The man who reportedly organised the shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, Igor Girkin, went to ground soon after bragging about the feat.
Girkin, also known as Strelkov (“shooter”), calls himself the Minister of Defence of the Donetsk People’s Republic.
He is a retired Russian military colonel and was charged by Ukrainian authorities for performing acts of terrorism.
At one stage, he is believed to have worked for Russia’s counter-terrorism unit, the Federal Security Service (FSB).
It is allegedly Strelkov’s voice in a video of the incident that is heard announcing:
‘The plane was hit! Look at those black spots, these are the parts, flying … it was a blast … look, look, black smoke!’
Another voice responds with a laugh and: ‘It was worth bringing this thing, wasn’t it?’
Here’s the translation:
First man (believed to be Strelkov): Just now the plane was hit
Second man: All over! Is is already over!
Strelkov: It is going down now somewhere in the Progress area
Second: It is over! It is over!
Strelkov: We are out now, watching. Look at those black spots, these are parts, flying. And it was a blast…
Third man: Yes, I see
Strelkov: Look, look, black smoke right behind Terrikon, where Progess is..
Third: It is now when real work starts.
Second: F*** plane!
Strelkov: Look, look at the smoke!
Third: That was a blast!
Strelkov: Call him now!
Second: They got it, they hit it! They shoot and hit it!
Third: (laughs) It was worth bringing this thing, wasn’t it?
After the successful hit, Strelkov tweeted the following:
‘In the area Torez we just hit down An-26, it’s lying somewhere in the mine “Progress”.
‘We warned you – do not fly in “our sky”. And here is the video confirmation of the “bird dropping”.
‘Bird fell near the mine, the residential sector was not disturbed. Civilians are not injured.’
There’s a few lines in that video dialogue which now point to how the disaster came to pass.
There are reports that the rebels were testing out a BUK missile system they had just got hold of, which was likely to have either been seized from a captured Ukrainian cache or supplied by Russia, according to former UN weapons analyst Ben Rich.
The third man’s claim that “It is now when real work starts” and “It was worth bringing this thing, wasn’t it?” seem to support the notion that Strelkov was testing the firepower of his new acquisition.
It’s likely he also believed he was downing a military aircraft – the An-26 he mentioned in his “We warned you” tweet, which was deleted soon after it was posted.
Ukraine’s secret service – the SBU – then leaked a conversation between militants nicknamed “Major” and “Greek” as the separatists inspected the crash site.
According to a transcript translated by the Kyiv Post, the rebels discuss their realisation that it is a civilian aircraft and seeing dead civilians.
“It’s 100% a passenger aircraft,” a man identified as “Major” is recorded as saying, noting that he saw no weapons on-site. “Absolutely nothing. Civilian items, medicinal stuff, towels, toilet paper.”
About 20 minutes after the plane crash, the SBU says Strelkov placed a call to Russia’s main intelligence department.
UPDATE: This post has been amended to reflect the fact that Igor Bezler and Igor Girkin are not the same man. Bezler is also a pro-Russian rebel leader active in Ukraine who has also been linked to the shooting down of MH17.
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