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Former Donbass militia leader awarded $4,600 in damages from Bellingcat over claims he was involved in downing of MH17 in Ukraine

Former Donbass militia leader awarded $4,600 in damages from Bellingcat over claims he was involved in downing of MH17 in Ukraine
A court in St. Petersburg has ordered investigative group Bellingcat to pay 340,000 rubles ($4,600) to Igor Bezler, a former separatist commander in the Donbass, over an article that linked him to the downing of flight MH17.

On July 17, 2014, a Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down while flying over Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast, at a time when heavy fighting was taking place in the area.

The incident was investigated by the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) and the Dutch-led joint investigation team (JIT), who came to the conclusion that the plane was brought down by a Buk surface-to-air missile. The JIT claimed that the Buk originated in Russia. The Russian government has denied all involvement.

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In 2019, the Western-state-funded group Bellingcat wrote an article linking Igor Bezler to the plane’s downing. At the time of the incident, Bezler was a commander fighting for the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, a breakaway unrecognized state in eastern Ukraine. According to Bellingcat, intercepted calls show that he was informed by a subordinate that a “birdie” was flying towards him. Bellingcat also claimed that he gave the instructions to report the message about the plane “upwards.” In another intercept, Bezler – who goes by the call sign ‘Bes’ – allegedly reported the downing to a Russian military intelligence officer.

According to Bezler, the published article caused him damage. He asked the court for 500,000 rubles ($6,800) in compensation, and was granted 340,000 rubles ($4,600) of the claim.

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The lawyer representing Bellingcat, Sarkis Darbinyan from the Digital Rights Center, told Russian online publication, the Insider, that his client would appeal.

Bezler has long denied claims that he bears some responsibility for the shooting down of MH17. For example, in 2016, after he was accused of allowing a Buk launcher to pass through territory he controlled, he mocked a video reconstruction made by the Joint Investigation Team of the missile being transported as “animated science fiction.”

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