Conflict & Justice

Russia to US: Evidence? What evidence?


A placard depicting Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Putin on Kyiv's Independence Square.


Sergei Supinsky

MOSCOW, Russia — The Defense Ministry lashed out on Monday against what Washington says is photographic evidence that Russian artillery shelled Ukrainian territory, a claim that’s boosted tensions in one of Europe’s most serious geopolitical crises since the Cold War.

Why? It was posted on Twitter.

Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov rejected the alleged evidence — released on Sunday by the State Department and shared on the Twitter accounts of the US Embassy in Moscow and US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt — as “fake.”

“Such materials weren't posted on Twitter coincidentally,” he told reporters, “since it's impossible to establish their authenticity due to the lack of exact reference to the location and the extremely low resolution.”

The materials consist of several satellite images American officials say reveal fresh launch sites in Russia and resulting impact craters just across the Ukrainian border.

Said to have been taken between July 21 and July 26, the photos purport to show both artillery and rocket strikes in Ukraine that appeared to have come from the general direction of the Russian border.

Konashenkov said Ukrainian officials had used similar images — which he called “photo collages” — days before to prove their own longstanding suspicions that Russian forces were shelling Ukraine.

He also suggested that American agents are working in collusion with Ukrainian security services.

“It’s no secret to anyone that all these ‘fakes’ are prepared by a group of US advisors registered in the Kyiv building of the SBU [Security Service of Ukraine] and led by General Randy Kee,” he added, referring to a senior officer with the United States European Command.

Russia has consistently pushed back against claims that it’s playing a direct role in the separatist crisis raging in eastern Ukraine, as Kyiv and its Western allies allege.

As the war has intensified and the body count mounted, both sides have accused one another of fueling the violence.

Russia, for its part, says Ukrainian military forces are targeting civilians.

Kyiv and its international supporters say the Kremlin has been steadily supplying the rebels with heavy arms — including the kind that shot down Malaysian Airlines flight 17 earlier this month, killing all 298 on board — through Ukraine’s porous eastern border.

Although Moscow has waged a fierce information campaign aimed at absolving itself from responsibility and shielding insurgents from any blame in the crash, anecdotal evidence implicating the rebels has steadily mounted.

Senior Russian military officials have offered what they say is hard evidence to back up Moscow’s version that Kyiv is to blame for the crash, claims that have been replayed in blanket coverage by the state-run media here.

That evidence, revealed last week, also came partly in the form of satellite photos: Officials said they revealed that Ukrainian surface-to-air missile systems capable of downing MH17 were within operational range at the time.

More from GlobalPost: Ukraine claims more territory from pro-Russian rebels near MH17 crash site

Moscow also says a Ukrainian fighter jet armed with air-to-air missiles was spotted trailing the Malaysian airliner shortly before its crash.

Meanwhile, Kremlin supporters and various top officials have scoffed at the overwhelming evidence on social media networks that has implicated the rebels, particularly video clips that showed the same rocket system being transported through a town near the crash site.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s position on Monday, suggesting to reporters that such evidence is flimsy.

“We don’t understand why the Americans, who say they have some kind of irrefutable proof of their version, don’t provide this evidence.”