Russian Separatists claim MH17 responsibility

The Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash site in Ukraine. Source: Twitter/ @mashableThe Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash site in Ukraine. Source: Twitter/ @mashable

A pro-Russian separatist leader in Ukraine reportedly claimed responsibility for shooting down the Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight over the East of the country. Igor Girkin, also known as Strelkov, posted a his claim on a Russian social media site, thinking that he had downed a Ukrainian military transport plane.

The authenticity of this claim is unverified. It appeared online shortly after the crash, but was taken down again once news was spread that this passenger aircraft had been taken down, and 298 passengers killed.

Girkin posted his claim on VKontakte, a Russian social media site similar to Facebook. The statement was erased from the site, but had already been recorded by an internet archiving site called The Wayback Machine (WM). This site preserves websites as they evolve over time by crawling websites periodically and saving a copy of its pages as they are changed. This is how it is possible to state with limited certainty that Girkin posted and then remove his claim of responsibility as his VKontakte page was one of the sites recorded.

His statement reads: "In the vicinity of Torez, we just downed a plane, an AN-26. It is lying somewhere in the Progress Mine. We have issued warnings not to fly in our airspace. We have video confirming. The bird fell on a waste heap. Residential areas were not hit. Civilians were not injured."

The plane Girkin thought he shot down, if his claims are true, is an Antonov 26, a Soviet-era military cargo plane. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the post included video footage of the crash that seems identical to the actual MH17 flight's crash footage aired on television.

Around 27 minutes after the first post, a new post appeared on the site, next to the earlier claim, with a statement claiming that the leadership of the Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) deny connection to the crash, saying that any armaments in their possession are not capable of shooting down a flying object at that height.

A subsequent third update shows that the first claim was deleted, being replaced by a new post saying that the MH17 aircraft could not have been shot down by rebels. The statement reads that Prime Minister of the DNR, Alexander Borodai, believes that the event is a provocation by Ukrainian siloviki (hawks), and re-emphasizes that the DNR does not have anti-aircraft weapons capable of reaching aircrafts at cruising altitude.