A UK-based online investigative team says it has identified Russian soldiers who were likely involved in the shooting down of a Malaysian plane.
In a report, the Bellingcat team links personnel from the 2nd Battalion of the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade to the tragedy in eastern Ukraine in 2014.
A Dutch report last year said the plane was hit by a Russian-made Buk missile.
The West and Ukraine say pro-Russian rebels brought down Flight MH17, but Moscow blames Ukrainian forces.
All 298 people people on board the Boeing 777 – which was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur – died in the disaster on 17 July 2014. The majority of the victims were Dutch nationals.
‘Higher level decision’
The Bellingcat team published its 115-page report entitled “MH17 – Potential Suspects and Witnesses from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade” on Tuesday.
The UK-based investigation says it used open source data – such as social media sites and forums – to identify dozens of Russian soldiers and officers from the 53rd Brigade (based in the city of Kursk) who could have had knowledge of or been personally involved in shooting down the plane.
By comparing and analysing the data, Bellingcat concludes it is very likely that personnel from the brigade’s 2nd Battalion were sent from Russia to eastern Ukraine.
It identifies a number of soldiers only by their first names and initials, saying also that the 2nd Battalion commander was Dmitry T.
However, it gives the full name of the brigade’s overall chief, identifying him as Sergey Muchkayev.
The report says that “the decision to send military equipment to the Russia-Ukraine border and to Ukraine was made at an even higher level – the level of the ministry of defence of Russia”.
“Consistent with the probable conclusion that the Russian Buk missile launcher… downed MH17, the ministry of defence (of Russia) bears the main responsibility… shared with the military commanders and leaders of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics”, the document adds.
Bellingcat says it submitted all uncensored names and supporting evidence to the Dutch-led investigators, who are continuing their criminal inquiry into the disaster.
Bellingcat says it “brings together contributors who specialise in open source and social media investigation” to cover a “variety of subjects”.
It was founded by British journalist Eliot Higgins.
Russia has not publicly commented on Bellingcat’s findings.
Moscow has previously repeatedly denied any involvement in the MH17 crash, suggesting instead that Ukraine’s armed forces were responsible.
In July, Russia vetoed a draft resolution at the UN Security Council to set up an international tribunal into the MH17 air disaster.
President Vladimir Putin said at the time that such a tribunal would be “premature” and “counterproductive”.
Key findings – Dutch Safety Board report in a nutshell
Malaysia plane crash: What we know – How flight MH17 unfolded
A reporter’s story – Searching for truth at the crash site
Remembering the victims – Shared sadness and sunflowers