Bellingcat experts, in a new report on the crash of the plane of Malaysia Airlines, name those who assembled the crew that fired the Buk missile and gave the order to launch the rocket.
On Wednesday, February 24, the Bellingcat expert group published a report entitled "MH17: alleged suspects and witnesses from the 53rd air defense missile brigade." Using publicly accessible information, a civil investigative journalist managed to restore the movement of the brigade in the summer months of 2014, its personnel and command structure. In addition, Bellingcat experts were able to identify three Russian soldiers who most likely issued the orders to transport the anti-aircraft missile system into Ukrainian territory and ordered the launch of the missile, which downed the Malaysia Airlines plane in July of 2014.
Who gave the order to launch a missile?
According to the authors of the investigation, the Buk that shot down the plane was most likely operated by the soldiers of the 2nd Battalion of the 53rd Air Defense Missile Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces. Bellingcat notes that the standard crew of a Buk system is composed of two soldiers, the operator and the driver of the missile, as well as two commanding officers, a lieutenant and a sergeant. The order to launch the rocket was given by the lieutenant. The authors were able to determine the identity of ten officers of the 2nd Battalion, one of whom could have given the order. Bellingcat experts cannot say exactly who did it, that's why the report only includes their first names and the first letters of the last names. Their faces in the pictures were blurred intentionally.
The exact composition of the crew must have been known to the commander of the battalion and/or brigade, since they had to choose the soldiers and officers for managing the Buk, the authors of the report said. Bellingcat experts were able to establish the position of the battalion commander which, at the time, was allegedly occupied by Dmitry Trunin. In turn, his superior, the Commander of the 53rd Air Defense Missile Brigade, was Sergei Muchkaev. The authors of the investigation suggest that Muchkaev gave orders about the movements of the 2nd Battalion, and, in particular, about the transportation of Buk into Ukrainian territory. Although, according to experts, Muchkaev could not make decisions about the transportation of the missile system into the territory of Ukraine on his own - it was the responsibility of a higher command.
Describing the findings and pointing to the alleged witnesses and suspects, the authors of the investigation repeatedly use words such as "if", "likely" and "very likely", because they don't have access to the documents restricted by the Russian Ministry of Defense and all conclusions are based on the analysis of data from publicly available sources.
Putin and Shoigu are among the perpetrators of the crash
Bellingcat experts also conclude that indirect responsibility for the downing of the MH17 is carried by the highest ranks of the Russian Army. In particular, the Commander of the Air Defense Missile Formation of the Western Military District (WMD), Aleksey Zolotov, the commanders of the 20th Guards Army of WMD, Alexander Lapin (before July 8, 2014), and Alexander Chaika (since July 8, 2014), the Head of the Air Defense Forces and Aviation of the WMD, Andrew Kokhanov, Commander of the Air Defense of the Land Forces of the Russian Armed Forces, Alexander Leonov, Commander of Armed Forces of the Western Military District, Anatoly Sidorov, and the Chief of the Land Forces of the Russian Federation, Oleg Salyukov.
At the top of the list are Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, and his two first deputies, Valery Gerasimov and Arkady Bahin. Also, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, according to the Constitution, is Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. The authors of the investigation believe that all of these people were involved in the making or the execution of the decision on the transfer of military equipment to the Russian-Ukrainian border and Ukraine. "According to the probable conclusion that the Russian Buk shot down MH17, primary responsibility for the Malaysian Airlines plane crash is on the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation together with military commanders and the leaders of the self-proclaimed DPR and LPR," the Bellingcat experts summed up.
The Dutch investigators have an extended version of the report
The founder of Bellingcat, Eliot Higgins, told Deutsche Welle that this report is a shortened and censored version of the report, which was handed over to the Prosecutor's Office of the Netherlands in December 2015. In particular, the version given to investigators includes the full names of suspected soldiers of the 53rd Air Defense Missile Brigade, and their faces on the photos weren't blurred. In addition, the public version of the report doesn't include information which, in the Bellingcat opinion, is "not sufficient for publication, but could be potentially relevant to the investigation," Higgins said.
Currently, the report is only available in English. A team of Russian volunteers are working on its translation.. The Founder of Bellingcat expressed hope that the Russian version of the report will be ready "in a few weeks."