A high-ranking Russian military officer deployed to Ukraine has been identified as a suspect involved in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a joint international open source investigation led by Bellingcat has found.
The Joint Investigative Team, which has been conducting a criminal investigation into the shooting down of the plane, has been searching for “Andrey Ivanovich”, who also went by the call sign ‘Orion’ and is believed to be connected to the case.
Bellingcat says it has now determined “with very high certainty” that “Andrey Ivanovich” was in fact an alias for Russian citizen Oleg Ivannikov.
“Bellingcat has determined with very high certainty that at the time of the downing of MH17, Oleg Ivannikov was an officer of the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Ministry of Defence (GRU), and served in that function until at least as late as September 2017,” Bellingcat reports.
Furthermore, several reports from Russian militant commanders and Russian-backed separatists in the self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk People’s Republic’ also point to ‘Andrey Ivanovich’ being “military adviser and de facto handler of the political leadership of the LNR in 2014”, Bellingcat has found.
screenshot from Bellingcat
It also found that during his service in Ukraine, his responsibilities included procuring and moving weapons from Russia to Ukraine for a period of time, during which MH17 was shot down.
A phone call intercepted by Ukraine’s security service, allegedly plays out a conversation between former Deputy Minister of Defense of the 'LPR' Oleg Bugrov and ‘Andrey Ivanovich’ or ‘Oreon’. During the call ‘Oreon’ allegedly says ‘they’ now have a ‘Buk’ will use it to shoot down [Ukrainian military] planes.
On Thursday, the Joint Investigation Team released new findings that show the Buk missile, which shot down flight MH17, belongs to the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade of the Russian Defense Ministry.
However, it is undetermined whether this is same Buk.
It is understood Ivannikov was posted to Ukraine in the first six months of 2014 and was stationed there until early 2015.
“During his undercover deployment to LNR, he coordinated and supervised the military activities of Russian militants, pro-Russian separatists and ‘private army’ contingents from the Wagner group,” Bellingcat stated in a release.
Malaysia Airlines’ Boeing 777, which was travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down when it flew over conflict-affected Donbas on July 17, 2014. All 298 passengers and crew members on board were killed.
Bellingcat also found that Ivannikov served under the alias "Andrey Ivanovich Laptev" as Minister of Defense and Emergencies from 2006 to 2008 in the self-proclaimed Republic of South Ossetia.