In Other News – Russia is Officially to Blame for the Malaysia Air Tragedy – 11/23/2022

November 23, 2022

Despite rampant disinformation, Russia is officially to blame for the Malaysia Air tragedy. This is another example of Moscow’s ongoing campaign to distort facts and shape global politics. Last week, a Dutch court handed life sentences to two Russian men and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian for their involvement in shooting down a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet as it was flying over eastern Ukraine in 2014. Notably, the jet was shot down over separatist-controlled Donetsk six months into Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. The commercial airliner was hit by a Russian surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 people aboard, and Moscow was quick to muddy the waters of attribution. Anyone following the story closely, however, knew that Russia was likely responsible, and the recent convictions are a step towards justice.

At the time of the tragedy, the Kremlin made claims that the airliner had shifted course, that the missile had the signature of an outdated missile that Russia no longer used, and that video of the surface to air missile showed the rocket launcher being in Ukrainian occupied territory. The Russian media carried contradictory alternative stories that a surface to air missile was not actually the cause of the crash. The maneuvering of the disinformation narrative by Russia, combined with a rapidly shifting political situation in the region, replaced international outrage with profound confusion and at the time allowed the Kremlin to avoid the rightful amount of condemnation.

But robust open source-based investigations by groups like Bellingcat and Paris Match and the Ukrainian military were able to quickly piece together the true story. These investigators had technology on their side, and they were able to track the movement of the Buk Missile launcher from Russia, through Donetsk and to the missile site. They identified the burned field where the missile was launched from, triangulated the place of impact from the flight course, the crash site and the missile launching location, and ultimately dispelled much of the Russian misinformation.

And still, it took eight years for Russia to be held publicly accountable for the downing of the flight and for the world to see Russian culpability writ large. In similar fashion, since the summer of 2016, the US has been providing compelling information of Russian election interference attempts and disinformation campaigns to meddle in internal affairs of elections in the United States, Ukraine, and many other EU nations. These Russian efforts include conducting cyber-attacks, spreading disinformation, funding pro-Russian parties and coup-plotting.

These attempts have been vehemently denied by Russia despite a growing preponderance of evidence, until earlier this month when the head of the Wagner Group and financier of the infamous IRA disinformation troll farm, Yevgeny Prigozhin decided to publicly remark that “We have interfered [in US elections], we are interfering, and we will continue to interfere. Carefully, accurately, surgically and in our own way, as we know how to do.”

Indeed, in addition to the grinding battlefield in Ukraine, the information war is actively being fought, especially in the global South, where false Russian narratives abound. Cybersecurity firms have also identified Russian attempts to interfere in the US Midterm Elections, often propagating the message that the US is “wasting money” by supporting Ukraine. But like with the Malaysia airline findings, Ukraine’s efforts to take detailed account of Russian war crimes even while mid-battle will ultimately serve to demonstrate Moscow’s concerted attempts to distort reality.