Monday 30 November 2020

Bellingcat: Dutch MH17 journalist is connected to Russian military

Investigative journalism website Bellingcat has published claims that a Dutch journalist who writes about the MH17 disaster for a conspiracy theorist website has links to the Russian intelligence service.

Leaked emails show that Bonanza Media had frequent contact with a senior Russian military official and sent articles to the Russian military intelligence service GRU before publishing them, Bellingcat said.

Bonanza Media, which describes itself as a platform for independent journalists, was founded in 2019 by ex-Russia Today journalist Yana Yerlashova who brought Dutch blogger Max van der Werff on board to write about the downing of flight MH17.

The media outlet has published a number of MH17 conspiracy theories since its inception, claiming the plane was shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet or by a Ukrainian Buk missile.

The trial of four men who allegedly supplied the Buk missile used to shoot down the passenger aircraft over eastern Ukraine in 2014, is currently underway. The prosecution alleges that the men were Russian separatists who thought the airplane was a military aircraft, based on the conclusions from the Joint Investigation Team.

According to Bellingcat, Yerlashova averaged two phone calls a day to the GRU. In February, she sent the Russian official a draft of a text intended to be used as promotional material for Bonanza Media’s MH17 documentary.

‘Take a look at the text for Theo’s promotion, plz 🙂 If everything’s okay, he’ll send it out and make an event on social media with the same text,’ she writes.

In another example, Bellingcat shows the changes made to an article by ex- Elsevier journalist Eric van de Beek, who is now a writer at Bonanza and the conspiracy magazine De Andere Krant.

The agency also arranged for both Yerlashova and Van der Werff to travel to the difficult-to-access region of Ukraine where the plane was shot down and gave them access to pro-Russian fighters.


‘It illustrates how important information is in modern warfare, especially when it comes to Russia and Ukraine,’ said Marieke de Hoon, assistant professor of international law at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, who has been following the MH17 case. ‘Information is part of the battle,’ she told the De Groene Amsterdammer, which worked with Bellingcat on the story.

Bonanza Media, Yerlashova, Van der Werff and Van de Beek have all denied the allegations. In a long thread on Twitter, Van de Beek calls Bellingcat a propaganda outlet and said his articles went through a normal editing process with Yerlashova. Van der Werff said in his own Twitter thread that he declined to respond when Bellingcat asked him for comment and complained the organisation had blocked him on Twitter.

Bonanza Media replied, presumably via Yerlashova, on its own Twitter account.

The MH17 trial resumed today, with the prosecution arguing against a series of further investigation requests from the defence. ‘From day one, whenever possible, we’ve taken every opportunity to assist the defence,’ public prosecutor Thijs Berger told the court. ‘The defence simply seems to be raising points which have no substance.’

Bellingcat says the unmasking of Bonanza Media is important because the defence team of Oleg Pulatov – the only legally represented suspect in the ongoing criminal trial – has already introduced evidence provided by Bonanza Media, and has requested witness testimony by a key member of the project.

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