A team of open-source researchers investigating the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 has published reports linking the movements of Russian military equipment to the plane’s downing.
The reports, released on June 5 by Bellingcat, track the locations of vehicles including the Buk missile launcher that the British-based research group says was involved in the July 2014 downing of MH17.
Focusing on information gleaned from drivers, Bellingcat published censored photos of drivers and the convoys of trucks that it alleges moved the equipment into place in the weeks before the airliner crashed during a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 passengers and crew.
"An uncensored version of the report including full names and uncensored photographs has been shared with the MH17 Joint Investigation Team (JIT)," Bellingcat said, referring to the international team that has investigated the crash.
Bellingcat's previous reports had already identified Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade as being the likely source of the missile that investigators say brought down the jet.
But the new reports add to a growing body of circumstantial evidence suggesting Russian complicity. This includes personal information about Russian military officers and enlisted soldiers who Bellingcat alleges specifically knew of, and possibly even manned, the Buk-M1 surface-to-air missile system believed to have brought down MH17.
International media, including the Associated Press, have pinpointed Buk-M1 systems in the eastern Ukrainian town of Snizhne on the day of the plane’s downing, and accompanying soldiers who spoke with accents that seemed to be from Moscow and other regions in Russia.
Russian Denials, Alternate Theories
Russia has strenuously denied the fighters it supports in eastern Ukraine were responsible or that it supplied the missile system. A leading separatist commander initially appeared to take credit for firing a missile and downing a Ukrainian jet, but those claims on social media were later removed.
Russian officials have also put forth myriad alternate theories, including claims that MH17 was downed by a missile fired from a Ukrainian fighter jet, in what Kremlin critics say is a disinformation campaign aimed to muddy the waters.
The 298 victims of the MH17 crash, many of whom were Dutch, are among at least 9,900 people the UN says have been killed since the conflict between the Russia-backed separatists and Kyiv's forces began in eastern Ukraine in April 2014.
The conflict broke out as Russia, which seized Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014, was fomenting separatism across eastern and southern Ukraine after Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia in the face of protests.