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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Russia Update: July 16, 2015

Publication: Russia Update
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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Did Col. Strelkov Report the Downing of MH17 Before Other Social Media Users?

As we noted earlier today, pro-Kremlin commentators have taken two approaches in trying to discredit the admission on social media of the Russian-backed separatists that they shot down a plane on July 17, 2014 -- which they first believed to be an AN-26 Ukrainian cargo plane but before they realized that a civilian airliner had been shot down.

First, they try to discredit completely the VKontakte group as merely "a fan group."

Second, if they concede that the group was in fact authorized to release Strelkov's statements (which indeed it was), they say the report about the downing of the plane did not have his imprimatur for that particular post and therefore was irrelevant.

So on some forums, we see users earnestly proving that in fact the VK group was used for Strelkov's statements -- which we ourselves observed and reported on last year and was accepted as authentic -- but only on their way to proving that therefore, the statement didn't come from him personally.

They don't seem to realize, however, that even if the statement can't be proven to have been issued directly from his lips, the fact that the report first came on a forum he moderated viewable only to members, and was copied on a social media group he endorsed, from fighters he commanded, he is still implicated -- and it is evidence of Russian-backed separatist responsibility for MH17.

In other words, in their zeal to show that Strelkov himself couldn't have made the statement, such bloggers unwittingly only reinforce the fact that some fighters did -- and believed they had shot down a Ukrainian plane.

In this respect, a Russian-language discussion in a mainly pro-separatist forum at October 24, 2014 is interesting regarding the removal of the posts about MH17 -- because the participants directly witnessed the posts placed on Strelkov's forum,, and had screenshots of the removed post and comments.

A user named Rurouni said on October 22, 2014 (translation by The Interpreter)

"Girkin didn't announce the downed AN-26. A local resident announced it, who understands nothing about airplanes. She was re-posted by the Strelkov Dispatches community [on VKontakte]. No one else spoke of the downed AN-26."
A user named "Fish Chips Shaurma" said (translation by The Interpreter) then replied:

"It was in fact Girkin on the antiquities [i.e. on the forum--The Interpreter], it was then efficiently erased, they made the resident Margo responsible and began to twist about and discuss how to disassociate themselves from this sad fact. Funny that they had to erase what they supposedly didn't take part in, lying to themselves, but after all it doesn't matter, those who needed to, saw it."

Then another user, Mikhalych replied to Fish Chips Shaurma's claim that Strelkov posted about the downed plane first:

"That's not true. I read his report, it was literally one of the first, there he didn't state that supposedly he or his people brought down the plane. There literally in the last paragraph of the text -- from memory it was something like -- they also report, that in such-and-such a district, another Ukrainian AN-26 was shot down. And that's it. There were no statements like "We shot down the latest Ukrop" ["dillweed," a pejorative term for Ukrainians].

Thus, the user denying that Strelkov himself bragged about the downing inadvertently confirms something else intriguing -- that Strelkov was first to report the downing, not Margo.

The commenters are so bent on saying that the 17:50 report isn't from Strelkov, that even when they recall there was a report earlier from Strelkov with the news, that implicates him; it means he knew very early on that his men believed they had shot down an AN-26 and reported up the chain to him.

Another user named minerva then posted the LifeNews report copied by a YouTube account: "On the downed AN-26. Ukraine, 9:;00 17 July 2014." This was later removed by state media but individuals had copies by then.

Mikhalych challenges her:
"Is that a report from Strelkov? Or one of the militia? Or did the journalists still and all state that the source is unknown?

Minerva answers:

"So you're claiming that the journalists of LifeNews could cite an unknown source? ; )"

LifeNews is widely believed to be close to the Russian police and intelligence, and has demonstrated this proximity a number of times, so minerva is indicating that LifeNews reporters -- first to the scene of the MH17 crash -- had to know who the source was.

The top of the clip shows the name "Sergei Sidorenko." We have attempted to find this reporter -- it is not the pro-Kiev Ukrainian reporter by the same name, but someone else, possibly using the common name as a pseudonym.

While he was the first on the scene to cover the black smoke of MH17 rising and distraught villagers discussing the crash, he hasn't been heard from again. His credit appears only for a second, then the screen switches to Novosti Novorossii, Novorossiya News, a separatist news outlet.

The forum user Rurouni then makes the point that lots of people saw Margo's post, which was later erased; not a single one saw any post by Strelkov (although in fact two other users in this thread recalled it -- Mikhalych and Fish Chips Shaurma). He also notes that rReprints of Strelkov's own reports are accompanied by the banner "Strelkov reports" - it wasn't put on this particular post.

In response to a question about where the news came from, he said:
"That was the user 'Margo' on the forum. Margo is a woman, a resident of the Donbass. She's pro-DNR, a civilian. The report is ascribed to Strelkov because it was reprinted by the independent community Strelkov Dispatches, there were not only his own dispatches but those of any other militia."

Fish Chips Shaurma then replied:

"Comrades, you haven't understood/you're being dense. I saw the original posts from Margo and Igorivanych. In the course of an hour, they were carefully erased and the concessionaires began a discussion about how they had to disassociate themselves from the reports of Margo and insist on the version that 'the Boeing was shot down by an SU-25 from a cannon' in all groups, the concessionaires are such lovers of the truth : )"
"Igorivanych" is the contracted form of Igor Ivanovich, the first name and patronymic of Strelkov, used as an affectionate nickname. By "concessionaires," he means the people running the "concession," or "DNR project" for the Russians, i.e. the separatists.

What this user implies is that Strelkov not only read Margo's post and knew about the incorrect perception of the downing of the plane; he himself spoke of it -- then took pains to get rid of it.

Rurouni then demands to see evidence:

"And that was in the report from Igorivanych? Cite it. And where did they begin discussing how to disassociate themselves? Under what topic? I dug up a screenshot on the Internet of Margo-Donetsk's post.


Now from you [we need] full info about IgorIvanych's post. With all the confirmations that there are."

Then he made another post:

You see there is a banner "Strelkov reports" which is in all reprints of IgorIvanych's reports? Like this:

So there isn't one [a banner] in the report about the downing of the AN-26. What does that tell us? That this is not Strelkov's report.

And here is one more interesting thing. When Margo erased her report, people replied and this was screenshot.

'A user named Kolyanchik writes in response to the message:

Sent a minute ago
Margo-Donetsk (17 July 2014 - 17:37) wrote:

del [deleted]

What honey, you don't want to take responsibility for the Boeing? You immediately erased the heroic report about the downing of the "AN-26"? ))'

That is, we have a bunch of confirmations of Margo's posts. And not a single (!) confirmation of Strelkov's post.

That's all I have. Your move."

Rurouni doesn't realize, however, that confirmation from a separatist supporter from Strelkov's moderated forum, that the separatists believed they had downed an AN-26 is still important -- it shows there was such a report in the first place, regardless of whether Strelkov himself uttered it -- and he might well have.

Fish Chips Shaurma then replies:

"There is nothing in the web archive, I also tried to find it. I only said that I myself saw the original and don't need any outside confirmations at all. If you didn't see it, that's your problem, just like the fact that you continue to believe in the lousy concession and the propaganda of an interested party."

 Rurouni retorts:

"That's interesting. You supposedly saw Strelkov's post, but you can't recall anything about it. Not the time of the post, nor its content. And no one but you saw it.

But a bunch of people saw Margo's post. And even took screen shots."

Again, even if there is no proof that Strelkov knew of the report at the time and commented on it, there does seem to be evidence that a user on his forum did and posted it, and he likely saw it. Something made Margo edit her post at 18:04, yet leave the same news about the claim of the downed AN-26 "in our sky". Then she deleted it completely.

Is there any other evidence that there was a report before Margo's on the forum or anywhere else?

The stream of posts from Strelkovs' Dispatches on VK shown in the Wayback Machine at contain a post on the downing of a plane 13 minutes before the famous one about the "bird fall" at 17:50, copied from Margo's post. This post does not appear to have been mentioned before.


Here's a translation:

"17.07.2014 17:37 (Moscow time) Report from the militia.

In the area of Snezhnoye an AN-26 was just shot down, it has fallen somewhere beyond the Progress coal mine.

Between Konstantinovka and Donetsk there were 3 checkpoints of Ukrops (on the exit from Konstantinovka to Klepan-byk). Now they are removing them and moving toward Kramatorsk. They are rolling things up, they are loading beds into cars, and trucks are waiting for people, the tanks are already laid out, they retrieved the cannon (they had been in the trenches) and all the other armor has gone somewhere. What is this all for?!

13:50 A convoy with 5 BMP and 2 Urals with a cannon attached have come from Uspenka, through Amvrosievka in the direction of Ilovaysk, toward Novoizvanovka. Periodically, there is scattered artillery fire from Lugansk.

16:45 (Moscow time) fire has opened again from the Ukrops' artillery on Lugansk, the strikes are hitting in the area of upper Kambroda, Aleksandrovka, Yekaterinovka, and Teplichnoye."

Note that the time of this post of news from the front is 17:37 -- exactly the same as Margo's post. But it doesn't contain a cut and paste of her entire post about the AN-26 on the forum, only that same first line.

The time and the inclusion of just that one line -- with a later post repeating that line and the rest of the report from her -- suggests that there was a report from somebody before her, and she herself commented on the same report.

Further indication that posts may have been combined is that another, earlier post by Margo has the same paragraph about the Ukrainian troops move from Konstantinovka toward Kramatorsk -- and only that paragraph:

While other possibilities are that the source messaged both the VK moderator and Margo at the same time, or that the person posting as moderator on VKontakte is the same person as Margo, able to instantly publish two posts, it's more likely (as she is described as an uninformed resident and the moderator is more savvy) that the moderator  took the post from some other report before hers.

Was that from Strelkov?

Anything related to social media is dismissed by the Kremlin and even some Western experts,  and as we explained previously, the Russian state media's own reports from their own separatist sources that they bragged about the downing of a plane are more compelling and harder for Moscow to refute.

Even so, this newly-unearthed material shows evidence of a cover-up and an earlier report -- and along the way, also establishes through the Internet Archive that indeed, VKontakte did publish Strelkov's approved announcements directly from him, indicated by a banner, such as this one, published also on July 17, 2014, about 2 and a half hours before the first post about the downed plane, containing Strelkov's denial that the airport was surrounded by Ukrainian troops and that the DNR had raised the white flag:


This post lets us know that the VK group moderator was in close touch with Stretsov, obtaining his position for statements. In the explanation for the deletion on July 17, as we reported, the moderator said the post at 17:50 didn't have the banner.

Yet now we can see it came from the separatists anyway -- and there was a report even before that which indicates Strelkov knew about the tragic boast.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick