While there are now multiple videos which have been geolocated and place the Buk M1 surface-to-air missile systems in range of flight MH17 (these videos match eyewitness reports from Associated Press and Ukrainian journalists), there is a much more controversial video which has been shared by the Ukrainian government that reportedly shows the Buk, missing two missiles, headed back towards Russia. In The Interpreter's Russia liveblog, we posted the following analysis:
Ever since a video of the pro-Russian separatists anti-aircraft BUK system was uploaded to YouTube, legions of Russians and Ukrainians on social media have been trying to locate this scene.
As we reported on our Ukrainian LiveBlog, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said on Facebook the BUK had been taken through Krasnodon and was headed to the Russian border. A Russian convoy had been spotted in Krasnodon on 15 July.
Given the short snippet of film, it seemed nearly impossible to find anything to confirm the scene, but when Hive Mind got to work, eventually people figured out that the billboard in the scene was from an autodealer named Bogdan, which had its showroom in Krasnoarmeysk, another town, and evidently no stores in Krasnodon, though it also has a showroom in Lugansk. Then people speculated on the location of other buildings and painted telegraph poles and then debated whether the area could possibly be in Krasnoarmeysk at all, given that this town has no trolleybus lines (as clearly visible in the video), but Krasnodon does. Some maintained that the lines visible in the picture could be power lines, but trolleybus lines are unmistakeable as this old photo of Krasnodan’s trolleybus illustrates.
Still other social media commenters at Avva’s LifeJournal concluded that the short video was in fact taken when the BUK was still in Torez, where the BUK has been earlier confirmed as parked behind a gas station and some stores. User Alexey Bobkov bolstered his claim by producing a dash cam footage, much like the one used by Aric Toler to confirm the original parked BUK, only driving from the other direction, and said the curb, meridian and poles — and even the billboard — were visible near the clearly-identifiable StroiDom store with the yellow, red and green sign and the five-story striped-edged brown building with the video ad. The problem is that Torez doesn’t have trolleybus lines, either.
Meanwhile, it’s clear that Kremlin propagandists have now gotten into the geolocation game (seeing how much it has fascinated Westerners and been used by them to debunk Kremlin propaganda). On Friday and Saturday, we noticed as did Russian bloggers, that an identical post appeared on hundreds of sites — such as social media, news portals, news media comments sections, and blogs — claiming that the scene had been geolocated in Krasnoarmeysk — but that this proved that the BUKs belong to the Ukrainian military, which had control of Krasnoarmeysk “since May 11″ and therefore the BUK sighting video was Ukrainian disinformation. The post has the feeling of engineered propaganda not only because of its massive appearance everywhere simultaneously, posted by commenters with either no name or by various authors, but also because it quickly appeared on Rossiya 24, Russian state TV, where Konstantin Knyrik, coordinator of the South Eastern Front Information Center, a pro-separatist activist, repeated it almost word-for-word.
The Interpreter has translated the mass-produced post:
“A video is being disseminated in Ukrainian communities where supposedly the militia are hauling the shooting BUK toward the RF [Russian Federation - The Interpreter]. But the city of Krasnoarmeysk is in the video, the billboard with the advertisement for the car dealership at 31 Dnepropetrovskaya St. Since 11 May and until now, the city has been under control of the junta’s forces, conducting the ATO! [anti-terrorist operation].
The BUK is missing one missile. In the photo and video with the trailer (the same one) there is a StroiDom [construction material] store. Address: Krasnoarmeysk, 49 Gorky Street. That is, the shooting BUK was located on a territory under the control of the junta and is still there. What questions are there? Everything is as clear as day — the Boeing was shot down by Ukrainian military by this very BUK, and now, in order for the video which leaked on to the web not to become compromising material, they decided to stupidly lay the blame on the militia, that they are hauling it. Remaining true to their lying nature (the Odessians burned themselves, the Luganskites blew up their own air conditioner, the DPR itself shells towns and so on). Mongrels.”
The propaganda technique here relies on a certain factology, playing on the fascination people have for geolocation. There are two things wrong with the story, however; one is that the StroiDom store isn’t at that location in Krasnoarmeysk, but on Lermontov St. The other is, of course, a lack of explanation for the trolleybus wires.
This morning we'd like to add this: Krasnoarmeysk, the town where the Russian blogs say this video was taken, is about 110 kilometers from the crash site, far outside the range of the Buk. The Buk in question has a maximum range of 35 kilometers. While no one supporting this theory seems to have any theories about where the missile would have been when it launched its attack on MH17, this means that the vehicle would have had to travel through 60-70 kilometers of densely populated territory after MH17 was shot down. Surely it would have been spotted.
If this vehicle is indeed in Krasnadon, however, it would have to travel perhaps 75-90 kilometers to escape from the most probable launch site (based on evidence we've been evaluating for days, either Snezhnoye or Torez), through Krasnadon and on to the Russian border. All of this territory is still in the control of the Russian-backed separatists, it is more sparsely populated, and we know from analyzing many videos in the past that this is a favored route taken by separatists moving goods, equipment, and fighters to and from Russia, and since Lugansk is the nearest big town from Krasnadon (about 40 kilometers, 25-27 miles) it makes sense that this billboard could be in Krasnadon.
We have made a map to help readers sort the confusion, viewable here.