Open-source researchers have linked a top general in Russia’s main security and intelligence agency to the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine.
A report published jointly by Bellingcat and the Russian news site The Insider on April 28 said that Colonel General Andrei Burlaka, of Russia’s Federal Security Service, is one of the Russian officials whose calls with separatist militia leaders in eastern Ukraine were intercepted and recorded.
Three Russians and one Ukrainian have been identified by Dutch investigators, and a Dutch court began criminal proceedings against them last month. All four are believed to be in Russia.
Most of the 298 people on board MH17 were Dutch citizens. The jet was downed by a Russian-built surface-to-air missile system, which Dutch officials believe was secretly transported across the Russian border into Ukraine.
As part of their investigation, Dutch authorities released intercepted phone calls and called for public help in identifying some of the individuals heard on the calls.
One was a key figure named as "Vladimir Ivanovich." Bellingcat and The Insider identified him as Burlaka, who they said was the chief of operational staff for the Border Guard Service of the Federal Security Service, known as the FSB.
The outlets said that they established Burlaka’s identity by searching phone records, travel data and comparing his voice from different recordings.
"This FSB general is the highest-ranking Russian official identified as a person of interest in the criminal investigation into the downing of MH17," Bellingcat said.
The Insider said Burlaka’s position in the Border Guard Service puts him close in the hierarchy to FSB director Aleksandr Bortnikov, who answers directly to President Vladimir Putin.
Burlaka was "in a crucial position to supervise the movement of weapons from Russia to Ukraine, and thus would have had to authorize the transfer of the Russian Buk missile launcher that shot the Malaysian airliner after crossing the border," Bellingcat said.
Russia has repeatedly denied any role in the crash, and refused to turn over the four men to stand trial in the Netherlands.