Investigative team says it can link Russian soldiers to missile thought to have downed Malaysia Airlines flight in 2014
A British-led online investigative team says it has identified Russian soldiers linked to a surface-to-air missile suspected of downing Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Ukraine in 2014.
The Bellingcat report paints a picture of up to 100 Russian soldiers and officers who it says could have known about or been involved in the planes downing on 17 July 2014, at the height of the conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists. All 298 people on board died in the crash.
Drawing on open source data such as soldiers social network photos, an online forum for soldiers relatives and Google Earth satellite imagery, the report expands on previous Bellingcat findings to argue that a Buk missile belonging to the 2nd battalion of Russias 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade likely shot down the Boeing 777.
The head of the MH17 investigation, Fred Westerbeke, told victims families in a letter last week that finding and prosecuting those responsible could take a long time. But the new report raises the likelihood that justice could be served, Bellingcat head Eliot Higgins told the Guardian. Although names were changed and faces blurred in the public report, the identities were provided in a version given to Dutch prosecutors in December.
We found all the names and faces of the commanders in that second battalion. Was one of them the one who shot down MH17? We cant say for sure, but the police could have information that would allow them to incriminate them, Higgins said. We want to say to the families of the victims that Russia was responsible, and we can say more, that these were the people in the unit that could be responsible.
Higgins said that Bellingcats findings show that responsibility ultimately lies with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and the Russian military leadership that ordered troops and equipment into Ukraine in 2014.
What happened to MH17 and who was responsible has been disputed ever since the plane came down. The west suspected Ukrainian separatists, while Russia, which has denied that its troops operated in eastern Ukraine, tried to implicate Ukrainian forces.
A previous Bellingcat report claimed that the Buk missile launcher that was photographed and filmed near the crash site on the day MH17 went down was part of a Russian convoy that moved from Kursk to the Ukrainian border in June.
Higgins said Bellingcat is working on another report showing that the odds are a million to one that the markings on that launcher are unique.
Bellingcat said its latest report was briefly inaccessible on Wednesday morning because of a distributed denial-of-service attack.