Bellingcat, an international team of journalists, earlier this year stated that it has narrowed the list of people involved in the crash of Boeing MH 17, which took place in eastern Ukraine in the summer of 2014. Now the list includes some 20 Russian soldiers. A detailed report, containing the names and photographs of the Russian military, was directed to the Prosecutor's Office of the Netherlands. It will be also presented to the investigation team of MH17 tragedy. 112 talked to the coordinator of investigative journalism Bellingcat Aric Toler, who clarified the points on the work done. In particular, Toler said that the group continues to work with the "list of 20".
Founder of Bellingcat Eliot Higgins pointed out "Buk" and the 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade were identified by the photo on the Internet, as well as militants’ profiles in social networks. How accurate are these findings? Can the investigation team operate with such facts in its conclusions? If the case goes to court, will it serve as an evidence?
Our research has identified the soldiers of the 53rd Brigade, who are probably the perpetrators of MH17 tragedy, but we are not talking specifically about the fault of those people. We have identified the brigade commanders, who were controlling the "Buk". July 17, this “Buk” was photographed in Ukraine; it lacked one rocket, and it was returned to Russia the next morning. We cannot say with certainty about the guilt of a particular Russian soldier in the crew that came in Snizhne July 17, 2014, but we have spent more than a year to determine who exactly could it be from the brigade.
A very large section of the report is devoted to individuals who might be innocent. They are the ones who were at this time in other places. Part of the report lists the persons who were in the convoy that accompanied "Buk" to the Ukrainian border. We hope this will help the Dutch investigators in their investigation of a criminal case; it will help in questioning Russian soldiers and officers. Our only evidence is not enough to send someone to jail. Nevertheless, we never set a goal to do the work of investigators. Our goal is to help identify people who might have been guilty, as well as those that could not be guilty. We want to narrow down the search list, which is now very large.
It is obvious that not all men, and especially their commanders, have profiles on social networks. Is it possible that your shortened list may actually be longer, and some are out of this list due to a lack of data?
Absolutely. That is why the 20 people who have been identified, and this is not a complete list. Our goal is not to give a comprehensive specific list of the guilty criminals. We want to narrow down the list of possible suspects, using information from open sources. Certainly, there must be some other people who are not included in the list of 20. We would like to possess some more information and to make our list more precise.
Mr. Higgins said: "We have identified those who are most likely directly involved in launching the missile, which has shot down the aircraft. I mean the commanders, who could have ordered to do it, drivers and operators of the missile system. As a result, we were able to identify the small group of people". Could you please elaborate how it was done exactly?
Well, we can say with certainty about the commanders of the 53rd Brigade, who were responsible for "Buk 3x2". This information comes not only from social network, from "VKontakte". Commanders of certain parts of the 53rd Brigade are carrying some responsibility for the tragedy, because this weapon was used for mass murder. And information about those military people comes, for example, from the Russian news and photos/video of military parades, where different commanders have been filmed.
Is it the final list? Do you plan to shorten it?
We can always do more. In addition, we still have a lot of work. This is not an exhaustive list, it could be expanded or shortened, based on additional information.
Could you name at least a few names from the list? Or at least their age, where do they come from, their title, or some biographical moments.
I beg your pardon… No. I was shocked that the Dutch news has shown the list with the names and photos. Yes, there were blurred photos, but the names were not. I expected that they will do it more professionally. This is just a list of possible suspects, and many of them, of course, could be innocent. Moreover, this list was projected only for the investigation, which is conducted in the Netherlands.
All of us are witnesses of suspicious deaths of Russia’s army commanders: at the end of last year, the head of Main Intelligence Directorate Igor Sergun has unexpectedly died, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Airborne Forces, Major-General Alexander Shushukin and a "chief of defense of the 2nd Brigade of the 2nd Army housing of Luhansk People’s Republic... Are those people from your list of suspects still alive? Do you know about their present place of residence?
- As far as I know, all of them are all alive. I personally do not believe in stories that Russian commanders responsible for the tragedy of MH17, are already dead.
What is your group now engaged in?
We are currently working on several projects in relation to Russian air strikes and participation in Syria. Also we are shortening the version of the report of the 53rd Brigade for its promulgation.
Can you assure that the group will announce the names of the perpetrators of this crime?
You mean Bellingcat? We are ready to name the perpetrators, and some facts might be lost forever. However, Bellingcat will continue to conduct investigations for as long as we exist.