, showed Snizhne video during a press conference:

Head of SBU showing Snizhne video on July 18

Jul 19

At 01:37 EEST, a copy of the Luhansk video was uploaded to YouTube with a title in Russian: “Junta is moving Buk, which it used to shoot down Boeing, through the city of Krasnoarmeysk:”

Luhansk video uploaded to the internet saying that the city is Krasnoarmeysk

The description said that this info was taken from VK social media site and said, among other things, that the city in the video is actually the city under Kiev’s control — Krasnoarmeysk [not Krasnodon as Ukrainian officials have claimed], because there is a billboard visible of an auto saloon located at Dnepropetrovskaya 34.

This alternative version regarding the location became popular on the Russian internet within the next few days[3] and even made it to some news agencies.

Arsen Avakov left a Facebook comment, hidden among dozens of others, which translates to: “Taras, footage was made in Luhansk. With GPS coordinates. There is the name of the street and specific place — I’m just not providing:”

Avakov's July 19 comment

In his main post made a day before that advertised the Luhansk video, he and other officials did not say a word about Luhansk, only said Krasnodon. Now he suddenly writes Luhansk. But this comment doesn’t necessary mean the Luhansk city, because there is Luhansk city and Luhansk region, and Krasnodon is in Luhansk region, too. One should wonder, if they had nothing to hide, why he said in this comment that he is not willling to tell their video’s coordinates or the name of the street.

The Chief of the Counter Intelligence Department of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) Vitaly Nayda showed a screenshot from the Zuhres video at a press conference:

Screenshot from Vitaly Nayda's press conference showing cropped frame from the Zuhres video

He did not show the Zuhres video itself, did not say that it was Zuhres, and showed only one cropped video frame from the Zuhres video (top-left), so it would be hard for someone to recognize the exact location or city just by looking at it. He also showed it at the time when hardly anyone on the internet was aware of the Zuhres video.[3] What is odd is that he showed a tank and a truck loaded with people and presented it as if this was all part of one column moving at the same time, at the same location, but the Zuhres video does not show neither the tank, nor the truck with the people. One explanation is that this was done for propaganda purposes. Assuming the Zuhres video is fake, it would be relatively hard from a technical point of view to make a realistic video that had an inserted moving truck loaded with people and a tank. Making just such low quality photos (of a truck with people and a tank) in Photoshop with a needed background is much easier.

He, like Anton Gerashchenko, showed the Torez photo:

Screenshot from Vitaly Nayda's press conference showing Torez photo

He also showed on one picture a video frame from the Luhansk video and presented Ukraine’s own Buk “312” as that of separatists’, as if it is the same Buk that was filmed in Snizhne, and as if this Buk was photographed later after it shot down MH17:

Screenshot from Vitaly Nayda's press conference showing Ukraine's own Buk and a frame from Luhansk video

The bottom photo of a Buk is from the same event shown in this video, when Kiev’s Buk was stuck on a road back in March 2014. The videos of the event were well known on the Russian internet. Even I saw it back in spring 2014. Therefore, it didn’t take long before the bottom photo was debunked.

One reason Kiev showed this easy-to-debunk photo of their own Buk together with a screenshot from Luhansk video could be because they wanted to confuse Russia’s intel and to make the “Krasnoarmeysk version” of the Luhansk video (assuming it was Kiev who planted the disinformation regarding Krasnoarmeysk in Russian social media) more popular, to make Russians on the internet and maybe Russia’s intel think that since they are showing their own Buk on one picture, the Luhansk video is probably also that of their own Buk filmed in Kiev’s controlled city (Krasnoarmeysk).

A snapshot made on July 21, 2014 of the page of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) shows all the pictures from this section (the same Zuhres picture, Torez photo, Luhansk screenshot, and their own Buk).

Jul 21

Russia’s Ministry of Defense did an extensive briefing and mentioned the Luhansk video at the end. They said this was Krasnoarmeysk because of the car company shown on the billboard and mentioned the auto saloon’s address (Dnepropetrovskaya 34). They just repeated what was posted by someone on July 19 to the Russian social media (see July 19 section), which rapidly gained popularity and even made it to some news sites.

If you read the whole timeline, you should know that the Luhansk video was made and uploaded by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, and that they claimed that the video was made in Krasnodon. One reason why Russia repeated the popular alternative version was due to a mistake after checking that this wasn’t in Krasnodon and that the same or similar car company as shown on the billboard does exist in Krasnoarmeysk, Dnepropetrovskaya 34 (they had practically only a weekend to analyze a large amount of data, and the video was probably low priority, as they might have thought Kiev was just showing their own Buk). Whatever the reason was, I think it is much more important that the Russian MoD didn’t get the address out of nowhere and that Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine — the authors of the Luhansk video — themselves lied about the location.

Jul 22

Someone tweeted a copy of 3Andryu’s tweet with the Zuhres video info (which 3Andryu sent to Ukraine@War / Putin@War blogger on July 18 at night) to Brown_Moses (Bellingcat / Eliot Higgins’ old nickname):

Tweet sent Bellingcat on July 22 with the Zuhres video info

This is when the public learned about the Zuhres video and started uploading Zuhres video copies to YouTube with appropriate title.[3]

Ukraine@War blogger replied to that Twitter conversation and wrote that the Zuhres video looks “very fake” (but since it fits a certain narrative, it probably doesn’t look fake to him anymore):

Ukraine@War tweeting that the Zuhres video looks fake

The Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Arsen Avakov left a comment on the page of his Facebook post about the Buk video, which translates to: “To stop empty talk — coordinates of the footage: Coordinates of the place where the military equipment was spotted: 48.545760°, 39.264622°:”

Avakov's Facebook comment

The coordinates point to Luhansk city. That area had the same billboard and similar crossroad as seen in the video, but since the video was filmed at a peculiar angle and, as far as I know, nobody attempted to reproduce the video back then, it is hard to verify that all other parts in the video (e.g., all bushes at the front, the background objects, etc.) are actually from there or were inserted. However, since there are no other alternative locations, we’ll agree that it was filmed at those coordinates and that it shows Luhansk city.

As was written earlier, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine claimed until now that the video was made in Krasnodon, not in Luhansk city. So suddenly, a day after Russia’s briefing, Avakov leaves a comment on Facebook and says that the video was actually made in Luhansk city, which is 50 km north-west of Krasnodon. The coordinates, of course, end up being shared with the newly founded Bellingcat project, which later in their articles, accuses Russia’s MoD of lying regarding the city at every opportunity, while not mentioning the fact that it was the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine who claimed the authorship of the video and lied until Russia’s briefing that it was filmed in Krasnodon.

Jul 23

A photo of Ukrainian Buk “312” showed around July 19 by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and presented as belonging to separatists was removed from SBU’s website. It is present in their July 22 website’s snapshot:

Ukrainian Buk shown on SBU's website on July 22

But it is missing in a snapshot made on July 23.

Somewhere between July 23 and July 27, the Zuhres video uploader added a description to his video. A snapshot made on July 23 shows no description, but July 27 snapshot now has a description, which translates to: “Coordinates of this and other videos:”

Zuhres video description added between July 23 and July 27

The link points to a page of an anti-Russian blogger that used be called Ukraine@War. His page shows, among other things, Torez and Snizhne photos and Snizhne video.

French magazine Paris Match showed a tiny version of the second “Paris Match photo” in their article:

A tiny version of the second PM photo in Paris Match July 23 article

Jul 25

Paris Match published the first “Paris Match photo.” They initially claimed that the photo was taken in Snizhne hours before MH17 crashed, but as was later found out, the street shown in the photo is located in Donetsk city — separatists’ stronghold. The name of the photo’s author is not publicly known.

If you look at the photo, the first impression you might get is that “something is wrong with it.” After a few minutes of inspection, you may notice that the truck’s cabin looks sharp, as if it has HD quality, but the Buk is of much worser quality, the Buk looks fuzzy everywhere you look. The photo looks fake even to the naked eye, and the whole story on how this material ended up exclusively in French Paris Match a week after the crash is suspicious. Later, this ridiculous-looking photo becomes, without exaggeration, the primary evidence in all articles and videos published by the EU’s media throughout the two years (including the state-owned TV channels) that accused Russia of sending Buk to Ukraine or that linked Russian soldiers to MH17. And here is how and why.

It all starts with the British-based group called Bellingcat, which is essentially a rebranded blogger named Eliot Higgins aka Brown Moses (rebranded right at the time of the crash) along with various “helpers.” According to Bellingcat, the Buk shown on the Paris Match photo is the Buk that shot down MH17. On September 8, 2014, a day before the preliminary report into MH17 crash, Bellingcat published an article written by someone called Magnitsky saying that the Buk is Russian, because of the serial numbers visible on the Buk in the PM photo. The numbers and their position are similar to those that are on a Russian Buk filmed in Russia about three weeks before MH17 crashed. In November 2014, they published another article, where this time they compared the Buks’ side skirts in an “original way” by first warping the Paris Match photo, and they “proved” yet again that a specific Russian Buk was in Ukraine.

So, according to Bellingcat, we are led to believe that on July 17, 2014, at the time when separatists were getting crushed by Kiev’s army (as that animated map dated July–September shows, it was only after the crash, in August 2014, when the Russian volunteers, most likely facilitated by the Russian government, intervened and did not let Kiev’s army crush the resistence), Russia decided to send a lonely Buk launcher (the complete Buk system has 2–3 other vehicles working together) at night and [conveniently for Bellingcat] forgot to erase the serial numbers. Then it was transported about 200 kilometers from the eastern border to the city of Donetsk without being seen by anyone. So, it was supposedly moved under strict secrecy until Donetsk city, but they did not erase the serial numbers and showed off the Buk in the morning in highly populated areas? In this city of one million, it was allegedly photographed by an anonymous photographer, riding on a car with a broken window, whose two photos for some reason end up a week later in French Paris Match and look photoshopped to the naked eye. Then this Buk was moved to Snizhne, where supposedly the Russian soldiers that came with the Buk — essentially the Russian military — accidently shot down MH17, all while Kiev claimed there were no military flights that day, and when anyone can see any approaching passenger jets live on the internet. There are more problems with the story, but what are the chances of what was mentioned happening? I think it is much more likely that the Paris Match photos that look photoshopped to the naked eye are actually photoshopped rather than Russian military sending a lonely Buk launcher, forgetting to remove the serial numbers, and on the same day, accidentally shooting down a passenger jet with it, as if modern Russian military relies on SMS messages to take out targets with the speed and altitude that of a passenger jet.

Later, Bellingcat published 50–100 page reports and other articles that claimed the Buk is Russian or linked a Russian brigdate to MH17. As shown below, all of this work completely relies on the ridiculous-looking Paris Match photos:

If you live in EU, your country’s state channel or the mainstream media probably claimed at some point that Russia sent Buk to Ukraine, linked Russian soldiers to MH17, or blamed Russia for shooting down MH17. In practically all of these cases, the media referred to Bellingcat, more specifically, to one of their works shown above. An infographic from my Russian article has some examples in English: Politico, EurActiv, Independent, The Telegraph, BBC documentary, Netherlands’ state channel NOS. And since all of these news rely on Bellingcat’s work shown above, which in turn completely relies on the Paris Match photos, it means that the media’s evidence in all of these claims are the dubious Paris Match photos that were published at least about a week after the crash and look photoshopped even to the naked eye.

January 2015

Jan 10

A big version of the second Paris Match photo appeared in the print edition of German Spiegel magazine.[5] It did not have the Paris Match logo. A week later, it appeared in Bellingcat’s article. This time with the Paris Match logo.

March 2015

Mar 4

Between March 4, 2014 and March 31, 2014, the original Zuhres video was removed from YouTube by the uploader: the video is still online according to the snapshot made on March 4, but on the snapshot made on March 31, it says, “This video has been removed by the user.”

May 2016

May 3

A YouTube account registered on October 14, 2014 uploaded the Donetsk video. The account has no other videos.

May 12

Euromaidan advertised the Donetsk video.

Fake video distributed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine

In December 2015, there was a conflict between the Governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region Mikheil Saakashvili and the Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Arsen Avakov. They were accusing each other of corruption. Saakashvili claimed that people close to Ukraine’s Prime Minister were involved in the embezzlement of government funds and other illegal activities related to the Odessa port plant, while Avakov was accusing Saakashvili of him trying to sell the Odessa port plant to a Russian oligarch. Saakashvili denied he has any links with the Russian oligarchs. Later, the spokesman of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine distributed the following video (uploaded by a new account created on December 7, 2015) showing Saakashvili talking to the Russian oligarch Dmitry Mazepin in the center of Odessa, which allegedly supports Avakov’s claim:

Video 10A presumably fake video distributed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine showing the Governor of Ukraine’s Odessa region Mikheil Saakashvili (left) talking to the Russian oligarch Dmitry Mazepin in the center of Odessa.

Saakashvili held a press conference, during which he attempted to debunk the above video (from 03:00 to 08:00). Below is the translation of some of his speech:

Today, the Ministry of Internal Affairs has officially distributed some video, which has been roaming on the internet for a few days, about my mythical meeting with some Mazepin, who turned out to be the director of Uralchem. [...] When I started talking about the looting at Odessa port plant, they started yelling that I have connections with the Russian oligarch from Uralchem. Of course, I laughed at it. [...] Then they showed this video, and so I started researching: who is this man [Mazepin], where did he come from, did he ever cross the Ukrainian border? I sent a request to the corresponding department, and in their preliminary response, they said that since I became the governor, Mazepin did not cross the border. Furthermore, this man and the company also confirmed today that there was no such meeting with me.
But then I inspected the video, because this is an official video, which is being distributed by an official agency. [...] This video is being distributed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine.
I read some blogs [...], and I asked my cousin’s opinion, who is a very good video engineer from New York.
We are looking at each other. This guy is looking somewhere else, I look somewhere else ... well, later. [...] I have a problem with excessive weight. I currently weigh more than ever before, but I want you to look at me and to look at this. I think this is too much, this is too brutal.
What do you think, do I have a neck? Do I? Why there is no neck here? This is an official document. Official, because it was published by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine. You understand now with what kind of con artists we are dealing with. [...] Then my cousin told me that the scale of these cars and our scale doesn’t match each other.
I was scratching my head for a long time: maybe, who knows, someone on the street approached me? But first, if someone approached me, why he didn’t look at me? Second, I don’t remember this [...]. Third, who schedules a meeting with a Russian oligarch for secret negotiations in the center of Odessa near the Mozart hotel?
They think you are idiots, my dear journalists and Ukrainians. And just how they faked this video, they fake documents, they fake contracts, and they steal millions and billions from our government every day. That is why I won’t leave them alone.

Saakashvili made some good points, and the video does look fake. Most Ukrainians on the internet seem to agree with Saakashvili that it is fake. And just like is the case with the accounts that uploaded the Zuhres, Snizhne, and Donetsk Buk videos, the YouTube account that uploaded this video doesn’t have any other materials.

Since this presumably fake video was distributed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and tried to prove Avakov’s — the Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs — point in his conflict with Saakashvili, it means that most likely the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine has a skilled person that knows how to create this type of fake videos using software such as After Effects. And we know that it was also Avakov and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine who published the famous Buk video with a missing rocket (Luhansk video) and claimed that it was filmed by their covert surveillance team.


Out of all the publicly known materials about MH17, the photos and videos of the separatists’ Buk are arguably the most important. They serve as a shortcut for an objective observer trying to figure out who shot down MH17. After all, if there are no photos or videos of the separatists’ Buk prior to MH17 disaster, if Buk wasn’t used to shoot down military planes at all in this conflict before and after MH17, and if all known Buk photos and videos are of such quality that they don’t actually prove that a Buk was on those streets at any point, there would be no strong evidence that anyone except Ukrainian army in that area even had a working equipment capable of shooting down a passenger jet.

All four Buk photos and four videos were uploaded after MH17 was shot down. As the first part showed, the existence of these specific, low quality materials does not prove that a Buk launcher was really there — one person can insert vehicles such as Buk into them using software. Their authors are anonymous (except for Luhansk video). Many of them were shown by various Ukrainian officials from the Secret Service or the Ministry of Internal Affairs within just hours and days after the crash.

The Paris Match photos appeared about a week after the crash. In comparison to the rest, they are of absurd quality and look photoshopped even to the naked eye. They show parts of Buk’s serial numbers, and they were used as evidence throughout the two years by practically all the EU’s mainstream media that connected Russia to MH17 (usually indirectly by referring to specific Bellingcat’s works, which rely on the Paris Match photos).

An hour after MH17 crashed, the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine suddenly announced that they have information that Buk arrived to Ukraine. The same spokesman mentioned some Luhansk video. A day later, the Head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Arsen Avakov published a video allegedly made by their covert team in the same morning showing a Buk with a missing rocket (the Luhansk video) and said that this Buk shot down MH17 and was being moved towards Russia. He misled the public by saying that the video was taken in Krasnodon (probably to confuse Russia’s intel before their big briefing).

In December 2015, during a conflict between Avakov and the Governor of Odessa Mikheil Saakashvili (ex-Georgian president), in which they were accusing each other of corruption, the same Ministry of Internal Affairs distributed a potentially fake video that attempted to prove Saakashvili’s corruption. Saakashvili held a press conference, during which he attempted to debunk the video. What this means is that the Ministry of Internal Affairs probably has a skilled person that can create all kinds of fake video and photo materials for political purposes, and he could have made the Luhansk video and also other Buk materials that were distributed anonymously. And if the Ministry faked the Buk materials, nothing stops them from making audio tapes, Twitter messages, and so on, as these materials, in comparison to the videos, are less difficult to fake. After all, what are the chances that Russia sent a lonely Buk launcher with their operatives on the night of July 17, transported it 200 kilometers to Donetsk without being seen by anyone, shot down a passenger jet with it, then instead of stealthy moving it back to Russia during the night the same way, they decided to move it north and show it off the next morning in a major city with a missing rocket and without a cover?

Most of these Buk materials are present in the official Joint Investigation Team’s video (the criminal investigation team, a member of which for some reason is Ukraine right from the beginning). They are used by Bellingcat and the EU’s mainstream media, but they are not used as evidence in any official government reports (which might partly explain Russian government’s apathy towards these photos and videos from social media). And since JIT’s website is asking for new Buk materials from anyone with an internet access, we might soon find out how many and what kind of other fake Buk materials can a skilled person make within two years of hard work.


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