First MH17 Perpetrator Identified

On the morning of July 17, 2014, Ukrainian intelligence recorded a cell phone conversation between a military intelligence officer with the code name “Khmuryi and a fighter with the Russian-backed separatists forces, code name “Buryat,” who was in command of a flat-bed truck carrying a Buk antiaircraft missile launcher. The Ukrainians subsequently released audio and a transcript:

BURYAT: Where should we load this beauty, Nikolayevich?

KHMURYI: Which one? That one?

BURYAT: Yes, yes, the one that I brought. I am already in Donetsk.

KHMURYI: Is this the one that I am thinking about? The one ‘B’… ‘M’?

BURYAT: Yes, yes, yes. ‘Buk,’ ‘Buk.’

KHMURYI: Is it on a hauler?

BURYAT. Yes, it is on this one. We need to unload it somewhere and hide it.

KHMURYI: Is it with a crew?

BURYAT: Yes, with the crew.

KHMURYI: Don’t hide it anywhere, it will now go over there.

As extensive reporting by Bellingcat has subsequently made clear, the missile launcher had been sent over from Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade the night before. Transfered to a field near the village of Snizhne, it sat for several hours, then picked off MH17. That night it was shipped back across the border.

Last week, Bellingcat released a report identifying “Khmuryi” as Sergey Nikolaevich Dubinsky, a major general in the GRU special forces. His photograph is above. This is the first time an individual participant in the shoot-down of MH17 has been identified by name.

To this day, it remains unclear exactly what Russia sought to achieve by destroying MH17. But the circumstances are coming ever more sharply into focus. Within minutes of destroying the civilian airliner, Russia launched a disinformation campaign that succeeded in misleading a large majority of Western observers into believing that the 777 had been shot down by accident by incompetent militiamen who had gotten their hands on a Buk by accident. On CNN, where I was still under contract at the time, this line was parroted reflexively. It was lamentable to me, and remains lamentable, that this “common sense” view was hewed to so narrowly. This kind of lock-step groupthink among the media is part of the reason that Russia’s misinformation campaign since 2014 has been so successful.

Bellingcat’s efforts, however, offer some grounds for optimism. To paraphrase Lincoln, you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. Dogged research by Elliot Higgins and his crew, paralleled by the investigative efforts of Dutch investigators, are slowly bringing to light those responsible for this war crime.

MH370 is a more difficult case, but the fundamentals are similar. A plane comes to grief; a flurry of implausible theories swirl. The public and the media alike are thoroughly confused. But quietly, step by step, the facts are laid bare. It’s only a matter of time before, like Dubinsky, the names and faces of the perpetrators are revealed to the public.

UPDATE: Bellingcat has published further insights into Dubinsky’s role based on new information that has surfaced as a result of the report discussed here.

169 thoughts on “First MH17 Perpetrator Identified”

  1. In addition to pieces of the tail, I believe a Landing Gear Door was ripped off of China Airlines 006, a 747 that didn’t crash.

  2. @Lauren H, Intriguing. In that case, presumably the high G load caused the landing gear to deploy. If the debris damage suggested something similar might have happened here, that would have radical implications for the end-of-flight scenario.

  3. Hi Jeff,

    Are you still working on MH370 behind the scenes or is it winding up for you now? What avenues do you think are still open at this point?

  4. @Crobbie, Yes, still working on it! The main question for me right now isn’t what happened to the plane — there are some stray threads, but for the most part the gist of it is sorted out — but how to cut through the fog. That’s the really hard part, but I’ve got some ideas I’m working on.

  5. To pick up on Crobbie’s question, let me revive my earlier suggestion:

    Perfect Storm:
    « RE: “How Crazy Am I to Think I Actually Know Where That Malaysia Airlines Plane Is?”

    @Jeff: It was intriguing to see so many story arcs all fitting together and converging at this one point.

    Have you ever tried to go there and see for yourself ?
    If not, why not ?

    Maybe you can find traces or circumstantial evidence there ? Or even the plane ?!

    For someone who self-describes as “unusually obsessed with MH370” wouldn’t that be an absolute must-do ? Especially now, that the official search has come to an end ?

    If you ask me, it would surely be a better investment of time than sitting here and blogging for years to come. (Not that the latter doesn’t have its merits.) »

    Perfect Storm: «Jeff, in my posting (see above) I was referring to your article “How Crazy Am I to Think I Actually Know Where That Malaysia Airlines Plane Is?”
    and in particular to the aerial photographs you published. If I were in your shoes, I guess it would tormenting for me not to go to where I suspect the plane is, I am investing so much time and mental energy to find. »

    Jeff: « Same answer either way: money. »
    Perfect Storm: « Then why don’t you use crowdfunding ? »

    Ever since your reply, I am wondering if that’s the true and primary reason ?

    I do think crowdfunding would generate enough money. There is huge interest in MH370 worldwide (betrayed by the mainstream media blackout) and you are very well known in the MH370 world.

    The MH370 families also start crowdfunding to continue the search. I have seen several news articles about that.

    It’s easy to set up a crowdfunding initiative like or …

    Depending on the platform, you may even be able to add the option, that if a certain amount of money (necessary for your journey there) is NOT reached, you will refund all donations. Just in kind that is, what is giving you trouble.

    Maybe money is a little bit of an excuse/easy way out ?

    I admit that this journey is an adventure, which takes some courage.

    But imagine for one second, you would really find the plane at the location you so ingenuously discovered ? All the efforts of developing your – truth be told – very artful theory would not have been in vain but come to fruition.

    And even if the plane is not there, you might still unearth the right clues leading to MH370 in this former Soviet region of the world, which have been in your cross-hairs for a long time and with good reason.

    For someone who self-describes as “unusually obsessed with MH370”, wouldn’t it be a lifetime legacy achievement to have a place in aviation history books by finding the plane the whole world was looking for and unable to find … by picking up the right clues and align them all perfectly as you did ?

  6. @Perfect Storm, I think your idea is a really good one. As it happens I’m pursuing a different idea that is closer to my core expertise but hopefully will achieve the same objectives.

  7. “I’m pursuing a different idea that is closer to my core expertise but hopefully will achieve the same objectives.”

    You mean you won’t go to Kazakhstan/Yubileyniy ?

    Would you mind telling us then what your “different idea” is ?

  8. @jeffwise

    Very glad to hear you are still working on it. I think events surrounding the US government and Russian connections have begun to expose to the world that Russia will go to unusual lengths to get what it wants. I believe there are one or more nations behind this who are prepared to do similar.

    Look forward to hearing what you are up to.

  9. @Crobbie, Thanks!

    @Perfect Storm, I don’t think Kazakhstan is where the clues are at this point, but there are some people and places that I think have the potential to throw the case wide open. At this point I’m better off keeping my cards close to my chest with regards to certain things but will try to update the blog with new information as it becomes available. Thanks for your support!

  10. Hi Jeff,
    So glad to hear that you are still earnestly on the case of MH370.
    Recently and quite unexpectedly while reading news about the re-election of former Polish president Donald Tusk as EU leader, I found out that Poland had an aircraft tragedy in 2010 that may have been orchestrated by elements within the Russian govt.
    A Polish airforce plane was on its way to Smolensk Russia carrying the Polish president and other highlevel dignitaries where they were to commemorate the 70th anniversary of a WWII massacre committed by the Russians. But as the plane approached a fog enshrouded airfield, it suddenly broke up.
    Many in Poland, including members of the govt. believe the plane exploded just after the pilots decided to abort the landing.
    No crash debris has ever been allowed to leave Russia, and the bodies of victims were sealed in coffins before being sent back to Poland.
    This happened in 2010, just after the Polish president expressed strong support for Georgia in 2008 in it’s war against Russia.

  11. Jeff Wise: “@Perfect Storm, I don’t think Kazakhstan is where the clues are at this point”

    Oh, I am somewhat saddened to hear that, because I was truly intrigued by your theory. All pieces fitted so perfectly together …

    I still have these words of you in my mind:

    Jeff Wise: « The biggest question mark that I hoped would be resolved was the mystery of the strange dirt rectangle north of the Yubileyniy, the runway in Kazakhstan where my theory proposes that the plane landed. (In my story, there are satellite photos of the site.) There, unfortunately, I didn’t make any progress. One commenter said that something really urgent must have been going on to do that work when the ground is frozen; another said that in that kind of extreme climate it’s better to work in the cold than in the summer heat. I’m still not even 100 percent sure if the rectangle is a pit or a mound.

    Of course, the real purpose of publishing the piece in New York was to prove to my wife that I hadn’t wasted the last 8 months of my life on sheer folly. »

    It’s for these reasons that I thought you would eventually venture to Yubileyniy to validate your theory.

    Well, whatever it is you are doing, I wish you good luck.
    (Although I admit, I am sad, that no one will be looking at this intriguing place of which you posted the sat images …)

    Concerning your interest in Putin/Russia, I admit that personally, I don’t see how Putin would benefit from shooting down a civilian plane (neither MH17 nor MH370), but here is a story that illustrates his powers of deception:

    Fareed Zakaria told a slightly different version of the story, saying that Putin stepped out of the Stasi office (while the documents were burning inside) and although being unarmed, he managed to trick the angry mob into believing that there were armed guards inside the building who would shoot everyone entering. According to Fareed, that was a bluff, but the mob believed him and turned away.

  12. @CliffG

    You forgot to mention that it was Russians who created all that fog…wouldn’t be a problem for them if they are so mighty.

  13. @Perfect Storm, It’s not that I don’t think the plane went to Kazakhstan, it’s just that I don’t think that that place in particular is where I’d be most likely to find evidence.

    @CliffG, Yes, I’ve been thinking about the Smolensk crash for a long time. As I believe StevanG is pointing out, the factor in the crash that would seem to rule out Russian skullduggery is that a prime causal factor — the fog — would be out of the Russians’ control. Yet given Russia’s involvement in other dubious aviation incidents, it’s hard not to wonder if something fishy was going on. I thought of Smolensk in particular after the FlyDubai crash at Rostov-on-Don, which also occurred during an approach below minimums at a Russian airport, and which also had some baffling aspects.

  14. Well, someone seems to think there’s still something a bit suspect about it.

    “Prosecutors say fresh examinations are necessary to ensure the victims were correctly identified.
    They say the original autopsies carried out in Russia contained irregularities.

    Indeed, several exhumations carried out four years ago found that some of the victims were buried in the wrong graves.

    But more than that, prosecutors say the forensic tests may just provide new evidence about the cause of the disaster.”

    I’m aware this second link is to a website very likely to be biased, but if there’s any truth in anything they say…?

    Also, this guy.

  15. @Will, The current Polish government, which is headed by the twin brother of the former president killed in the crash, has strongly been pushing the idea that Russia essentially carried it out as an assassination. The whole event is highly politicized and I’m not sure how any clarity is going to emerge. There was an attempt to launch a bipartisan international investigation, but my understanding is that Russia (and maybe Poland too) didn’t want to play ball.

  16. Oh, quite possibly. In fact, if I had to put money on it I’m quite certain I’d side on the side of an accident.

    However, some of the points raised in the ’15 simple facts post do – if true (I can’t caveat that bit enough) – raise some alarming questions. For example:

    “- Over an hour before the approach of the presidential Tu-154M plane to the Smolensk airport, a Russian Il-76 plane supposedly carrying transportation and protection for the presidential delegation, touched the landing strip with its wheels but ultimately pulled up before slowing down and flew away. To this day there is no explanation for this event (The plane was supposedly, carrying vehicles and protection officers, according to one of the Smolensk control tower staff).

    – During the crash, there were no Polish Government Protection Bureau (BOR) officers, and there were no cars or transport waiting for the delegation on the landing strip, ready to take them from the airport to the Katyn memorial site, or any journalists waiting for the Polish delegation. There were no pyrotechnics at the airport designated to the check the cars. The lack of transport for the 96 member delegation should have been notified to a BOR superior (who was not there) and in turn to the Minister of the Interior and Administration. There should have been at least 12 vehicles ready to transport the delegation from the airport to the Katyn memorial site with at least two Russian vehicles – one opening and one closing the column. According to transcripts of the recorded tower voice conversations, cars along with protection for the Polish delegation were inside the Il-76 plane, which, unfortunately, for unknown reasons, did not land, with the pilots only touching the landing strip with the wheels but eventually picking up the plane and flying away (over an hour before the Tu154 approach). Since the Il-76, supposedly carrying transportation and protection for the delegation, for unknown reasons did not land, over an hour before the Tu-154M, then why was the Polish crew not informed of this and why was the polish presidential plane not diverted and given permission to descend, supposedly to a 100 meters (according to witnesses – 50 meters, thus breaching regulation) and make a landing approach?”

    Also, I’m far from an expert on any of this, but the fact all the crash debris and black boxes have been retained by Russia, as well as the coffins being sealed in Russia, does feel a bit off. Is there another precedent or reason for this that’s more commonplace?

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