As Bellingcat and The Insider found out, the transportation of the Buka, from which the Malaysian airliner was shot down, was handled by GRU officer Oleg Ivannikov. How was he found and what is known about him? A senior GRU officer Oleg Ivannikov, former head of the South Ossetian defense department Andrei Laptev, a certain Andrei Ivanovich with the call sign “Orion” – all this is the same person allegedly involved in the transportation of the Buk Russian air defense system from which, in July 2014, a Malaysian airline plane was shot down in the sky over the Donetsk region, following the flight MH17. These are the results of a joint investigation conducted by the expert journalistic group Bellingcat and the Russian edition of The Insider. On Friday, May 25, these data were presented to reporters at a press conference in The Hague.
The investigation was conducted after in 2016 the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in the case of MH17 appealed to the public to identify the two key suspects in the crash. The identity of the first of them with the call sign “Dolphin” Bellingcat and The Insider was established in December last year.
Now, having examined information from open sources, experts have found that the second person JIT is looking for (a certain Andrei Ivanovich with the call sign “Orion”) is GRU officer Oleg Ivannikov. “Bellingcat found that during the crash of MH17, Oleg Ivannikov was highly likely to be an officer in the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian Ministry of Defense and served there at least until the end of September 2017,” the investigation said on the Bellingcat website.
How they came to Oleg Ivannikov
In July 2014, the Security Service of Ukraine released a recording of an intercepted telephone conversation between the then deputy head of the defense department of the self-proclaimed “Lugansk People’s Republic” Oleg Bugrov and a man named Andrey Ivanovich with the call sign “Orion”. This conversation, according to the SBU, took place on July 14, 2014. The interlocutors, apparently, discussed plans to bring down Ukrainian military aircraft.
“We already have a Buk, we’ll shoot down,” says Orion on the record. Three days after this alleged conversation, the Boeing MH17 crashed in the area of the village of Grabovo in the Donetsk region. All 298 people on board died.
According to the SBU, the GRU officer was hiding under the call sign “Orion”, but the Ukrainian intelligence services did not substantiate this assumption in any way. Along with recordings of conversations, the SBU also announced the telephone numbers of the interlocutors. According to Bellingcat and The Insider, the Orion number is in open databases. For example, in the TrueCaller application, this number belongs to the user under the nickname Oreon.
“Female” voice and careless order
Through an unnamed Ukrainian journalist, Bellingcat experts received a printout of calls for a number owned by Oreon. Among them were Russian numbers. In an open database, one of them was recorded as “Andrei Ivanovich Ivannikov, GRU from Husky.” As Bellingcat and The Insider explain, Husky is the name of one of the military units in the self-proclaimed “DPR”. In another database, the same number is recorded as “Ivannikov”. This information was the first confirmation that the person with the call sign “Orion” is really known as Andrei Ivanovich and is probably associated with the GRU, the Bellingcat website says: “Most importantly, this gave the team of investigators a clue that he might be known by the name of Ivannikov “.
Continuing the search for this surname in open databases, experts came across an order in an online store in the name of Oleg, made to 76 Polina Osipenko Street, Moscow. On this street, the house numbering ends at number 22. But if you go further, you can run into another building, located at Khoroshevskoye Shosse, house 76. Previously, there was the GRU headquarters. In 2017, a man named Oleg ordered a sports respirator in an online store, the authors of the investigation said. True, they did not specify that the GRU headquarters moved from Khoroshevskoye Highway back in 2006.
However, in another database the same phone number was registered to Oleg Vladimirovich Ivannikov, born April 2, 1967. His home address was also indicated there. The investigators also managed to find his home telephone number at which they called. The voice on the other end of the wire coincided with the voice of the person with the call sign “Orion” on the SBU record. It was difficult not to recognize him, because the voice was unusually high for a man. The Insider even calls it “feminine.” This was proof that Orion and Oleg Ivannikov are one and the same person. Bellingcat experts also found a man named Oleg Vladimirovich Ivannikov, who was born on April 2, 1967 and lives in Moscow, in Russian official databases. It states that Ivannikov works in the Ministry of Defense.
Who is Oleg Ivannikov
As the investigation team managed to find out, Ivannikov was born in the city of Karl-Marx-Stadt in the former GDR in the family of a Soviet military. In the 1980s, he studied at the Kiev Higher Military Aviation Engineering School and the Moscow Aviation Institute.
Since 2004, he worked in South Ossetia under the name of Andrei Ivanovich Laptev, and from 2006 to 2008 he headed the defense department there. At the same time, he avoided publicity in every possible way, since he worked under a pseudonym, investigators found out. In 2008, Ivannikov and his family moved to Moscow, but retained contact with South Ossetia, which, according to the investigation, went to in 2013. True, under his real name and by car registered with the FSB.
In addition to the fact that Ivannikov participated in the fighting in eastern Ukraine, he was subordinate to the private military company Wagner, whose mercenaries fought in the Donbass and Syria, the investigation said. According to Bellingcat and The Insider, he directly gave orders to the head of PMC Dmitry Utkin.
What is Ivannikov doing now?
Where Ivannikov is now, is unknown. Bellingcat believes that he can still serve in the Russian armed forces. “This morning we called his home phone and talked with his wife,” said Belingcat founder Eliot Higgins. – She said that he was not there and could not be contacted in the next few weeks. I think he’s still doing something with what he did in Ukraine. ”
Higgins suggested that Ivannikov could have a high rank in the Russian armed forces. Apparently, the expert added, in 2014 he was involved in transporting Buka to the territory of Ukraine and back to Russia, from which the Malaysian Airlines Boeing was shot down.
On May 24, the joint investigation team released the interim results of the disaster investigation. It follows from them that the missile that shot down the aircraft was fired from the installation belonging to the 53rd Russian anti-aircraft missile brigade from near Kursk. True, at a press conference on Friday, May 25, Bellingcat representatives emphasized that they were not able to determine what specific role Ivannikov played in the crash of flight MH17. “It’s not clear to us exactly where he was on the day of the crash – in Ukraine, Russia or with a column of military equipment,” Higgins explained. “We can judge by phone calls that, most likely, he was on the border with Ukraine and organized the transportation of military equipment and soldiers.”
Higgins hopes that JIT, which has been studying Bellingcat’s findings for several months, will subsequently release more detailed information about Ivannikov. He added that the data provided by Bellingcat and The Insider should help the official investigation identify the people responsible for transporting the Russian Buk to the Donetsk region.