19 April 2018
One of the narratives pushed by Moscow shortly after the tragedy encouraged officials to compare the crash to the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand before the First World War and accuse Kyiv of provoking a new world conflict.
Kremlin leaks have revealed Russian use of disinformation over the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in 2014.
Emails hacked by a coalition of Ukrainian activists called Cyberhunta from accounts linked to senior Kremlin officials contained a briefing document that set out eight separate messaging “lines to take” over the crash, which killed 298 people, The Times reports.
The eight narratives sought to blame Ukraine for the disaster, although the Boeing airliner was shot down by a Russian surface-to-air missile. The briefing note was dated July 20-27, 2014, the week after the crash.
One of the narratives encouraged officials to compare the crash to the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand before the First World War and accuse Kyiv of provoking a new world conflict.
The briefing note was found among more than 4,165 leaked documents. British officials believe that Russia has spread disinformation after the chemical weapons attack in Douma, in Syria, and the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury.
A Whitehall source said that a total of 31 different false or distorted narratives had been pushed out by Russian officials and through state-backed media channels. They included claims that there was no gas attack in Douma, that the UK staged the attack and that Britain’s intelligence services carried out the attempted assassination of the Skripals in order to justify an increase in defense spending.
The MH17 briefing, which was titled “Thematic lines for work in the political field”, was among thousands contained in the “Surkov leaks”, named after Vladislav Surkov, a Kremlin spin master. The Kremlin claims that the Surkov leaks are fabricated.
The documents were analysed by InformNapalm, a Ukrainian open source journalism group, who released them online. The last of three tranches was uploaded in November.
Bob Seely, a Conservative MP and Russia expert, and Alya Shandra, managing editor of Euromaidan Press, a Ukrainian news website, have further examined the leaks and translated key parts. Their research will be published by the Royal United Services Institute this spring.
Seely told The Times: “This document is the only written evidence to prove that the Russian state has actively engaged in disinformation strategies which it has attempted to disseminate to global audiences. Until now we have lacked evidence that the Russian state has used messaging deception. We have heard their diplomats and media but there has been nothing in writing.”
After the joint U.S., British and French airstrikes on Syria on Saturday morning US officials said that they had tracked a 20-fold increase in Russia-linked disinformation. British officials are also understood to have tracked a significant spike in disinformation from automated online accounts, including on Twitter and Facebook.