New report offers evidence that Russian military shot down Malaysian airliner

Picture of Buk missile launcher 211, photographed on a training field near Kapustin Yar, 18 July 2013. Photo credit: Bellingcat

A well-regarded team of open-source researchers investigating the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 has published and provided a report to Dutch prosecutors- linking the commanders of a Russian military unit to the plane being downed by a Russian-made Buk surface to air missile.

According to Radio Free Europe, the latest report, released on February 24 by the British group known as Bellingcat, links higher-ups in Russia’s military chain of command to the incident and adds other details building on earlier investigations into the July 2014 downing of MH17.

Several reports have identified Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade as being the likely source of the Buk missile that Dutch aviation officials say brought down the jet, all aboard.

Despite the slow leak of evidence, multiple sources that make up the bulk of the reports point to the involvement of a Russian SAM unit- including personal information about Russian military officers and enlisted soldiers who possibly even manned the Buk-M1 surface-to-air missile system believed to have fired the shot that brought down MH17.

Last December, Bellingcat provided a full version of the report to Dutch prosecutors, who said they would “seriously study” the group’s claim that its research identified up to 100 Russian military personnel who may have knowledge of operations concerning the missile launcher that destroyed the Boeing 777.

The group redacted most of these soldiers’ names and blurred images of their faces -pulled from tagged photos on social media- in the public version it released on its website.

MH17 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014, when it disappeared from radars over eastern Ukraine. The crash site was spread over a wide area where Russia-backed Separatists had been battling Ukrainian government forces.

In October 2015, the Dutch Safety Board, a government agency charged with investigating aviation disasters, said the jet was downed by a surface-to-air missile, and identified the 320-square-kilometer area from which the missile was fired. At the time of the shootdown, the area was mostly controlled by Separatists.

Despite a lengthy investigation, the board stopped short of assigning criminal blame, handing that responsibility off to the four-nation Joint Investigative Team has been charged with doing.

Russia has vigorously denied personal or allied involvement or that it supplied the missile system. While a leading Separatist commander initially appeared to take credit on social media for firing a missile and downing a Ukrainian jet, the comments were later redacted.

At the same time, Russian officials have also put forth a complex menagerie of alternate theories-including claims that MH17 was downed by a missile fired from a Ukrainian fighter jet- that shift the blame off of Russia.

Bellingcat has previously documented what it says is evidence that the Buk-M1 missile system purportedly used to shoot down MH17 was moved between June 23 and 25 to an area near the Ukrainian border town of Luhansk, firing upon the plane from a position near the Ukrainian town of Snizhne in Donetsk Oblast.

It also says that the convoy was largely made up of vehicles from the 2nd Battalion of the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, based near the southern city of Kursk. The new report also lays out the entire chain of command for the battalion.

“There is no direct evidence that soldiers or officers of the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade were part of the crew of the Buk-M1 that likely downed MH17 on 17 July 2014,” the report notes, though it does suggest that a Russian crew may have moved together with the Buk-M1 across the border into Ukraine.

Bellingcat said that if “the Buk crew consisted of Russian soldiers and officers, they were likely selected by” a man identified only as “Dmitry T.,” who was “very likely” the battalion’s commander, or the commander of the 53rd Brigade, Colonel Sergei Muchkayev.

Bellingcat also said it explored the theory that Russian units transferred the Buk-M1 to Separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Russian Belingcat investigation

“This scenario, however, seems unlikely, mainly because a Buk missile launcher is a very sophisticated and expensive weapon and it is very unlikely that Russia would turn it over unsupervised to a group of Separatists without having adequate training,” it said.

The chain of command that Bellingcat ties to the MH17 shootdown includes Muchkayev’s superior, Colonel Aleksei Zolotov, who was promoted to Chief of the Air Defense Forces of the 20th Army, which commands the 53rd Brigade.

But while Muchkayev may have made operational decisions the crews and vehicles involved with the suspect Buk convoy, Bellingcat said the order more broadly to move military equipment across the border would come from top levels of the Russian military hierarchy, the Kremlin, and even possibly Vladimir Putin himself.

Bellingcat suggests that if their info about the Buk missile launcher that allegedly downed MH17 is correct, the Russian Defense Ministry “bears the main responsibility for the MH17 tragedy, shared with the military commanders and leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics,” Separatist organizations in eastern Ukraine.

Other international media, including The Associated Press, have pinpointed Buk-M1 systems in the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne on the day of the shootdown and suspect soldiers who spoke with accents from Moscow and other regions in Russia.

Cell phone conversations intercepted by Ukrainian intelligence services and subsequently released by the Ukrainian government show rebel commanders on the day of the jet’s downing discussing the firing of a missile, thinking that the aircraft that was targeted was a military jet.

The Joint Investigative Team is expected to release the results of its criminal probe sometime later this year.

The full report can be found here.

© 2016 Bright Mountain Media, Inc.

All rights reserved. The content of this webpage may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written consent of Bright Mountain Media, Inc. which may be contacted at


  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

Post navigation