"This is mendacious nonsense," writes Doug Woodard, in response to Renfrey Clarke's article, Ukrainian Air Force jet shot down Malaysian airliner, reprinted by Roger Annis in his blog on rabble.ca. Mendacious nonsense is an astute appraisal for this off-the-rails piece of disinformation and conspiracy theory. Clarke (via Annis) presents a completely bogus account that claims that, rather than having been shot down by Russian insurgents (as indicated by extensive and corroborated evidence, not the least of which is the admissions of the perpetrators themselves) that Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17 was instead downed by a Ukrainian air force SU-25 fighter in a deviously complex and improbable "false flag" operation (an account supported by no credible evidence).
Woodard continues that, "This looks to me like Russian propaganda of a fairly stupid kind." Exactly so. This is Russian disinformation at its very worst.
There are two major points that need to be addressed. First, there is a highly detailed and multiply corroborated account of what happened to Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17 and it has nothing to do with implausible conspiracy theories.
Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17
What makes Clarke's article not just mendacious nonsense but idiotic mendacious nonsense is that it has been completely clear from the outset precisely what transpired in the case of Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17. That's because the Russian-backed insurgents who shot down the aircraft reported their actions in precise detail within minutes of doing so. Intercepted cell-phone communications between various official in the so-called "Donetsk People's Army" recounted the events in detail. Indeed, Igor Girkin (a.k.a. Igor Strelkov, former commander of "Donetsk People's Army," an ex-mercenary who fought in Bosnia as a "volunteer" and under contract in Chechnya, and is implicated in the Višegrad massacres of 3,000 Muslims in Boznia Herzegovina) -- immediately claimed credit for the shooting saying:
"The plane has just been taken down somewhere around Torez (in Donetsk Oblast). It lays there behind the Progress mine. We did warn you -- do not fly in 'our sky.' And here is the video proving another 'bird' falling down. The bird went down behind the slagheap, not in the residential district. So no peaceful people were injured."
This was before the insurgents had arrived at the crash site itself, and while they still believed that the aircraft had been a Ukrainian military transport.
Briefly: these intercepted cell-phone communications document Russian officer Igor Bezler, the commander of the "Besa Group" of the Donetsk People's Army, speaking with Vasili Geranin (a Russian military intelligence agent then stationed in the rebel-held areas of Ukraine) announcing that the "Miner" group of cossacks ("cossacks" is what the insurgents style themselves as) at Chermukhinskie had shot down an aircraft. There are several other telephone conversations between other insurgent leaders, the violent Cossack ataman Mykola Kozitsyn, and troops on the ground as it becomes clear that the aircraft was not a Ukrainian military transport but a Malaysia Airlines civilian plane instead.
This is extensively documented with much corroborating evidence from a multiplicity of independent sources (including international media). This evidence shows the BUK missile launcher that downed MH-17 in position in the town of Torez hours before the shooting, then later being smuggled back across the border into Russia with two of its missiles missing. Some of the insurgents who manned the BUK system later posted accounts on social media boasting of their involvement. Those interested in further detail are referred to my article Fallen aircraft and smoking guns: The deadly consequences of Russian insurgency in Ukraine.
The salient point is that there is no mystery, ambiguity, uncertainty, or dispute with regard to this event whatsoever. Everyone whose mind is not addled by Russian disinformation or clouded by conspiracy theory knows the details with exactitude because they were precisely and publicly revealed at the time. The Ukrainian "false flag" account promulgated by the Russian Union of Engineers (see below) and parroted by Clarke and Annis is on par with "9/11 was an inside job" conspiracy theory. It raises historical revisionism to new heights of implausibility. Only the most credulous of can have the wool pulled over their eyes by such transparent attempts at disinformation.
The Russian Union of Engineers
The second point worth addressing is the source of this account relied upon by Clarke and Annis in the formulation of this mendacious nonsense.
It is a "report" prepared by the so-called "Russian Union of Engineers" that Clarke describes as, "a well-regarded NGO [non-governmental organization] with a record of highly professional consulting work." In fact, it is nothing of the sort. It is a recently concocted (2012) group of highly placed industry insiders, most of whom work in the Russian military-industrial complex, and who have close ties with, or are members of the Russian ruling elite. This is weapons and heavy industry lobby group. Whether they work directly at the behest of the Kremlin or not is a moot point; their interests are so intimately aligned with it that it makes little difference. [Note: this organization is not the same as the Russian Engineering Union.]
Who are some of the key personnel who direct the activities of the Russian Union of Engineers?
First Vice President Ivan Andrevskii is CEO of the engineering company "2K" that conducts work for a who's who of Russian petroleum clients including refineries, pipe-rolling plants, banks, and petroleum companies including Rozneft (an $84 billion integrated oil company owned by the Russian government), Lukoil (Russia's second largest oil producer that annually contributes in excess of $30 billion to Russian government coffers), and Gasprom (see below).
Vice president Valery Chichkanov is a key advisor to Gazprom (the largest gas company in the world, controlled by the Russian government, that provides Russia with 10 per cent of it's GDP) and former vice-prime minister of Russia. He is a trustee of the Security Service Fund of Vladimir Putin himslf.
Vice President Konstantin Kovalev is an atomic engineer and manager of CJSC Superconductor and a manager of major Russian electric power, cryogenic, aerospace, superconducting, and propulsion projects for the Russian government.
Vice President and Chief of Staff Vladimir Saluyanov is also a senior official with the engineering company "2K" (see above) and a graduate of the Leningrad Higher Military-Political Defense Academy (named in honour of former KGB chief Yuri Andropov) one of the elite academies whose graduates feed the Russian military-industrial complex.
Vice President Andrei Utkin is head of the RFID (radio frequency identification) department of the Russian Vega Radio Engineering Corporation, which develops terrestrial, air, and space surveillance systems including all the UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) for the Russian Armed Forces. In 2007 the Moscow-based company made $185 million (87.5 per cent of revenues came from the Russian government) and employed 8,981 employees.
Vice President Arkady Drozdovsky is the director general of the engineering company "2K". He is a specialist in advanced concrete structures used in nuclear reactors, hydroelectric dams, large factories, and oil and gas facilities.
The Russian Union of Engineers "report" (authored by Ivan Andrevskii) is a transparently amateurish attempt to muddy the waters, with technical jargon, graphs, photos, and drawings of weapons systems that even aeronautical engineers dismiss as wholly implausible in terms of the technical capabilities of the SU-25 fighter, the strategy of attack, and even the forensic evidence. The Russian Union of Engineers had no access to the crash site, or indeed to any key evidence related to the case, and Andrevskii spins a wholly improbable account based largely on photographs of small depressions on one wreckage fragment that he interprets as being caused by a 30-mm gun which he conjecture was fired by an attacking SU-25.
Not only is the account implausible in the extreme, and amateurish in execution, it also completely avoids dealing with the multiply corroborated evidence provided by the various players in the Donetsk People's Army who openly admitted to shooting down the aircraft themselves (see above). It is also published by a group of high-level insiders in the Russian military-industrial complex, all of whose careers (military, political, and economic) are tightly connected to the Kremlin power structures.
Indeed, the home page of the Russian Union of Engineers website features an obsequious appeal to Vladimir Putin (addressed as "Esteemed Vladimir Vladimirovich") calling on him to create an honorific title (Honoured Engineer of the Russian Federation) for what it describes as the "enlightened" engineers who, "faithfully serve their Motherland as loyal citizens." They propose "crossed swords" as a symbol to designate the recipients of the honour.
Denialism and Conspiracy Theory
All this, however, never dissuades conspiracy theorists, for whom no evidence can be considered too flimsy, no whispered rumour too improbable, and no whiff of "conspiracy" not worth salivating over. It's precisely these kinds of people who are cynically exploited by the Russian government as "useful idiots" in a tradition that dates back to imperial Russia and extends seamlessly through Leninist, Stalinist, and subsequent Soviet times to the present Putin era. (See: Crisis in Ukraine: Disinformation and useful idiots for a length discussion of both the historical and contemporary deployment of disinformation in Russia, and Faces of war and peace on Moscow Streets for an examination of the Kremlin's extensive control of media in Russia and its use of propaganda in pursuit of its political goals.) Indeed, with modern electronic media and Kremlin-funded mouthpieces such as RT (Russia Today), Vladimir Putin is able to employ disinformation and propaganda far more effectively than any of his predecessors.
The objective of this exercise is not to actually present a serious and credible narrative , but simply to sow confusion and muddy the waters. To foster uncertainty amongst those who have little actual knowledge of the issues or events in question. Holocaust denial, evolution denial, the denial that cigarette smoke causes lung cancer, climate change denial, tar sends being an "ethical" energy source, the cutting of corporate taxes that "trickles" wealth down to the masses -- all of these are of a kind and the objective is identical: to foster a spurious "debate" that will make it seem as if the narrative is "debatable." Being "debatable" there is consequently no certainty or clarity. It's an attempt to stymie or derail political action on an issue (i.e., banning cigarettes, taking action on climate change, taking measures to redistribute wealth, imposing trade sanctions on Russia, etc.).
Confusing the gullible is the objective; employing "useful idiots" is the means. It's a cynical tactic. Shame on those who continue this practice -- for any and all disingenuous purposes.
This is Part X of a series on the political situation in Ukraine. Part IX is Ukraine: The left turn right through the looking glass.
Christopher Majka is an ecologist, environmentalist, policy analyst, and writer. He has a Russian Studies degree from Dalhousie University and the Pushkin Institute in Moscow. He is the director of Natural History Resources and Democracy: Vox Populi.