Briefs

Lithuania: 19-25 September 2016

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A Lithuanian-language, pro-Moscow website tries to discredit the findings of a report on the July 2014 crash of MH-17—which killed 298 people including 80 children and 15 crew members—by shifting responsibility from the Kremlin to Ukraine.

Event: On 28 September, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the 17 July 2014 crash of Malaysia Flight 17 in Ukraine delivered its findings. The report concluded that the Boeing 777—en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur—was hit by a Russian-made BUK anti-aircraft missile while flying through the war zone (though more passenger jets regularly used that route). Moscow immediately criticized the findings as unqualified and speculative, as did ekspertai.eu, a pro-Kremlin website in the Lithuanian language.

The false facts or narrative: The website, ekspertai.eu, argued that the JIT report did not take Russian radar data into consideration and claimed that Ukraine had not yet provided any such information. The site claimed as its source for that allegation the Dutch Public Prosecutors Service website om.nl. Yet in reality, om.nl.reported that the JIT had obtained sufficient radar data both from Russia and Ukraine. Ekspertai.eu made little effort to be accurate or consistent in its reporting of the dispute over the radar data. Despite its own version of what radar data was used, the site broadcast the JIT video conference in which members of the investigative panel confirmed that their report was based on radar information supplied by both Ukraine and Russia. The website  used the  opportunity to  once again mock the U.S. in its comments by stressing the fact that  Russia's provided data was ignored as usual because supposedly reliable source can only come from the U.S.The site also reported that Russian firm Almaz-Antey, makers of the BUK system, had evidence showing that the missile was fired from the Ukrainian side of the fighting.

Reality on the ground: Evidence presented by the JIT showed that the BUK missile had been brought in from Russian territory and was fired from an area controlled by pro-Russian fighters. According to om.nl, the JIT found conclusive evidence that a BUK missile from the 9M38-series brought down the jet. The report also presented the interim results of a criminal investigation into who was responsible for the shootdown, but stated that narrowing the preliminary list of 100 people to those actually involved would take more time. The JIT has identified the route of the system’s arrival from Russia and its return across the border after the incident; it expects to deliver another report by 1 January 2018.

Techniques: Card stacking; denying facts; conspiracy theories; context creating.

Audience: Lithuanian society, the overwhelming majority of which supports Ukraine’s right to build an independent state and condemns Russian involvement in the MH-17 shootdown.

Impact and analysis: Ekspertai.eu tried to undermine the reliability of the JIT’s findings, mainly to divert the focus from Russia’s involvement. The next day, it reported unsubstantiated speculation by RT that the relatives of MH-17 crash victims might file lawsuits against the Ukrainian government for not protecting its airspace. On 30 September, ekspertai.eu, citing Russian sources, said 80 percent of the Dutch population does “not believe that Russia is responsible for the MH-17 crash.”