The Kremlin’s spin doctors are remarkably consistent. They have twisted the story of Iran shooting down a Ukrainian airliner into the usual anti-American propaganda narrative, blaming the U.S. for everything.
On Jan. 8, Iranian missiles struck a Ukraine International Airlines plane 20 kilometers north of Tehran, killing all 176 people on board. On Jan. 11, three days after denying responsibility, Iran finally admitted that one of its military personnel made a “human error” and fired on the plane, causing it to crash.
Initially, pro-Kremlin military experts denied Iran’s involvement in the crash, while Russia’s Foreign Ministry said there were no grounds for accusing Iran, an ally of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian Civil War.
Later, the propaganda line changed. Despite having to admit that Iran indeed shot down the airplane, Kremlin propagandists argued that the U.S. was ultimately to blame for the crash because it killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds Force. The assassination led to heightened tensions, triggering a chain of events that caused Iran to mistake the Ukrainian passenger plane for an American missile.
On Jan. 3, U.S. President Donald Trump authorized a drone strike in Baghdad that killed Soleimani. On Jan. 8, Iran responded by launching missiles against two U.S. bases in Iraq. It claimed to have killed 80 U.S. troops, but actually struck no one.
“Iranian authorities admitted that the Boeing was shot down as a result of a human error due to a crisis triggered by American adventurism,” Russian television propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov said on Jan. 12.
Top Kremlin propagandists, including Kiselyov and Vladimir Solovyov, also eulogized Soleimani, presenting him as a noble martyr and an innocent victim in the struggle with American imperialism. Kiselyov and Solovyov’s TV shows, both broadcast on the state-owned Rossiya 1 TV channel, are among the most popular political news programs on Russian television.
Recognized as a terrorist by the U.S. and European Union, Soleimani directed Iran’s clandestine foreign operations, including its support of Assad and Hezbollah, a Shia political party and militant group that the U.S., Canada and other countries regards as a terrorist organization.
Russian propagandists failed to mention that the assassination of Soleimani was preceded by the Dec. 31-Jan. 1 attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad by Kataib Hezbollah and the Popular Mobilization Forces — organizations affiliated with Soleimani’s Quds force. It was also preceded by the Dec. 27 attack on U.S. troops at Iraq’s K-1 Air Base, which killed one U.S. civilian contractor and which the U.S. believes to have been perpetrated by Kataib Hezbollah.
Moreover, the U.S. blames Soleimani for thousands of deaths of civilians in the Middle East, as well as the killing of more than 600 American troops in Iraq.
Another Russian propaganda line was ample praise for Iran’s willingness to admit its mistake.
“Some people believe that a country must be in denial and never admit to anything or apologize for anything,” Margarita Simonian, head of the Kremlin’s English-language television channel RT, tweeted on Jan. 11. “…This (idea) is espoused by most responsible comrades in most powerful countries known to me, including ours.”
But Simonian said she supported Iran’s readiness to admit its mistake, saying it behaved “in a manly way.”
Cynically, Simonian’s RT has been instrumental in the Kremlin’s efforts to deny its involvement in shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight 17 on July 17, 2014 in eastern Ukraine despite overwhelming evidence that the Russian military was behind the attack.
All 283 passengers and 15 crew members were killed in the crash.
The Dutch Safety Board and the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team have concluded that the airliner was shot down by a Buk surface-to-air missile launched from territory controlled by Russian proxies in Ukraine. According to the team, the Buk originated from Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade.