Bellingcat says it has identified up to 100 Russian soldiers from a Kursk-based air defence unit who may have knowledge of the movements of the missile launcher that destroyed the Boeing 777 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014.
Dutch prosecutors confirmed on Monday that they are “seriously studying” the claims, made in a 123-page report based on an analysis of thousands of photographs and social media posts by members of Russia’s 53rd air defence brigade.
“We received the report just after Christmas,” Wim de Bruin, a spokesman for the Dutch prosecutor’s office said.
“We will seriously study it and determine whether it can be used for the criminal inquiry,” de Bruin said.
Malaysian airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over separatist-held territory in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 people on board.
An air accident investigation by the Dutch Safety Board released in October concluded that the Boeing 777 was destroyed by a Buk anti-aircraft missile fired from a position inside separatist territory.
A separate criminal investigation, led by the Dutch prosecutors’ office, is expected to name suspects in the case later this year.
The so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic”, the Russian-backed self-proclaimed entity that controls the area, says it never had access to Buk missiles and has dismissed photographic, video, and witness evidence of a Buk launcher operating in the area that day as fabrications.
Russia continues to deny sending troops or military equipment to eastern Ukraine and has blamed Kyiv for downing the plane.
Bellingcat first claimed links between a launch vehicle spotted in eastern Ukraine on the day MH17 was shot down and the 2nd Battalion of the 53rd Air Defence Brigade in a separate report last year.
Mr Higgins said he and colleagues subsequently spent over year sifting through soldiers’ social media accounts to piece together a detailed picture of the 53rd’s command structure.
“We have the names and photos of the soldiers in the June convoy who travelled with the MH17 Buk, their commanders, their commanders’ commanders, etc,” said Mr Higgins.
“This gives us a group of about 100 individuals who would have been aware of the the MH17 Buk’s movements, and about 20 who would likely have had direct involvement with what the Buk was up to.”
While most names in the report have been withheld at prosecutors’ request, Mr Higgins confirmed that they include “Sergey M,” the commander of the 53rd air defence brigade, and “Dmitry T,” the commander of the brigade’s 2nd battalion.
A redacted version of the report will be published later, Mr Higgins added.