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'That Awkward Moment': Putin Cited Debunked MH17 Claims In Oliver Stone Interview


More than a year after dubious Twitter claims had been discredited, Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) tried to reinject them into the debate about the downing of MH17 during interviews with film director Oliver Stone.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, it seems, didn’t get the memo -- or just doesn’t care.

A purported "Spanish air-traffic controller" at a Kyiv airport was exposed as a fake almost immediately after that Twitter persona claimed Ukrainian warplanes were flying near Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 before it was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014.

In comments left out of U.S. filmmaker Oliver Stone’s recent documentary on the Russian leader, Putin cited claims by a "specialist originating from Spain" in connection with the air disaster, which killed 298 people.

"As far as I know, right away after this terrible catastrophe, one of the Ukrainian air controllers -- I think he was a specialist originating from Spain -- announced that he had seen a military aircraft in the corridor assigned for civil aircraft. And there could have been no other military aircraft than the one controlled by the Ukrainian authorities," Putin is quoted as saying in a book based on Stone’s interviews.

The book, titled The Putin Interviews, was published in English in June and includes comments by the Russian president that were not included in Stone’s four-part Showtime documentary of the same name.

Armed pro-Russia militants walk past wreckage from MH17 near Donetsk on July 18, 2014.
Armed pro-Russia militants walk past wreckage from MH17 near Donetsk on July 18, 2014.

Putin’s comments, from July 2015, about the purported Spaniard -- the @spainbuca Twitter post in question was signed "Carlos" -- had gone largely unnoticed. But they drew headlines in Russia this week after the independent Dozhd TV network published excerpts from a forthcoming Russian translation of the book.

"That awkward moment when your president refers to Twitter fakes as if they are truthful information," Russian journalist Tikhon Dzyadko tweeted.

The strange saga of "Carlos" began shortly after the Boeing 777 was shot down on July 17, 2014, with a war raging between Kyiv’s forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

In the hours after the tragedy, the Twitter persona claimed to be a Spanish air-traffic controller working in Kyiv and that there were two Ukrainian military jets in the air in the vicinity of the crash. Russian state-run media jumped on the claims.

The state-controlled RT network in one of its earlier reports on the claims stated unequivocally that the Twitter user was a "Spanish air-traffic controller who monitored the Malaysia Airlines" flight.

Another Russian state television report cited the claims the same day as well, noting that "Carlos also writes that defense officials have confirmed: the airplane was shot down by the Ukrainian side. But it is unclear who gave the order." The report also said the man "monitored" the flight.

An international criminal investigation in 2016 concluded that the plane was shot down by a Buk antiaircraft missile fired from separatist-controlled territory and that the missile system was smuggled back to Russia shortly afterward.

Moscow called the findings "biased and politically motivated" and has repeatedly sought to cast doubt on evidence pointing toward a Russian role in the downing of the plane.

In the days following the incident, a Russian official had suggested a Ukrainian Su-25 may have shot down the plane. That claim has been widely dismissed as groundless. Russia has since suggested MH17 was blown apart by a land-based missile fired from Kyiv-controlled territory.

In the more than three years since the downing of MH17, no public evidence has emerged suggesting the individual’s claims about working at the airport were true.

The Boryspil airport told the BBC’s Russian Service that it had never heard of such a person. A senior official from Ukraine’s state air-traffic service told the fact-checking site StopFake that there was no controller by that name and that all of its controllers were Ukrainian citizens.

RT, which earlier in 2014 aired what it said was an interview with the man purporting to be Carlos -- blurring his face -- later changed its description of the individual to "a person who claims that he works as an air-traffic controller at Kyiv’s Boryspil airport."

The man claimed in the interview to have faced threats from supporters of Kyiv’s pro-Western government.

The Twitter account associated with Carlos later became active again, but this time using the female Russian name "Lyudmila Lopatyshkina." It has since been suspended again.

In the English-language version of the book featuring Putin’s comments about the alleged Spanish air-traffic controller, an appendix directs readers to a link that claims the testimony by Carlos has been validated. It suggests Carlos’s disappearance from Twitter is "real, mounting evidence which points to an obvious cover-up by Kiev and its NATO partners."

Kremlin-loyal and nationalist media outlets that reported on Putin’s comments about Carlos did not mention that the Twitter persona had been exposed as a fake.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that Vladimir Putin made the comments to Oliver Stone in a September 2015 interview. According to Stone's book, the interview took place in July 2015.
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    Carl Schreck

    Carl Schreck is an award-winning investigative journalist who serves as RFE/RL's enterprise editor. He has covered Russia and the former Soviet Union for more than 20 years, including a decade in Moscow. He has led investigations into corruption, cronyism, and disinformation campaigns in Russia and Central Asia, as well as on poisoning attacks against Kremlin opponents and assassinations of Iranian exiles in the West. Schreck joined RFE/RL in 2014.