Russian officer recognized on tape in Dutch MH17 investigation

Pieces of flight MH17 at the crash site.

One of the individuals who may have been involved in the downing of flight MH17 according to the Dutch Public Prosecution Service (OM), was recognized by Ukraine as a former high ranking Russian intelligence officer.

It is the first indication that the Dutch Prosecution Service is considering the involvement of high ranking Russian (former) servicemen.

On Monday, the Public Prosecution Service published four tapped telephone conversations from the period surrounding the crash. The service did not reveal the callers’ identities, but explained that the conversations featured “separatists”. On Monday, chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke spoke of “authentic recordings” that “were analyzed through and through”.

SBU identifies Petrovsky

As it turns out, one of the tapped conversations was disclosed earlier by the Ukrainian Secret Service (SBU), shortly after the crash. In this “reconstruction”, the SBU identifies one of the callers as “Sergey Nikolayevich Petrovsky”, an officer with the Military Intelligence Service (GRU). In interviews, “Khmury” - as Petrovsky likes to be called - said he was discharged from the Russian army in April 2014 with the rank of major general. Immediately after leaving the army, Petrovsky joined the Russian rebel leader Igor Gorkin, better known as Strelkov.

At the time of the crash, Petrovsky was an intelligence officer and Strelkov’s deputy commander in Donetsk. In the SBU’s sound clip, Petrovsky’s conversation partner greets him as “Nikolayevich”. In the version of the tape of the Public Prosecution Service, this part was muted. According to the Organized Crime Office, the names were made unrecognizable regarding the safety of the individuals in the recordings, even though these can be found all over the internet already.

Key figure within criminal investigation

The tapped phone call shows Petrovsky may be a key figure within the criminal investigation. For instance, Petrovsky was the one who arranged the transport of the BUK missile-system to Donetsk, and from there to the battlefront. “There’s no need to hide it, it’s going there straightaway”, Petrovsky tells “Buryat” on the phone. Petrovsky uses concealing language - “Is it what I think it is?” - Buryat, however, is less careful. “Yeah, yeah, a Buk.” The Organized Crime Office stated before that there are indications MH17 was downed by a Buk missile.

The rebels in eastern Ukraine use the Ukrainian GSM network, which is easy to tap. Over the past months, the SBU uploaded a large amount of these conversations to YouTube. Other audio footage of Petrovsky can be found there as well. The supposed intelligence officer seems to be the same man who can be heard in two new tapped conversations that were published by the Public Prosecution Service last Monday. These conversations reveal that the Buk missile was transported to Russia after the flight crash by a group of men under supervision of someone called “Bibliotekar” (Russian for “librarian”.)

Russian former servicemen turning up in Ukraine do fit a pattern. Igor Strelkov claims to have been an intelligence officer as well. Moscow openly admits that “volunteers” have joined the rebels in the war in Ukraine, but denies the involvement of Russian battle forces in the conflict - despite increasing proof of the contrary.

Footage released by the Joint Investigation Team:

Moscow is denying any involvement

Flight MH17, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, crashed near the Eastern-Ukrainian village Grabovo on July 17th, 2014. All 298 people on board perished, 196 of whom were Dutch. Independent journalism yielded indications for Russian involvement before. Investigation site Bellingcat ascertained that a Buk missile- launcher, that was photographed and filmed in the vicinity of the crash site on July 17th, had been part of a Russian military convoy near the Ukrainian border. The Netherlands run the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), an international investigation team including Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine. Because of the tense relationship with Russia, the investigation has a highly sensitive character. Moscow is denying any involvement in the crash and claims MH17 was probably shot down by a Ukrainian jet.

The Organized Crime Office points out that this scenario is still under investigation. By now, the Netherlands have officially requested Russia for information. Chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke is hoping to travel to Moscow shortly in order to view Russian evidence on the flight crash. The Dutch Public Prosecution Service would not comment on the issue this morning. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs was unable to give a reaction as well. Russian media, which are controlled by the government, stated earlier that the SBU’s tapped telephone conversations were “corrupted”.

Translation by Welmoed Smith

Read more on this subject: Strong evidence found of separatist involvement in downing of MH17