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MH17 – Potential Suspects and Witnesses from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade

February 23, 2016

By Daniel Romein

Translations: Русский

The report can be downloaded here stock_save_pdf

This report, MH17: Potential Suspects and Witnesses from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, presents information regarding the Russian brigade that we believe provided, and possibly operated, the Buk-M1 missile launcher that downed Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. In this post, we will summarize the role of the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade and “Buk 3×2” in the downing of MH17 before providing a summary of the report. At the bottom of this post, an index is provided of Bellingcat’s previously published major research projects on the MH17 disaster.

Introduction

From June 23 to 25, 2014, Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade transported several Buk-M1 anti-aircraft missile systems to areas near the Russia-Ukraine border. Bellingcat has extensively covered this convoy of military vehicles over the past year and a half, including numerous reports on the 53rd Brigade’s most notable piece of cargo: Buk 3×2, the missile launcher that we believe downed MH17. You can trace the 53rd Brigade’s journey from its base in Kursk, Russia to near the Russia-Ukraine border on Storymap, through which you can watch the videos and photographs in which the convoy, including Buk 3×2, are captured.

There is no direct evidence indicating if it was Russian or separatist soldiers who operated Buk 3×2 when it was in Ukraine. However, considering the complexity of the Buk-M1 system, it is most likely that the Russian military did not transfer a Buk missile launcher to separatist commanders without some guidance or a Russian crew. In the likely case that the Buk 3×2 did come with a Russian crew, it is almost certain that they were from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, which was deployed at the border throughout the summer of 2014.

Bellingcat has published numerous reports indicating our confidence that the Buk-M1 system that most likely downed MH17 was the Russian Buk 3×2. In the six available photographs and videos of the Buk-M1 missile launcher in Donetsk, Zuhres, Luhansk, Torez, and Snizhne on the day of and after the airliner’s downing, numerous features on the Buk match uncommon features found on Buk 3×2. Many of these features can be seen in this comparison between Buk 3×2 (in Russia, June 2014) and the Buk seen in Donetsk, Ukraine on the day of the tragedy:

There are numerous other features on Buk 3×2 that match the Buk seen in eastern Ukraine on July 17 and 18, 2014 that indicate that it is definitely a Russian Buk, and more specifically 3×2. These features include:

  • H-2200 mark on the left side (a load-bearing code used in railways, and extremely common on Russian equipment, with only a few examples of it seen on Ukrainian tanks and none on Buks)
  • Cross hair symbol (gravity mark) next to H-2200, meant for stabilizing while loading onto railways
  • Visible unit designation, with a likely “3”, an obscured middle digit, and fairly clear “2”
  • Distinct marks on hull and side-skirt
  • Side-skirt damage pattern
  • Distinct white mark on right side-skirt, visible in July 18 Luhansk video and a June 23 video in Alexeyevka, Russia (see comparison here). The same white mark is visible on the other side skirt below the H-2200 mark, as seen in the above comparison video.

Summary of Report

The report contains five sections, each covering a different aspect of the 53rd Brigade and its activities in the summer of 2014.

The first section, “The 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade,” describes the role of the brigade within the Russian military and its structure, including the unit designations of Buk-M1 systems within the brigade.

The second section, “Mobilization of the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade,” provides a detailed account of the deployment of the brigade throughout the summer of 2014. By studying the makeup of the convoy that transported Buk-M1 systems from Kursk, Russia to near the Russia-Ukraine border on June 23-25, we have established that the 2nd Battalion of the 53rd Brigade was responsible for the transport of Buk 3×2. The missile launcher designated Buk 3×2 replaced the 2nd Battalion’s missile launcher numbered 222, thus indicating that the officers and soldiers normally responsible for Buk 222 were the most likely candidates to operate its replacement, Buk 3×2. This second section also details another convoy in which equipment from the 1st Battalion was transported in the days following the MH17 disaster.

The third section, “Soldiers of the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade,” details the soldiers within the 53rd Brigade and the information provided by their public postings on social media. The soldiers of the 2nd Battalion provided a wealth of information, including photographs and written notes, describing their time on the Russia-Ukraine border in June and July, 2014. More extensive details are provided regarding the soldiers who were normally responsible for the Buk missile launcher numbered 222, which was replaced by Buk 3×2, which we believe downed MH17. Additional details are provided on soldiers of the 1st and 3rd Battalions in order to demonstrate that they likely had no involvement or knowledge regarding the transfer or operation of Buk 3×2 in Ukraine. The identities of all of these soldiers have been anonymized in this public version of the report, with their names changed and faces blurred, though an uncensored version with their true identities has been provided to the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT).

The fourth section, “Cadets at the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade,” describes a summer cadet training program at the Kursk base of the 53rd Brigade. Information provided by these cadets gives us additional understanding of the structure and operations of the brigade, in addition to ruling out numerous officers from any involvement with the MH17 disaster. The identities of all cadets have been anonymized, like with the soldiers in the previous section.

The final and most important section, “Commanders of the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade,” provides extensive information regarding the leadership structure of the brigade and battalion that provided and possibly operated the likely murder weapon in the downing of MH17. We provide partially anonymized information regarding 14 officers of the 2nd Battalion of the 53rd Brigade, including the commanders of the Buk unit vehicles within the battalion. Sergey Borisovich Muchkaev, the commander of the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, is closely detailed, along with his superiors, including Aleksey Zolotov of the Air Defense of the 20th Guards Army and Andrey Kokhanov of the Air Defense of the Western Military District. Ultimately, responsibility for the downing of MH17 from a weapon provided and possibly operated by the Russian military lies with the Ministry of Defense and the Supreme Commander of the Russian Armed Forces, President Vladimir Putin.

Previous Major MH17 Investigations

Daniel Romein

Daniel Romein is an IT-specialist and started in 2014 as open source investigator focused on the MH17 case and the conflict in Ukraine, and currently works as full time employee for Bellingcat. Co-winner of the 2019 European Press Prize (Investigative Reporting Award).

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210 Comments

  1. RHK

    However terrible and repulsive the truth of a happening may be, it’s worth remembering the adage “Truth will out”. The best that any perpetrators can do is to fuzz the issues and lower the public interest, so that the happening is gradually forgotten. Therefore, important principles:
    – keep the reporting low-key, scrupulously honest and as unbiassed as possible
    – don’t give up, keep nagging away until the truth is out and admitted (the world is still awaiting the admissions of guilt in the case of the Armenian massacres a century ago).
    All strength to your arm, bellingcat!

    BTW: not much mentioned, but Correct!v have also made a good job of reconstruction of the MH17 shooting-down circumstances,

    Reply
    • Pat Wong

      When you have written: Believes its responsible, likely operated by, likely responsible, might have been, it is possible, highly unlikely non-Russian, possibly operated………It means you are not sure. Sounds like you really don’t know. Sounds like you got your head up your ass.

      Reply
  2. Luc

    The Internet trolls of bellingcat should be arrested for there false story’s and liable for damages ,,,, USA lied to the world according to head of Dutch investors he has told families of victims that there are no satellite images of the BUK on July 17 ,,which USA claimed days after that they had and Kiev has not provided the primary radar for July 17 and have claimed it was not working ,,more likely they destroyed it !! So this is what Kiev and USA and British come up with Internet trolls who call themselves journalists doctoring images and claiming this as credible evidence,,,,,, arrest them and if the government will not citizens should,,,, Putin and Russia should sue bellingcat for damages

    Reply
    • Zoomer

      Your poor attempts at deflection of Russian responsibility will not win you any friends here. To blame the US or Ukraine is at least foolish, if not far worse.

      Reply
      • whataf

        If US had evidence, it would have submitted before. Have you noticed that US has become very quiet about this matter suddenly.? This only shows US was bulffing all these while. Read wikipedia, bellingcat neither is recognized or has any credibility. It started as a hobby for an unemployed man. He just wanted attention and employment for his survival. By the way, where is he getting his fundings from? If there is a credible evidence against Russia, US, Ukraine and Dutch governments would have brought Russia to ICC. Stop all your nonsense and do something worthwhile. Firstly, Ukraine should have stopped commercial aircrafts from flying over their airspace since it militay aircrafts were shot down. So there was a reason why Ukraine did not want to do it and infact diverted the aircraft from it’s path. Unless you have any credible evidence, it is better keep your mouth shit. Same goes for your supporters Test and Rick

        Reply
    • Rick

      Luc.. Many people died needlessly because of Putins whim.. Please do not insult their memory with some outlandish statements… Respect the people who died

      Reply
    • James Patrick

      This one is for you Luc: Слава Україні! Смерть російських тиранів! Смерть російським тролів!

      Reply
    • GASTON Monroe

      Everyone knows Russia was and is responsible for downing that plan. But of course Putin dies no wrong and will just deny everything. Putin be a man for once and admit you messed up.

      Reply
      • Zoomer

        well… we can see all the Russkie trollskis are out in force today. Mamachka let you out of the basement?

        Reply
    • Pete

      Russia has already came up with evidences when identified the ukrainian BUK position short before-after the shooting. It is the media who is really behind the warmongering, and of corse its masters. Besides who are the leaders of the USA and now the “democratic” world. Whoever has the media will have the power to manipulte people as they need.

      Reply
      • Zoomer

        No. Russia comes up with nothing but bullshit. They are the most prolific producers of fertilizer in the world…

        Reply
  3. Vladimir

    The JIT have released a letter stating there is no evidence against any of the soldiers mentioned in bellingcat’s report, so the thread is now closed.

    Reply
  4. Johan

    Thanks for all the trouble you have being trough. The truth must be reveiled, even if there wil be no good answer to this murderers. Even Obama use a weak strategy, there will be no justice for the victims, putler wil get away with it anyhow.

    Reply
  5. Mad Dog

    1. Don’t read the report, just label it bullocks.
    2. Don’t address the major points, just deflect attention.
    3. Don’t accept any photo evidence, no matter how good, just find small points to call into question the validity thereof.
    4. Don’t accept any scientific evidence without 100% proof by an expert.
    5. Don’t accept any proof by an expert without 100% identification including name and address.
    6. Don’t accept the possibility of any Russian entity lying
    7. Always call into question the validity of any organization providing evidence not to our liking.
    8. Always use the evidence of those organizations when it is in our interests.
    9. Always ensure that any move to blame Russia for anything is shown to be a CIA/NSA plot.

    Excerpt from St. Petersburg Troll Operation Manual

    Reply
  6. ololol

    If Russia was behind this, the US should be able to give us a ton of satellite data. no pics, something to hide. it is as easy as this. they can make a photograph of your dick from 100 kilometers.

    Reply
  7. Activist

    Procurator of JIT said after examined propaganda from belincat that:

    On December 26, 2015 Bellingcat has submitted a draft report to the JIT. The report has been gathered using social media and other public Internet sources, include information about members of a Russian military unit with, according to Bellingcat, a possible BUK-missile system in Ukraine. Many sources which Bellingcat relies on were known to the JIT. In addition, the research team still has more and other information on this subject, which is not mentioned by Bellingcat. Insofar as Bellingcat has offered new sources, they are examined and assessed for suitability for the criminal investigation.

    No evidence of direct involvement of individual members of this unit at the shooting of the MH17 follows from the report of Bellingcat. .

    That show what propaganda belicant is.

    Reply
  8. Jim Ellis

    Putin will not be able to hide his guilt for much longer. In July he blocked a plan to set up an investigation by the UN Security Council, complaining that it would be “premature” and “counter-productive”. This proved just how scared he was of the truth being revealed. But he can’t block the Dutch investigators’ report which will tell the world everything it needs to know about Putin’s terrorist regime. Putin is as guilty as sin.

    Reply
    • Zoomer

      Problem is that the Dutch are not naming names. When they decide to play rough, then maybe a little something will happen. But I doubt much at all really. It is said that the only thing a Russian guy understands clearly is a punch in the face…

      Reply
    • stranger

      “blocked a plan to set up an investigation by the UN Security Council” not the investigation was vetoed, but the idea of the international tribunal, because that would have been a highly politicized show instead of any unbiased investigation. Don’t forget that Russia was announced guilty the very next day after the accident. The economic sanctions were applied immediately and nobody cared about such stupid thing as evidences.
      Why the Dutch report has taken 1.5 years, and still they don’t name who is responsible. If you carefully read the Dutch report you would find that even their determination of launch position is approximate and is based on a lot of assumptions. They are discussing the assumptions openly. They don’t publish any details on the missile wreckage which as they confirmed were found. If you look at the reconstructed fuselage, you would see only 20% was covered.
      Dutch are not naming names because they don’t know and they cannot admit that after 2 years of investigation because all political decisions have already been made. Everybody already ‘knows’ who is announced guilty and Dutch cannot just step out and say ‘well guys we don’t actually have any evidences’, what did they do for 2 years then?

      Reply
      • Andrea

        because DSB report investigated WHAT happened…
        not even tried to find WHO…wasn’t their purpose

        Reply
        • stranger

          The problem is that Russia has already been announced guilty. The investigation is still not over after 2 years and possibly is being intentionally delayed.

          Reply
          • Test

            Bullshit. The Russians have vetoed the tribunal because they know full well their armed forced pulled the trigger. Of course, you know this, its why you’re here.

            The long and the short of it is this, the report published states clearly that MH17 was downed by a BUK fired from rebel held territory.

            Russia have not and cannot illustrate any other plausible scenario with anytging approaching proof. Know why numb nuts? Because there isn’t any evidence for anything other
            than Russia’s guilt.

            Almaz state that the ukrainians downed the jet based on what? Nothing, you mean to hobestly believe that they fired their first anti aircraft weaponry of the entire conflict against an enemy with no planes headed in the wrong direction? A child could see its nonsense, not you though, you’ll stay blind to the end.

          • stranger

            Ukraine had a motive not to close the sky at least, if not something worse, because that incident has turned the way of the conflict, the rebels were doomed only after it.
            There are a lot of grey spots and assumptions in Dutch investigation as well, the fact is not all findings were made public and the investigation is not over.

          • Test

            They had a motive to mot close the sky.

            Child. The russians have supplied a highly complex ground to air missile system to their band of merry men, strelkov boasted and russian tv broadcast news of a glorious victory for the rebels and then rowed back as quick as they goddamn could when they realised what they had done.

            Here is a little test, just go on to rt and read the number of inconsistent narratives that the russians have published in the last two years.

            Su25
            Ukranian BUK
            Bomb
            The video of the buk was filmed in a different town
            Doctored satteliteimagery of ukranian buks
            Fake pictures of an su25

            Not to mention the myriad false propaganda statements given re the Ukranian situation.

            You really want to talk about who is delaying what? All they have done is hire chumps to pollute blogs with this bullshit in the vain hope that they will distract attention away from their guilt.
            Russians have just lied through their teeth because to admit their mistake is to admit they invaded the ukraine, thats the whole story.

          • stranger

            “You really want to talk about who is delaying what?” I wanted to discuss in a more intellectual way. The Dutch report or the article. Have you read the Dutch report btw? Propaganda about su or fake images existed, but is not interesting to discuss, who cares about propaganda

          • stranger

            “strelkov boasted and russian tv broadcast news of a glorious victory for the rebels and then rowed back as quick as they goddamn could when they realised what they had done.” so you confirm that the Boeing was a turning point after which the rebels were demoralized and finally doomed? The motive, right? So what do you disagree?

          • Test

            The rebels were finally doomed? What? The rebels later that summer somehow managed to take swathes of territory and more than that, miraculously open a new front near Mariupol, the “rebels” then took Debaltseve.

            Strangely they accomplished this just after that aid convoy arrived from Russia…

            So no, I don’t agree as the facts are clearly different. The Russian army simply did the job that the rebels couldn’t and now that they have done it they will just freeze the conflict and get rid of any rebel commander who doesn’t tow the line.

            The long and the short of it re strelkov was and is what you and I both know, he thought they had downed an AN26 and boasted about it. They then found out that the 53rd brigade had blown a civilian airliner out of the sky.

          • stranger

            “The rebels were finally doomed? What?” I believe that the idea of Novorussia has failed, and probably MH17 accident was one of the key turn points. The Mariupol offence was very quickly withdrawn, rebels were not defeated, but gave up the idea of the extension. May be because the west pushed Russia and Russia pushed Zakharchenko in turn. I tried to follow all news for the last 2 years, but not exactly sure for details, we can search for the news of that time. Even though there is a political bargain now, the original idea has no future, no any Novorussia is possible. Politically Ukraine has won, but now it’s a question of who will be exhausted first. I don’t know how soon it will be resolved, but there is no any initiative at rebels side and Russia is thinking only how to push Donbass back to Ukraine, while Ukraine doesn’t want to take them back at any price. That’s why I believe rebels are doomed.

    • GASTON Monroe

      Everyone knows Russia was and is responsible for downing that plan. But of course Putin dies no wrong and will just deny everything. Putin be a man for once and admit you messed up.

      Reply
  9. Andrea

    STRANGER…
    What are you trying to demonstrate with the radar theory?
    Even if ukrainians turned their ones off deliberately…
    all the world (russia too) accept the theory that a BUK destroyed the plane…
    so, even if the radars were turned on…what do you expect to read from them?

    Reply
    • GJR

      He’s still convinced their was a magical Sukhoi flying underneath MH17. Or maybe it was a unicorn. One can never be too sure what myth they want to push.

      Reply
      • stranger

        I don’t know. That is like if somebody hid surveillance camera records from a crime scene. What could be found on those records, that is the question? Military planes, traces of radio signals from other military radars, might be even the missile itself, although as Dutch said and Zoomed confirmed a missile could hardly been seen. The question is why to hide?

        Reply
        • Andrea

          Then asimple citation from DSB report may be useful:

          “The Russian Federation did not provide the radar data stating that no radar data was saved, but instead provided the radar screen video replay, which showed combined surveillance primary and secondary radar. In the absence of the underlying radar data (so-called raw data), the video information could not be verified” (page42)

          So the only ones officially saying they deleted something are the russians…
          you know, a plane crashes a couple miles outside your country…and you delete the radar raw datas to clear some space on the Hard Disk for something more important…like a couple of pornos…

          How do you comply now?

          Reply
          • stranger

            Yes, I read it. Russia didn’t provide the raw data, might be for the same reason why Ukraine didn’t (primary, real radars, whatever Zoomer is claiming). Probably because it might have shown some military activity. But don’t forget about the distance. Russian radars from Rostov could not have seen below horizon at the altitudes lower that 5-6km at the place of the catastrophe, while Ukrainian ones were much closer and potentially could.

          • RHK

            I suspect that the height of the radar horizon at, say, Donetsk for a surveillance radar at Rostov would be considerably lower than 5 – 6 km. In any case this would be useless for surveillance of a war zone for forewarning and location of low-level enemy attack aircraft. I agree with the comment that it is difficult to believe that after such a momentous happening raw radar data would have been destroyed. Even on a routine basis, raw data is probably stored for many years, and this was during an operationally-active period. When times have changed the data will be released, I am sure. It’ll all come out in the wash!

          • Andrea

            but ukrainian ones were on scheduled manteniance … they already said it …

          • stranger

            I gave you examples to compare what is written in English version of Ukrainians news with what is reported by that Lugansk factory managements themselves. That’s not a question of believe

        • Test

          Why to hide?

          Conspiracy horse shit. Look at the mountain, absolute mountain of evidence that russian soldiers have fought and hundreds have died and been maimed fighting in the ukraine many without even being told they were going to fight.

          You want to solve a mystery solve the one where the russian government, who are supposed to launch an inquiry in the event of a soldiers death in pece time have refused to do so and more over not had the decency to tell the families of their soldiers how these boys were killed.

          Grow up and solve that one. As to the rest, zoomer just schooled you elsewhere on this blog and watching you flail around for answers is akin to watching a dog try to eat toffee.

          Face it, you’ve got nothing other than baseless conspiracy theories and bullshit, it would be embaressibg if it weren’t pathetic.

          Reply
          • stranger

            Test, you are funny: “As to the rest, zoomer just schooled you elsewhere on this blog and watching you flail around for answer” is that what he said himself? 🙂 I’m still inclined to think Zoomed is just a troll. Please reread the thread if you didn’t get it.

          • Test

            Stranger. Seriously. You’re out of your depth.

            There are a million questions you could be attempting to solve in russia, who owns that big old palace by the black sea for example?

            How did radioactive material get into the hands of two idiots so that they could bungle an assassination job in London?

            Why do Russia behave like north korea (who at least have the balls to tell the world what they are doing?

            How did so many russian soldiers end up dead?

            How are two spetsnaz on trial in ukraine and insisting they were still contract soldiers.

            Why were Russian news channels the first to report on MH17 and why dis their reporters embedded with the rebels make them believe that the rebels had downed a ukranian transport?

            Over to you champ, i know what you’ll say of course.

            The U.S did it dirst and worse.

          • stranger

            Test, that is the only your post i would agree, not in details but in general, you are absolutely right. Russia has a lot of problems which we should ask our government for.

    • Andrea

      And he should consider that the only planes that abitually fly without transponder on europe skies are russian ones…intercepted every single time over the baltic sea….

      Reply
      • stranger

        They fly in the neutral zone, why cannot they? There are a lot of US radio reconnaissance planes over Russian borders as well. And how do you know they are not responding to civil ATC?

        Reply
        • Andrea

          I know, i just wanted to point out that the only air force that systematically turn off their transponders is the russian one…
          For sure it’s not a crime

          Reply
        • Test

          Whataboutery…. Yes we do, but big bad u.s.a does it too and do it betterer.

          Seriously what a bunch of whiners.

          Reply
          • Test

            Because the u.s didnt blow the plane out of the sky you dolt!

            The u.s didnt send troops into the ukraine

            The u.s are nothing to do with the russian government lying to its own people about the role they have played in the ukraine, do you seriously not see what is happening? Are you that blind? You poor little bastard.

          • stranger

            Thank you, Test, my pleasure too… Sometimes you demonstrate sparks of intellect, why do you drop back to meaningless insults just after that…

          • Test

            What can i say, you bring out the best in me.

            Care to tackle any of the above questions?

            Up to you, pick one

          • stranger

            Zoomer, look who is saying.:) “the small radar antenna is rotating with a big one, that’s why they are both – radars”

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