Russians react to the Malaysia airplane tragedy with denials, conspiracy theories — and tears

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Aaron Schachter: The United States says it has evidence showing that the missile that shot down the Malaysia Airlines jet was Russian made. That's not so shocking. But U.S. officials also say they have evidence that Russia supplied the rebels with surface to air missiles. These charges are vehemently rejected by Moscow, and according to Moscow based journalist Natalia Antonova, Russians aren't buying the accusations either. Natalia Antonova: I don't believe that anyone here thinks that Russia is directly involved, no. There are some people who believe that the separatists might have had something to do with it, yes. Schachter: And do they believe that Russia or Putin are controlling what the separatists do? Antonova: I actually haven't spoken to anyone who believes that at all. I mean, at best this entire situation in East Ukraine has been so chaotic from the start. So unlike the annexation of Crimea where you saw well trained Russian troops kind of take control right away, that even amongst people I know to be really strongly critical of Vladimir Putin, I have not seen any opinions on like, well you know, how do you think the answer to him, do you think they had a direct line to him. Like, no, that is like just not considered possible here. Schachter: Now what is the narrative being presented by the media there regarding the Malaysia flight? The media's mainly state controlled, right? Antonova: Yeah, it's mainly state controlled and it's leaning heavily on some conspiracy theories right now. It's also, you know, pointing out some very mundane facts. You know, saying well, the Americans have not presented us with like, direct evidence of anything and, hey do you guys remember in 2001 the Ukranian military had already accidently shot a civilian plane out of the sky? Like that did happen. So for the Russian state media, you know, they're doing this right now. I don't believe actually there has been consensus on how to cover this exactly. I don't think any particular man has come from the government. You know, some man in a grey suit, and sat everyone down in the Russian media and said okay, yeah, this is how we're going to do it. There's this, it's a rule by signal. There's very few direct instructions, but you have to like, read the governments cues and read its signals, and then decide what to do. The main television channels in particular, they're just like, going ahead with the, you know, there's no way we are in any way culpable defense. Schachter: Now there's this rule by signal, as you say, and the state media channels are kind of whipping up these conspiracy theories that you mentioned. Can you tell us a few of them? Antonova: Well, there is this one completely bizarre thing where, well some of the separatists I think said, well it's just really creepy, it looks like the bodies have been dead for weeks. You know, we were there on site and it doesn't add up. Schachter: Wait, so the idea is that the whole thing was staged. It's like something out of like, Lost or whatever. You know, when the plane that disappears, but then it's found, but it's all staged. It's like these people have watched too much American television, are just like coming up with whatever they can. So, but that's like, right now the main, the main version is not really conspiracy theory. It's more like, you know, just pointing at the Ukrainian military. You know, why does everyone trust them so much. Like, why is there 100 percent trust in them, where it could have still been them. You know, I think that is the main thrust of like the argument being presented by state TV right now. Schachter: And you just wrote an article where you talked to a lot of people just around your, in your neighborhood. And what is the consensus there? Obviously unscientific, but what are you hearing? Antonova: Well I think, you know, I tend to, like the kind of people who tend to open up to me, like, they're like, the more nice thoughtful people because they tend to want to, you know, talk more. So, I, obviously very unscientific, and of course the majority of them, very much like, offended, I think, by the idea that Putin could have wanted this. You know, whether they're critics or supporters of the government, it just doesn't seem realistic that anyone in the Russian government could have possibly wanted this. And I also see a lot of horror. I mean, there's so many children on that plane, and you know, I've seen people cry about it. A lot of people I know, and not, these are people, they're not like what the pro-government folks would label as liberal intelligentsia, they’re like regular people. But, you know, some wanted to like pay their respects at the Dutch embassy. I know some who brought flowers. So yeah, so there's that aspect to it. Just a very human basic aspect of complete and utter horror at this horrifying situation. Schachter: Journalist Natalia Antonova in Moscow.