Investigative journalists link website behind fake news about MH17 crash to Russia’s GRU
The Main Directorate of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces (commonly known as the GU/GRU) coordinated the activities of the website Bonanza Media, which spread disinformation about the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, reports a joint investigation from The Insider and Bellingcat.
The Bonanza Media project was founded by former RT journalist Yana Yerlashova and Dutch blogger Max van der Werff in 2019, as a platform for publishing so-called alternative narratives about the causes of the MH17 crash in eastern Ukraine. They released several films about the plane crash and published a series of alleged leaks of classified documents from the Dutch-led Joint Investigative Team (JIT) handling the criminal investigation into the crash.
According to The Insider and Bellingcat, GRU Colonel Sergey Chebanov was responsible for overseeing Bonanza Media’s activities. Phone records and emails obtained by a Russian “hacktivist” group and independently verified by investigative journalists revealed that Chebanov organized a trip to the unrecognized “Luhansk People’s Republic” for Yerlashova in January 2020, so she could shoot a film about the tragedy.
In addition, Yerlashova shared draft articles and promotional materials for Bonanza Media with Chebanov ahead of publication. For example, in February 2020, she sent him a draft teaser of a forthcoming Bonanza Media “documentary” about MH17. Then in May, she sent him a draft article about the ongoing criminal trial over the downing of the flight.
In February 2020, Bonanza Media published classified documents from the criminal investigation into the MH17 crash, after which Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that these documents confirmed Moscow’s position that a Russian Buk missile was not responsible for downing the plane. In actual fact, there was no such information contained in the documents published.
Based on the results of its investigation, the JIT concluded that Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine using a rocket fired from a Buk missile launcher belonging to Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade. The criminal trial over the downing of the plane began in the Netherlands in March 2020. Four suspects are charged with the downing of the plane, including three Russian citizens and one Ukrainian citizen. According to the investigation, the defendants acted together to obtain the anti-aircraft missile system from Russia.