Moscow, Apr 28 (efe-epa).- A senior official in Russia’s Federal Security Service has been identified in a report by investigative news website Bellingcat and its Russian colleagues from The Insider as a potential key figure in the July 2014 downing of a passenger jet in eastern Ukraine.
The investigative report published Tuesday names that individual as Col. Gen. Andrey Burlaka and says he is the highest-ranking Russian official identified thus far as a person of interest in the criminal investigation into the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), which occurred on July 17, 2014, while the Boeing 777 was being flown from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 283 passengers and 15 crew members on board.
There were no survivors of the crash.
In November, the Netherlands-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) established to conduct the criminal probe made public 23 telephone intercepts of conversations between senior Russian officials and mainly ethnic-Russian rebels in Ukraine’s Donbass region in the days prior to the downing of the jet.
It said then, citing those intercepts, that in the months before the tragedy Russia had exerted influence on administrative, financial and military matters in the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk.
Donetsk, a bastion of pro-Russian rebels seeking to break away from Ukraine, is the territory from which the missile that shot down MH17 was launched.
Several of the phone conversations refer to a man named “Vladimir Ivanovich,” who according to Bellingcat’s analysis of the call intercepts as a whole, was clearly a senior official who played an essential role in supervising the movement of weapons from Russia to Ukraine and would have to have directly authorized the transfer of the Buk missile launcher used to down the aircraft.
The investigation identifies that individual as Burlaka, a colonel general who is first deputy to the head of the Border Service of the FSB, Russia’s main security agency and the successor to the KGB, and held that position at the time of the shoot-down.
The head of the Border Service, in turn, is the first deputy to the head of the FSB, Alexander Bortnikov, which “makes Andrey Burlaka one of the senior-most officers in the FSB,” Bellingcat said.
The investigative news website said it became fully confident about the true identity of the speaker in question after locating a Russian television interview given by Burlaka in January 2013.
“A subjective comparison of the voice and morph-linguistic speech characteristics between Andrey Burlaka and ‘Vladimir Ivanovich’ resulted in a very convincing match between the two,” Bellingcat said.
Four main suspects in the downing of MH17 – three Russians and a Ukrainian – have been tried in absentia since March in the Netherlands.
Russia did not immediately respond Tuesday to Bellingcat’s report, but in June of last year Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry slammed the JIT for alleging that Russian military personnel were involved in the shoot-down and accusing Moscow of failing to cooperate.
Insisting it has been “vitally interested in finding the truth,” that ministry said then in a statement on the crash that it had provided the JIT with “primary radar data and documents showing that the missile that downed the Malaysian Boeing belonged to Ukraine.” EFE-EPA