Russian president Vladimir Putin awarded the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade the honorary title “Guards” for “mass heroism and valor, endurance, and courage shown by the personnel of the brigade in combat actions to defend the Fatherland”. The decree has been published on the Russian government's official legal portal.
In 2014, the 53rd Brigade was based in Kursk and owned the Buk missile system that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17. An investigation by Bellingcat revealed that the Buk in question had been delivered to the air crash zone by servicemen of the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade. A subsequent investigation of the crash confirmed these findings. The Court in Hague that heard the case wanted to question brigade commander Sergei Muchkayev as a witness, but Russia rejected the Netherlands’ request to that effect.
In 2016, Bellingcat published the results of its two-year-long investigation of Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade as a 118-page report titled “MH17 – Potential Suspects and Witnesses from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade”, available in Russian and English. The report provided exhaustive information on the structure, armament, personnel, and history of this military unit, as well as data on its place in the hierarchy of the Russian Armed Forces.
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was a passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014. Flying over the Donetsk Region, the Boeing 777 was shot down. None of its 298 passengers or crew survived.
A joint investigation by Bellingcat and The Insider identified the key suspects in this case: officers with the call signs ‘Orion’ and ‘Delfin’. ‘Delfin’ (“dolphin”) turned out to be Colonel General Nikolai Tkachev, Chief Inspector of Russia’s Central Military District. ‘Orion’ was GRU general Oleg Ivannikov, also known as the former defense minister of South Ossetia Andrey Laptev. He orchestrated the activities of Russian troops in Ukraine, and among other things, was a top commander at the Wagner PMC.
In November 2022, the court sentenced the three defendants in the case to life imprisonment in absentia. Russian nationals Igor Girkin (Strelkov) and Sergei Dubinsky, as well as Leonid Kharchenko, were found guilty of murder and actions that led to the plane crash.