By Jason Bush
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian state-controlled TV has broadcast what it called "sensational" photographs, which it said supported Moscow's theory that Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet.
Several commentators who have examined the photographs have described them as forgeries, however.
The photographs, said to be taken by a Western satellite, appear to show a fighter jet firing a missile at a passenger plane over eastern Ukraine where the Malaysian airliner was shot down on July 17, killing all 298 people on board.
Moscow has long said it believed the aircraft was destroyed by a Ukrainian military jet, while Western officials say evidence suggests the plane was hit by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile fired by pro-Russian separatist rebels.
The photographs were aired on a Friday evening news show "Odnako", which said they had been sent to a Russian expert by a man called George Bilt, who had presented himself as a graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
"We have at our disposal sensational photographs presumably made by a foreign spy satellite in the last seconds of the Malaysian Boeing's flight over Ukraine," Channel One presenter Dmitry Borisov said.
"The pictures support that version which has hardly been heard in the West."
Since being aired by Channel One, the photographs have met with widespread scepticism.
Andrei Menshenin, a commentator for independent Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy, called the TV report a "pseudo-sensation", and said the angle of attack indicated by the photographs did not correspond to the location of the damage.
Bellingcat, a British investigative journalism website, described the photographs as "a crude fabrication", highlighting what it said were several inconsistencies, which included signs that the photos had been partly compiled from historical Google Earth imagery dating from 2012.
During the course of the Ukraine crisis Russian state television has frequently aired reports, sometimes including apparently sensational evidence, that back the Kremlin's version of events.
In July, an opinion poll by the Levada Center polling agency said only three percent of Russians believed the Malaysian airliner was hit by rebels, with 82 percent saying it was shot down by the Ukrainian armed forces.
The publication of the photos came on the eve of a G20 summit in Brisbane, where President Vladimir Putin faces strong criticism from Western leaders for Russia's actions in Ukraine.
(Reporting by Jason Bush; Editing by Crispian Balmer)