Through the alliance of Ukrainian hacker groups FalconsFlame, Trinity and Рух8, we received access to a massive array of data on Russian propagandist journalists. Volunteers of the InformNapalm international community analyzed the data from several hacked mail boxes of Russian journalists. In one of the mail boxes belonging to Sergey Zenin, a reporter of the Russian Channel One, we found a very strange message.
On November 29, 2014 Sergey Zenin received a message from one Anton Zverev email@example.com (Sat, Nov 29, 2014 12:21:22 +0300), apparently a Reuters Moscow bureau reporter (DPR accreditation # 232 according to the Myrotvorets list). The message contains transcripts of several interviews about the downed Malaysian MH17 flight. We analyze the message and comment on the retrieved correspondence to show what the militants were saying about of the crash of the MH17 and which parts of their interviews made it to the publication.
This pair of jets (two Ukrainian Su-25) tailed that Boeing on purpose, they even appeared on the radars on purpose, flew low to be seen, and switched on all the navigation. I’m sure they were flying without navigation, just by on-board instruments, or maybe even by the sun… I am more than sure, they were waiting for an attack with the Igla MANPADS [editor’s note: Igla – a Russian man-portable air defense system], and just when the attack began, they bonked this Boeing. These Su’s hit the Boeing. The militia, Oplot [editor’s note: a pro-Russian armed group] began to target them, and they just wacked the Boeing. Was there a MANPADS shot? Yep. So, blame the Boeing on the rebels. In fact, they (Su-25) used the on-board cannon”
Comment from InformNapalm: this is one of the first versions by the Russian side about the attack of a Ukrainian Su-25, closely retold. It does not take into account the altitude range of Igla MANPADS and the ceiling height of the Su-25.
“And then calls started – “the target has been hit”. First it was said that a Su has been hit… Not everyone can distinguish at the height of even five kilometers, if it is a Su or a civilian plane. Visually, without special skills, you just can not tell. And from there, shit like this started going around – the target hit, but it had a long fall, and then, thirty minutes later – Ok, the “bird” has dropped. I was somehow sure that the call and the talk was about one of the Su’s. But it turned out, that it was not the Su hit, but that this Su hit that Boeing”
Comment from InformNapalm: apparently the interviewee was at that time somewhere in the area and at least witnessed the first reaction to the downed aircraft.
“We were right there, when it was wacked, it was close to sunset, we were just starting to move out of Snizhne. The cell signal was generally lousy there at that time, Life [editor’s note: Ukrainian telecoms operator] went down at once, MTS [editor’s note: Ukrainian subsidiary of a Russian telecoms operator] still worked. And so I got a call on MTS, they said – the “bird” got wacked. And when I asked – where did you shoot from, he says – from Debaltseve. In general, all these Su’s were pounded from the Debaltseve post, because at the time, there were MANPADS only in Luhansk, in Debaltseve and Donetsk. And there was another mobile group working, they were just spotted in Zuhres. There were no MANPADS anywhere else. But we all know that MANPADS does not reach more than six (kilometers), or even more than five. Then, when we were moving, we did not even move, we were standing there, at that Shakhtarsk checkpoint, you know? We were at this checkpoint, and saw this cow falling. The sound it made was sick, then I realized that it was the wrong “bird”. I only could not figure out then, why and how a MANPADS could hit a Boeing. After analyzing all the events, it appears that it was hit by that pair of jets. They just had launched that pair on purpose to get our guys going, to make them use Iglas.
Comment from InformNapalm: here it gets interesting. The Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) at the time had a shortage of MANPADS to counteract the Ukrainian aviation. The interviewee was “standing” in the area of the “Shakhtarsk checkpoint”. Most likely, he means one of the checkpoints on the H21 Donetsk-Luhansk road near Shakhtarsk. That must have been the reason for sending the Buk missile system to this area.
Why is the interviewee so adamant about the operation of two Ukrainian aircraft? At the time the Ukrainian Air Force often used pairs of Su-25s. The day before the MN17 was downed, on July 16, representatives of the DPR claimed that they had shot down two Su-25 of the Ukrainian Air Force in the area of Snizhne. The next day, the Ukrainian authorities analyzed the attack and claimed that the aircraft were fired at from the Russian territory.
Quote 4 (here, for the first time we see a fairly direct question from the journalist):
Journalist: On that day, did the Buk come from Russia?
“Yes, it was so. Yes, it was traveling. Buk traveled through the Severny border point. But that Buk was destined for Savur-Mohyla. Savur-Mohyla was hard-put then.”
“But the Buk rocket could not hit the Boeing, different ceilings, Buk’s altitude range is up to 6.5 kilometers. Purely by chance, targeting the Su and getting the Boeing … it is not possible. My opinion, it is not possible.”
“I do not rule out, that perhaps there was a shot from Buk. That Buk was already here, waiting to target that pair. There it was (Buk), yes, it was there.”
Comment from InformNapalm: the answer is divided into three paragraphs, each in separate quotes. These could be answers from three different people, none of them denying the presence of a Buk launcher there. The interviewee(s) do not know from memory the technical capabilities of Buk and therefore are not aware that it was designed to target any aircraft at almost any altitude.
It is mentioned here that the Buk entered through the Severny border point, which Ukrainian border guards were forced to abandon around June 5-10. This means that the version of the Buk having come through Luhansk Region to Donetsk Region receives another confirmation here.
Quote 5 (judging by the layout, it could contain answers of five different people):
Journalist: Was the Buk attack targeting the Su-25?
“Yep. “The Su’s pulled the fuck out of there. It (the attack) was half an hour before the downing. Wacked.”
“(The Buk was) between Snizhne and Krasny Luch … Village of Chervone, means “red” in Russian… After this winding road, there is this patch and two large power pylons. There, this shit was standing. Not in Krasny Luch it was.”
Comment from InformNapalm: this passage could refer to the city of Krasny Luch in Luhansk Region, which is a city of 125,000 inhabitants, but in these quotes they mostly discuss villages. However, in Donetsk Region there is the village of Krasny Luch, situated near the city of Torez, and probably near the Buk rocket launch site. Between them, there is another village called Krasny Oktyabr in Russian or Chervony Zhovten in Ukrainian. Could that be the “Chervone village” referred to in one of the quotes, near which this Buk was stationed according to the latest investigations?
“The aviation was such a fucking annoyance, that is why this Buk appeared. Good people pulled together and found a volunteer who drove the Buk here.”
“Of that Buk deployment – yes, we knew of it. Most likely, it was this Buk that they were pulling out. And of that Buk coming in, they also knew, to be honest. It’s because the Buk was routed through Uralo-Kavkaz. There are two roads there. When you come from Severny (a border point on the border with the Russian Federation), there you can, before reaching Sukhodilsk, turn towards Uralo-Kavkaz and through Uralo-Kavkaz, right through the edge of Krasnodon, slip to Sverdlovsk. But this road is very risky, you do the slipping right under the nose of the Ukies. They did not hold this turn at Uralo-Kavkaz then, but their positions were there, and they clearly saw everything that moved on that road. Another safer way was through Sukhodilsk, but there were Ukies too. So when our hardware trundled to Sukhodilsk, it got hit with Ukrainian Grad [editor’s note: a multiple launch rocket artillery system]. And when it was hit, the Buk passed by the low road, through Uralo-Kavkaz. I know that it was even towed along the reserve road. The reload vehicle and the launcher itself. And the late Odessa (Vostok battalion), chief of counterintelligence, he was towing the parcel.
Comment from InformNapalm: this is a very interesting answer. Again, the entry of the Buk from Russian territory through the Severny border point into Luhansk Region is discussed. Further, they are trying to get this Buk to the area of active combat, but are hindered by the Ukrainian Army holding the road to Sukhodilsk under fire control. As a result, the Buk had to go on some “reserve low road through Uralo-Kavkaz”.
The equipment was convoyed by the chief of counterintelligence of the Vostok battalion with the call sign Odessa, who as of 29 November 2014 is referred to by the interviewee as already dead. There were and are many militants with the call sign “Odessa” in the DPR and LPR armed groups. Records of Myrotvorets alone contain more than 10 militants with this callsign, but they are either alive, or are unlikely to be on the level of counterintelligence chiefs. However, in the summer of 2014 there was at least one militant with this call sign in the Vostok battalion. He held some senior position and assisted in releasing several Ukrainian POW’s held by the DPR counterintelligence.
“At that time the militia … did not know how to use it (Buk) … To look at it, everything was Russian there, only they had no fucking idea how to use it all”
Comment from InformNapalm: does this imply that the operators were from Russia as well?
Quote 6 (apparently, it contains answers from three different people):
Journalist: Did the Buks have Russian operators?
“Well, yes, there were.”
“They wacked it from the Su’s, it’s a fact. That Buk did not hit the Su’s then, and in parallel during the day, a Su was hit before midday. It is possible, that it was this Buk, that hit that Su.”
“That Buk, yes, there was a Buk deployed, yes, it was positioned behind Krasny Luch, but from where it stood to where the Boeing fell, the distance is very small, straight distance 15-17 kilometers, it could not do it, you know … It’s like that Buk wacked the Boeing and this Boeing just dropped like a stone, it’s the only way it turns out. But there must have been inertia of the fall, the inertia of moving forward must have remained all the same.”
Comment from InformNapalm: one of the interviewees is apparently quoting Russian television again, with the version about the attack Ukrainian Su’s. However, again, a Buk positioned near Krasny Luch is mentioned.
Quote 7 (apparently, it contains answers from six different people):
Journalist: What is the probability that the Boeing was shot down by a Buk?
“About 3-5 (percent). It can not be excluded, of course. But the likelihood that it was accidentally wacked by a Buk is 3-5 percent. It was wacked from these Su’s, it’s a fact. The probability is 98 percent here”
“And if it was wacked with Buk, like in case it hit one wing, there would have been no fuselage left as such, there would simply have been not so many bodies to recover … If it was wacked by the Buk, the explosion in the sky … would have been awesome… The warhead element of this rocket is awesome.”
“For the guidance system, there were also Russian experts there, Russian operators, I think they would not have hit the wing, they would have hit the fuselage, would have hit the radar, and the Buk would have been guided to the radar anyways. There is no other way.”
“Shooting with a Buk into the sky and not hitting the Su’s, but hitting the Boeing instead – this is nonsense.”
“I’m keeping to the view that this is a provocation, this pair of Su’s was specially scrambled to make the militia fire at air targets.”
“They were trying to provoke us to deploy a Buk, yes, that morning their aviation was working. One of the Su’s got downed, three hours before the incident. At 10 AM the first bird got downed, and then the second bird, a big, fat, goose. It was a provocation to start us firing at the planes, and we got active.”
Conclusions: let us put aside the speculations in these answers, which are almost direct quotes of the Russian version about the Ukrainian Su’s. Let us keep in mind, that the day before, there was an attack on the Ukrainian pair of SU-24/25 in the area. Let us also take into account that the interviewees do not understand the Buk’s altitude range and operational altitudes of Su-24/25. In the bottom line of these responses there are the following important factual details:
- there was some Buk there
- Ukrainian aircraft operated actively in the area, and militants needed a weapon to deal with Ukrainian aircraft
- that Buk was brought into the territory of Ukraine from Russia through the Severny border point in Luhansk Region
- that Buk was brought in by a “reserve route” to bypass the sections on the road to Sukhodilsk which were under fire control of the Ukrainian army
- that Buk was convoyed by the chief of counterintelligence of the Vostok battalion with the callsign Odessa, who as of November 2014 had been apparently already liquidated
- that Buk launcher was operated by Russian specialists.
In mid-July 2014 the situation in the war zone was difficult for the militants. The Ukrainian army was still stationed at Izvaryne border point, all of the border with Russia in Donetsk Region was controlled by Ukraine, and border point Severny in Luhansk Region was the only reliable way to deliver equipment from Russia. After crossing the border from Russia into Ukraine at the Severny border point, the equipment had to move towards Sukhodilsk and then through Krasnodon towards Donetsk Region, skirting the Ukrainian army positions on the border. However, the road to Sukhodilsk was under fire control of the Ukrainian army units stationed near Luhansk.
As a result, a more risky route was selected. Immediately after crossing the border, the convoy kept as close as possible to the border near the town of Uralo-Kavkaz, bypassing Krasnodon on the east side and avoiding the Ukrainian units near Izvaryne.
Interestingly, the journalist of Channel One Sergey Zenin almost immediately (Sat, 29 Nov 2014 12:43:41 +0300) responded to this message:
Anton,))), this seems to be a bit over the top. Tuborg is not the chief of intelligence of an army or even a battalion to have such info. His testimony, when he was stationed around Shakhtarsk, it’s valuable for real. As for Odessa, we need to ask Skif, and as for the Russian crew of the Buk, I do not even know whom to ask))) It seems to me, that all this is lies in the filed of psychiatry. But it reads as an interesting blockbuster. The question is, what do you want: an investigation or a blockbuster? Do you have any higher ranking people who say the same things? Or is Tuborg the one and only “witness” we have?
The answer reveals that the interview was taken from someone with the callsign “Tuborg”, who was at that time near Shakhtarsk. About the fate of “Odessa”, Zenin recommends asking someone with the callsign “Skif”, which is the callsign of the Vostok battalion commander Alexander Khodakovsky.
Moreover, immediately after the downing of MH17, Reuters (Anton Zverev again) interviewed Khodakovsky, who admitted the presence of a Buk launcher which came from the LPR side:
It looks like this was the first and most truthful response of the DPR representatives.
Reuters reporter Anton Zverev eventually interviewed residents of Chervonyi Zhovten, who confirmed to him that they had seen the launch of a Buk rocket from the area of Snizhne. The article appeared on Reuters on March 12, 2015, after this communication with the Channel One journalist.
Some passages hint that the article features some material from the message of November 29:
“Russian and separatist officials have said that Ukrainian military aircraft were overhead at the time the Malaysian airliner came down. They have said that if an anti-aircraft missile was launched in the vicinity, it was to bring down a Ukrainian warplane. They have also suggested a Ukrainian fighter aircraft may have shot down the Malaysian airliner.”
“A former rebel from the separatist Vostok battalion, who for security reasons asked to be identified only by his first name, Igor, told Reuters that a BUK battery was in Chervonyi Zhovten on July 17, and he himself was not far from the village.”
However, for some reason the quotes about the transportation of a Russian Buk and about the possible role of the Russian crew were not included in this report:
“Taken together, the accounts do not conclusively prove the missile launched from near Chervonyi Zhovten was the one that brought down the airliner, because none of the villagers saw it actually being launched.
Nor could they shed light on a contention of officials in Kiev and in Western states, that the BUK missile battery was brought in from Russia and was operated by a Russian crew. Moscow has denied its military is active in eastern Ukraine.”
A pretty strange conclusion on the part of Reuters in this article, as several months earlier local militants told this reporter an entirely different story. The article mentions, however, that the journalists once again visited Donbas in February. Perhaps, there were updates to the investigation and new comments were received. However, the published text contained only neutral language, making it difficult for the Western reader to draw any conclusions.
Ultimately, the readers never learned about the movement of the Buk through the Severny border point from Russia to Ukraine, about the road to Sukhodilsk being under fire control of the Ukrainian Army, about the use of the “reserve route” and about the role of the militant with the callsign Odessa in the transportation of the Russian Buk.
The role of Sergey Zenin, a journalist of the Channel One, also remains unclear. What kind of help in this investigation could have been provided by this Russian journalist and propagandist, whose real task is to conceal Russia’s participation in the war in Donbas? It is a very strange correspondence that leaves too many questions.
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