Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17: Did This Russian Soldier Help Shoot Down Plane?

Was the Russian soldier in these photos, 24-year-old Alexander Sotkin, somehow involved in shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17? That’s the question raised by the series of generally silly selfies that Sotkin posted to his Instagram account which, according to an analysis by BuzzFeed, prove that he was stationed, at least for a short time, in Ukraine.

And by his own statements in the photo captions, Sotkin, a communications specialist, worked on a Buk missile launcher — the type of sophisticated anti-aircraft weapon believed to have been used to shoot down the Malaysia Airlines plane.

BuzzFeed noted that an iPad, from which Sotkin apparently posted the bored selfies to Instagram, automatically attaches a “geo tag” to each photo, that is, a highly accurate marker indicating where the photo was taken, based on data the iPad obtains from a satellite.

At least two Sotkin’s photos are marked with locations inside Ukraine. But Russia has consistently denied sending its troops across the border into Ukraine.

This grainy nighttime selfie was taken on June 30, in the village of Krasna Talychka in eastern Ukraine, a territory controlled by pro-Russian separatist militants.

Russian Soldier 1

Then on July 5, Sotkin was back inside Ukraine, this time in he village of Krasnyi Derkul, here he snapped this selfie and uploaded it to his Instagram account.

Russian Soldier 2

The caption on the photo read “time to sleep! #army #exercises2014 #night #sleep #selfie”

Then, in one of his latest selfies — a selfie collage, actually — Sotkin was back in Russia, inside a Buk missile launcher, by his own account. The photo was posted on July 27, this past Sunday.

Russian Soldier 3

The caption read, “Sitting around, working on a Buk, listening to music, basically a good Sunday.”

According to the BuzzFeed report, Sotkin’s social media profiles identified him as a communications specialist. To operate a Buk missile launcher requires communications specialists exactly like Sotkin. The communications specialists could be at a separate location from the launcher itself, working to identify incoming aircraft on radar, for targeting by the soldiers operating the launcher itself.

At the very least, Sotkin’s Instagram selfies could create a serious international incident by providing evidence for the presence of Russian troops inside Ukraine.

But is it a stretch to conclude that Sotkin himself could have been involved on the shootdown of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17? Possibly. But it is known that he worked on a Buk and was inside Ukraine on dates just a couple of weeks before the shootdown that killed all 298 people on board the plane.

On the other hand, as the Australian news site noted, the term “Buk” is also Russian slang for a laptop computer, so it is possible that Sotkin simply meant that was doing some kind of work on a computer and not on a missile launcher at all.

Either way, the Instagram selfies posted by Russian soldier Alexander Sotkin raise disturbing questions about the depth of Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine, and the Russian connection to the shootdown of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, something else which Russia has denied.