Bellingcat: top FSB commander authorised transfer of MH17 missile

A reconstruction of the wreckage of MH17 by the Dutch Safety Board.
A reconstruction of the wreckage of MH17 by the Dutch Safety Board.

A senior Russian official authorised the transportation of the missile that shot down Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine, online investigation agency Bellingcat has claimed.

Bellingcat named the official as Colonel General Andrey Burlaka, the first deputy to the FSB’s chief of border service General Vladimir Kulishov, who answers directly to the director of the FSB, Alexander Bortnikov.

According to Bellingcat, Burlaka was the FSB official known as ‘Vladimir Ivanovich’, who supervised the supply of weapons to pro-Russian separatists in the Donbas region during the Ukrainian civil war.

The Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team says the Buk missile which brought down the plane on July 17, 2014 was fired from separatist-held territory. Russia has disputed those conclusions and claimed Ukrainian forces were responsible.

Bellingcat studied several partially decrypted phone calls between ‘Vladimir Ivanovich’ and field commanders in Donbas which discussed military operations. In one, Alexander Borodai, the ‘prime minister’ of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR), said Vladimir Ivanovich had given him a command to ‘eliminate’ a rival faction in the DNR forces.

‘From a number of other calls in the next days, it becomes clear that “Vladimir Ivanovich” was a high-ranking FSB official who, no later than the beginning of July 2014, had been given authority to supervise militants’ operations in Ukraine,’ Bellingcat said.

Voice comparison

Bellingcat identified Burlaka by tracing a mobile phone number for ‘Vladimir Ivanovich Burlak’ listed in JIT documents to a database of hacked text messages, where it matched an entry described as ‘a deputy chief of FSB, whose real name is in fact Andrey’.

A forensic analysis of Vladimir Ivanovich’s voice in the calls matched it with a TV interview with Burlaka broadcast during a documentary aired in June 2018.

The JIT concluded two years ago that the Buk missile that shot down MH17 was transported from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade based in Kursk, Russia.

Bellingcat said that Burlaka’s pivotal role meant that ‘it would be impossible that a large cluster of military equipment — a Buk missile launcher and accompanying vehicles — would have been able to cross the border in the morning hours of 17 July without the direct authorization of “Vladimir Ivanovich”.

‘As a consequence, “Vladimir Ivanovich” would have played a critical role in the chain of command for the deployment of the Buk installation in Ukraine, and thus also for the crime of shooting down MH17.’

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