Twenty Russians wanted for questioning in MH17 downing

The Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash site in Ukraine. Source: Twitter/ @mashable. (The Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash site in Ukraine. Source: Twitter/ @mashable)

One of about 20 Russian soldiers fired the BUK missile that brought down flight MH17 in July 2014, according to international research collective Bellingcat. All of the 20 soldiers know who gave the orders and who actually pressed the button, Eliot Higgins, founder of Bellingcat, said in an interview with broadcaster NOS.

After discovering last year that the Russian Second Battalion of the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade transported the BUK missile system that brought down MH17 from Kursk in Russia to the Ukraine, Bellingcat managed to narrow the about 100 soldiers in the Battalion down to the group of about 20 who were actually involved in the transport and firing, NOS reports. Higgins and 11 volunteers from various countries, including the Netherlands, Germany, Poland and America, studied social media sites like Instagram, Twitter and the Russian version of Facebook called Vkontakte for a year. With the help of attendance lists, messages, videos and photos they managed to map the structure of the Battalion, including the names of the soldiers.

One of those involved is Sergey M., the commander of the 53rd Brigade. Due to his position, he "certainly played a role in the downing of flight MH17, because his brigade delivered the 'weapon'", according to Bellingcat. Others involved are Dmitry T., the commander of the Second Battalion and nine lieutenants who were in charge of BUK air defense missile systems within the battalion in 2014. And some "very experienced soldiers" were trained to operate a BUK missile system.

"The had to know who of them pressed the button. They also have to know who gave the orders for firing the missile", Higgins said to the broadcaster.

Bellingcat gave a comprehensive report containing the names of the soldiers involved and their photographs to the Dutch Public Prosecutor two weeks ago. The Public Prosecutor leads the Joint Investigation Team doing the criminal investigation into the downing of MH17. The team consists of investigators from the Netherlands, Belgium, Malaysia, Ukraine and Australia.

"The investigators don't tell us what they are doing with our information. But they previously indicated that they are happy with it and take us seriously", Higgins said. "That can also be seen, because the JIT used our discovery of the trailer in which the Russian BUK missile system was transported in an online call for witnesses."

The Public Prosecutor confirmed to the broadcaster NOS that the Bellingcat information was received. All of the information will "be seriously considered, examined and assessed on its usefulness for the criminal investigation", a spokesperson said to the broadcaster.