New poll finds many Russians believe Ukraine shot down MH17


Cows graze near the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region July 26. (Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters)

A poll released by the independent Russian pollster Levada on Wednesday has found that a large number of Russians believe that Ukraine shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, with 46 percent saying they think it was brought down by a Ukrainian army antiaircraft missile and 36 percent saying a Ukrainian military plane shot it down (multiple answers were allowed, meaning the percentages do not add up to a hundred and people may have chosen more than one answer).

The results appear to show the gap between Western and Russian perceptions of the Malaysia Airlines crash, which the United States and other nations believe was shot down with a surface-to-air missile fired from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people aboard. Leaked recordings purporting to show intercepted phone calls suggest that pro-Russian separatists were the likely perpetrators.

However, on the whole, Russians appear to have rejected that narrative. My colleague  recently picked up some of the other theories doing the rounds in Russia, including the idea that the crash was an assassination plot aimed at killing Russian President Vladimir Putin or that the plane was filled with corpses and shot down to incriminate Russia.

The poll from Levada (a well-respected source) doesn't dig into these theories. Even so, its main takeaway is remarkable: Almost no one in Russia is buying the story that the rest of the world accepts. Just 3 percent believe pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine might have shot down the plane. Remarkably, 1 percent said they had not even heard about the crash, though 16 percent said it was "hard to say" what or who actually brought down the plane.

It will also have repercussions for how the West treats Russia going forward. Another poll released by Levada this week shows that Putin's approval ratings have remained at their historically high levels, now standing at 85 percent. This poll was conducted from July 18 to 21, one day after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was downed.

It's an exceptionally difficult situation. As Mark Adomanis put it in an article over at PostEverything recently, Russia "doesn’t just have its own system; it now has its own facts."

Correction: The post originally said that Flight 17 crashed on July 24, after the latest approval poll for Putin was conducted, when in fact it crashed on July 17. The error has been corrected.

Adam Taylor writes about foreign affairs for The Washington Post. Originally from London, he studied at the University of Manchester and Columbia University.
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