Using videos posted by local residents in Russia's Belgorod region back in June, investigators identified the Buk missile launcher seen in Ukraine on July 17th as part of a convoy of Buk missile launchers. Another finding is that the Buk is likely to have belonged a Russian brigade who operated the missile launcher while in Ukraine, Censor.NET reports citing bellingcat.com
The Buk launcher can be identified based on a number of distinctive features, including white marks on the left side of its chassis, and what looks like traces of a number that has been painted over. Here is a comparison of the Buk seen in previously unpublicised video taken in Russia on June 23 with a well-known image from Paris Match, which shows a Buk in Donetsk at 9 a.m. on July 17.
On the left: the Buk in a column of Russian military vehicles seen on the evening on June 23 on the motorway from Staryy Oskol to the OEMK steel works in the Belgorod area. [Source] On the Right: Image from Paris Match. [Source]
The above picture with the contrast boosted showing a third matching mark.
Numerous earlier studies of vehicles inside Ukraine have shown it has been standard practice for Russian forces to paint over the numbers on their vehicles before sending them to Ukraine. In the Paris Match image, much of the remaining number has now been painted over. However, it is still possible to see the top curve of what was a "2" and the other two white marks. It's important to note that these markings appear in exactly the same positions on the Buk in both images.
Here is a comparison of the Paris Match picture with an image of the same Buk in a convoy of Russian military vehicles in Alexeyevka, a town around 70 miles from Staryy Oskol, on June 24.
Left: Same Paris Match image as above. Right: image from a video taken near the Magnit store in Alexeyevka, Russia on the 24th of June. [Source]
The above image also shows the matching marks on the left side of the Buk. It's also possible to confirm that this is the same Buk by looking at the other side of the vehicle. The Buk seen moving back to the Russian border on the 17th has a white patch on the armoured skirt of its right side. This patch is also discernible on a video filmed around Staryy Oskol in Russia, which was uploaded on the 23rd of June.
The videos of the convoy of Russian vehicles in June show a number of Buks are part of the convoy. However, keeping track of the one with with the markings that match those seen in Ukraine in July is simple, as only three Buks in the column do not have railings on the back of their turrets.
Here is an image to illustrate what these railing look like, and what the Buk looks like without them; the top image is one of the systems seen in the Alexeyevka video, while the bottom image captures Buk that is suspected of being used to shoot down MH17, filmed in Staryy Oskol.
Out of the Buk launchers in the column filmed in Russia in late June, three are without railings on back of the turret. Two out of these three have identification numbers on the side; number 231 and 232. Buk number 231 can be ruled out, as the Buk in the July videos and photos has completely different markings on its right side and does not have a patch of white on its right skirt.
Buk 231 with a diamond shaped marking and no white patch. [Source]
The below images show that the Buk that was filmed in Luhansk after the attack does not have the railings on the back of its turret.
The Buk that had been seen in the Staryy Oskol area in June has marks on both sides that match those seen on the Buk before and after the attack on July 17th. Just like the Buk linked to the attack on MH17, it does not have railings on the back of its turret, and the back section of its turret is also in dark colour that matches what we can see in the photograph in Torez. The vehicle is also distinctive: for instance, it is the only one to have that outstanding set of markings out of the entire column of vehicles that was seen in late June.
Furthermore, the fact that it was heading towards the Ukrainian border in the weeks prior to the attack at the airliner means it is possible to conclude that the Buk seen in Russia was the Buk that was smuggled into Ukraine and used to shoot down the MH17.
It's also possible to determine which Russian unit the Buk is likely to belong to by examining the vehicles in the column. The videos of the convoy travelling to Ukraine show that the vehicles have area code "50" on their registration plates, which indicates that they belong to the Moscovskiy Voenniy Okrug (MVO), or the Moscow Military District.
The area code "50" is visible on the registration plates of the vehicles in a video taken in the Krasnenskiy area on the morning of the 24th of June.
Truck in the convoy heading to Alexeyevka on the 24th of June (note: the timestamp on the video is wrong). [Source]
The dashcam recording appears to have a time/date stamp error and reads "2011.01.01". This is clearly wrong for numerous reasons, including the summer weather in the video is radically different from the Staryy Oskol area in wintertime and the exact same vehicles are visible in multiple videos; see the white minibus here, here and here at 0:54.
A resident of Staryy Oskol also confirmed that the registration numbers on the vehicles in the convoy had the "50" code. Here is what the user, called "rokerrson," posted on instagram on the 23rd of June:
The Moscow Military District has two anti-aircraft missile brigades that are specially outfitted with Buk systems. These are the 5th Zrbr "Buk", which is based in Shuya, and the 53rd Zrbr "Buk" based in Kursk. The 5th brigade can be ruled out, since according to multiple sources it has been moved out of the Moscow Military District and into the Western Military District, and is now head-quartered in St. Petersburg, where it uses the "43" area code on its vehicles.
As Kursk is relatively close to Staryy Oskol, it makes sense that the convoy was comprised of the 53rd brigade and departed from its base at V/Ch (Military Unit) 32406. This is also confirmed by the earliest video of the convoy, taken during in the morning or afternoon of the 23rd June, which shows the vehicles driving away from Kursk and in the direction of Kharkiv. It is therefore likely that the Buk belongs to the 53rd brigade from Kursk.
Moreover, it also appears the 53rd "Buk" brigade not only uses the "50" area code on their registration plates, but their troops have uploaded pictures of some of the same vehicles that can been seen in the videos taken around Staryy Oskol. Here are two photos of the same truck: the first image is from the video in the Krasnenskiy area, while the second one was uploaded by Ivan Krasnoproshin, who serves in the 53rd brigade.
On the left: a truck in the convoy to Alexeyevka on the 24th of June. [Source] On the right, the same truck photographed by Sergeant Ivan Krasnoproshin of the 53rd "Buk" brigade in Kursk. The license plate reads "0639АН50". [Source]
Here are pictures of a Buk Snow Drift Radar unit. The first was uploaded by Krasnoproshin in 2013 and the second is from the video of the convoy in Alexeyevka.
The third vehicle from the left is a Snow Drift Radar that can be used as part of the Buk system. The number on the side reads "201". [Source]
A Snow Drift Radar with identification number "201" in Alexeyevka on the 24th of July. [Source]
Krasnoproshin inside one of the unit's vehicles. The chevrons indicate that he is a sergeant. [Source]
The following picture shows Krasnoproshin at the headquarters of military unit 32406. Note the missiles in the background which are displayed for show on the parade ground.
Ivan Krosnoproshin at the parade ground of the 53rd brigade on the 22nd of July 2012 [Source]
The following image shows the parade ground of the 53rd brigade from above, the same missiles are visible on the southern side of the parade ground.
This image suggests that the large number of vehicles seen in the column in June probably came from the 53rd brigade. The brigade itself is part of the Russian Protivovozdushnaya Oborona (PVO), or Anti-Aircraft Defense troops. As a unit specially supplied and trained to use the Buk, the 53rd brigade had both the ability and the means to shoot down MH17 on July 17.
The Buk that was seen leaving the suspected area of the missile launch on the 17th of July most likely belonged to and was manned by Russian troops from the 53rd Kursk Brigade. The new information presented in this article adds to the existing evidence that the Russian government bears responsibility for the tragedy.