FSB officer becomes highest-ranked Russian official linked to MH17

Senior FSB officer becomes the highest-ranked Russian official linked to investigation into MH17 jet tragedy

  • Bellingcat and Russia’s The Insider claim Andrei Burlaka is person of interest
  • Claim they established his identity by analyzing phone records & travel data  
  • So far, four men named and charged with murder over MH17 flight shoot-down
  • MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 on board 

A senior FSB officer has become the highest-ranked Russian official linked to the investigation into the MH17 jet tragedy. 

Col. Gen. Andrei Burlaka, the FSB Border Service’s chief of operational staff, has been named as the highest-ranking person of interest in the criminal investigation into the downing of the plane, by open-source intelligence site Bellingcat and Russia’s The Insider news website.  

The 54-year-old, who is said to be fourth in the chain of command below Vladimir Putin, is alleged to have controlled the supply of weapons from Russia in to Ukraine around the time of the 2014 disaster.

So far, four men who international investigators believe are responsible for shooting down MH17 which led to the deaths of 298 people in 2014 have been named and charged with murder.  

Col. Gen. Andrei Burlaka (pictured), the FSB Border Service’s chief of operational staff, has been named as the highest-ranking person of interest in the criminal investigation into the downing of the plane

Dutch-led investigators last autumn appealed for witnesses to help identify a key figure known as ‘Vladimir Ivanovich Burlaka’ in intercepted calls between rebel commanders and Russian officials.

A joint investigative report by Bellingcat and The Insider states that ‘Vladimir Ivanovich’ is Col. Gen. Andrei Ivanovich Burlaka, and claims that they were able to establish his identify by analysing phone records, travel data and through voice-comparison technology.

‘Based on the call intercepts as a whole, it becomes clear that “Vladimir Ivanovich” played a critical role in the chain of command between ostensibly local militants and the Russian government,’ Bellingcat reported.

The report continued that Burlaka would have been in a prime 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.’ 

Russia has denied involvement in the downing of MH17 over eastern Ukraine. 

Ukrainian rescue servicemen inspect part of the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 20, 2014

The four men who international investigators believe are responsible for shooting down MH17 are Russians Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, all of whom were fighting for Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine when the jet was hit by a missile over the territory in 2014.

A trial of the four men was scheduled to start in March but has been suspended until June 8 to give defence lawyers more time to prepare. Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said that there are no plans to seek extradition, meaning the men will likely be tried in absentia. 

Barry Sweeney, the father of one of ten Britons who died on the jet, said: ‘It’s not going to bring anyone back, but if I found out why it happened, it would bring a bit of closure.’ 

Meanwhile Moscow slammed the ‘absolutely groundless accusations,’ claiming the international community had frozen them out of investigations to discredit Russia.

Igor Girkin (left) and Sergey Dubinsky (right), both Russian ex-intelligence officers, were named by international investigators as two of the men responsible for shooting down MH17 

Oleg Pulatov, a Russian ex-army officer, and Leonid Kharchenko, the Ukrainian commander of separatist rebels in the country’s east, have also been identified

Prosecutors said Girkin was a former colonel in Russia’s FSB intelligence agency who was the self-declared minister of defence in the separatist administration in eastern Ukraine. 

Dubinskiy was a former minister from the Russian military intelligence agency GRU, Pulatov was an ex-soldier in Russia’s Spetznaz special forces unit and Kharchenko a Ukrainian separatist.

Ukraine’s top prosecutor has said the country will try to arrest Kharchenko and, if he is detained, will arrange for him to be tried via video-link. If he is found guilty, Ukraine will impose a sentence.

The reconstructed wreckage of MH17 is presented to the media by Dutch investigators in 2015

Of the Russian suspects, Mr Westerbeke said ‘in the short term we will ask Russia to hand the summons to the suspects’ and will ‘ask for Russia to cooperate again with legal help.’

The developments come almost two years after the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team concluded that the missile which shot down the plane came from a Russian military brigade based in Kursk. 

MH17 was on its way from from Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur when it was brought down.

Of those killed, 196 were Dutch and another 38 were Australian. Passengers from the UK, Canada, Malaysia, Germany, Belgium, Philippines and Indonesia also died.


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