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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.


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. Co-winner of the 2019 European Press Prize (Investigative Reporting Award).

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  1. James

    Excellent work by the Bellingcat MH17 team. It’s truly amazing the depth of knowledge that can be uncovered through social media and online chat forums in this modern, connected world. Surely the NSA with automated database analysis can do 1000 times more which would be really amazing to see.

    • Mad Dog

      Stranger is right about keeping the discussion at a higher intellectual level. Yes, I do not agree with his conclusions and yes I do agree with the tech stuff Zoomer posted and yes there are a number of questions stranger has not answered or avoided, but he does make the right call when asking for less personal insults and more concrete replies, frustrating though that seem to be. Personally, I see no way out of the accusations against Russia, but they will just work to show the invalidity of the accusations with severely deficient rhetoric and hinky evidence. Very Soviet era techniques.

    • Herman

      That is indeed what bellincat is all about.

      the question here is not who shot mh17.
      No it has been from day one. Putin should pay for this how can we make that happen.

      In other words looking only for evidence in that direction.×211
      This man a dutch journalist posted a nice story about the research done by bellingcat. Even dutch propaganda machine is asking open questions about it now… I never expected that to happen.

      The entire evidence chain is now hung up on a few pictures some strange phone calls. I go back to my first opinion. Hours after the crash, a lot of country’s claimed to have radar of it, the only one showing some radar movies is russia. Why are all those others deleted.
      Ukraine was flying itself with military planes, you dont send them in blind….
      So there has to be a good reason why nobody is interested in showing radar and or satellite of this.

      For my opinion i would like to see some real proof before we point fingers at anyone. And this we photoshopt a few pictures and see this is that and so facebook (sorry vk) tells us this.
      I dont care who has done it, they should pay. And yes if russia has done it it should pay. But the proof there is now, its a BUK so russian made so they have to have shot it.
      This evidence is so thin you cant even get a Kurd convicted on it in Turkey.
      So lets make sure we get more data.

      So i will be waiting for the intelligent people to scold me again as stupid etc.

  2. Andrea

    little troll from Luhansk…we are still waiting the picture you said you were about to take on the crossroad (the one of the buk viedo)…do you remember?
    Or it was just a blank shot from a bad troll?

  3. Herman

    what i would consider real evidence:

    John Kerry: US detected the missile launch from Ukraine and observed it hitting Flight MH17

    Lets start with the data of the launch and trajectory they detected. In the same interview he claims the russian have trained the separatists and there was a convoy of 150 army vehicles including tanks and artillery. Love to see footage of that aswel.

    And he claims they have satellite footage of the launch site. As that would give us greet footage of the people there. They could probably run it threw NSA face recognition algorithm to identify all involved on the ground.
    Lets be honest satellite images these days can make great pictures especially spy sats.

    What kerry claims to have is a complete evidence chain convicting whoever shot that plain.
    My earlier question still stands. Why does the USA keep this evidence hidden, as it would put there enemy (russia) in great trouble.

    • Andrea

      The claim about having detected the launch is not mine … maybe is just a claim … maybe DSB actually saw the datas …

      About all the movements of russian units towards ukraine there were multiple releases of NATO sat images showing them … like Randyclown you need to see a veichele moving all the way from the point A to B in order to be satisfied … seeing it in the point A and later in the point B won’t be enough?

      I give you a quick and exhaustive example:
      27th Sept 2015 OSCE says…
      “…at the training area in “LPR”-controlled Kruhlyk (31km south-west of Luhansk). A day earlier the SMM spotted at the same training area one heavy multiple launch thermobaric rocket system (TOS-1 Buratino, 220mm)”

      Now … we don’t have images showing us it ever crossed the border … but … Ukraine never had one of those MRLS … so how did it get there?
      Same could be said with T72B3s spotted multiple times inside ukraine…
      Same for the PantsirS1 spotted in Donetsk…

      Do you need the pictures of the veichle crossing a border point? As soon as those images would ever be released MoD and many more would say those are fabricated…
      Ask yourself why OSCE still can’t have access to the borders … is there anything to hide?

      None of us knows what a spy satellite can see … but identifying faces from the space seems like a science fiction story…maybe they can see if there is a face … but tracking its features … XD

    • stranger

      “Why does the USA keep this evidence hidden” the first guess… they don’t have one… 🙂
      Look what exactly did Kerry said by the link above: “we detected the imaginary of the missile from THAT area” he didn’t say what area was “THAT” – Ukrainian or rebel controlled. They are playing games with public and keep the public for idiots, all politicians all over the world do that…unfortunately…

      • John Zenwirt


        “Why does the USA keep this evidence hidden” the first guess… they don’t have one…”

        Because the information is classified, so it cannot be released.

        Why is that difficult to imagine, yet apparently this thought has not crossed your mind.

        The USA is going to totally, publicly, show the world all its surveillance capabilities (!!); USSR doesn’t do that either. The answer is excruciatingly obvious.

        The most precise answers are now with the NSA, ” No Such Agency.”

        But you would never, ever, ask the USSR for its most secret and precise GLONASS intel., if their systems show a competing proof of MH17, let’s have it from the Mighty, Russian, all-knowing Dear Leader…

        • stranger

          Yes, that is only provided one believes own government (US in this case), many don’t.
          Glonas is navigation, a direct alternative to GPS, but indeed nobody knows if rus spy satellites saw anything.

        • Yevgeniy

          “Because the information is classified, so it cannot be released.
          Why is that difficult to imagine, yet apparently this thought has not crossed your mind.
          The USA is going to totally, publicly, show the world all its surveillance capabilities (!!); “
          USA is claiming that Russians shot the plane down. Doesn’t it already reveal that the US have proper surveillance capabilities? The answer is excruciatingly obvious. So the question arises again: “Why does the USA keep this evidence hidden”

        • Yevgeniy

          << if their systems show a competing proof of MH17, let’s have it from the <<Mighty, Russian, all-knowing Dear Leader…

          Proof of what?

          • John Zenwirt

            “proof of what?”

            Proofs that uSSr doesn’t release, (of MH17 shootdown) as it is classified information. NO one will tell you what their surveillance satellites can or can’t do…

    • John Zenwirt

      No country will tell the world what their satellites can see; it’s highly classified. One just cannot publish it.

  4. frankie

    Yup and then it was supposedly someone else Russia should’ve admitted it from the beginning bunch of cowards

  5. johan

    It is possible Geographic Profiling in this case would give the same answer ? It is word trying.

        • johan

          I am scared of the low reaction on so much pain and suffering one
          Machiavellian with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder cause to the Ukrainien people.
          I think, that thing, is even sicker than stalin was. Time for mother Russia to get rid of it or live with the shame forever. You can not stay living with lies and denie wat realy is happening.

  6. Michael

    All these proofs, manipulated or not, we don’t need. Just think simple and logical. Some questions you cannot answer?

    – How do get “separatists” canons, tanks, missiles?
    – All stolen from UA army?
    – Do you know anybody having tanks and canons in the garage, or munition for some months of fighting?
    (first we were told “noooo, no Russian equipment or soldiers there”, then “they go there for hobby, out of our control”)
    – How can “separatists” alone go for open battles with a regular army and beat them?

    – Who had military planes in the air that day? Russia?
    – So who could have fired on a plane? Ukraine?
    – Who shot the UA military planes before and how?
    – Do you know people able to shoot down a plane with a missile?
    – Who has a weapon able to shoot a plane down, in 10 kilometers height?
    – And can you operate a missile system correctly to shoot down a plane
    in 10 kilometers height flying with a speed of 900 km/h?
    – Are “separatists” able to, if you make them a BUK present?

    – Did you catch Putin lying?
    – Were there Russian soldiers in Crimea?

    For me there is no question who shot MH17. This “we don’t know exactly” game is laughable.

  7. Brooks Schacter

    kamizelka asekuracyjna

  8. Lemuel Niner



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