A FAIR amount of detail has been gathered about the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 on July 17, 2014, in eastern Ukraine, which killed all 298 people aboard. The plane was hit by a Russian-made Buk missile launched by the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade based at Kursk, Russia. An investigation has identified four men — three Russians and one Ukrainian — who helped bring the Buk launcher to eastern Ukraine. But a missing piece has been: Who was responsible, and who approved?

Russia has for several years insisted it did not shoot down MH17. The Kremlin tried all manner of tricks to lay the blame on Ukraine. The body of evidence, however, clearly points to Russia, and now a new piece of evidence reinforces that suspicion. The open-source investigative group Bellingcat, along with its Russian partner the Insider and the McClatchy Washington Bureau, reports that a high-ranking official of the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB, oversaw the separatists and deployment of the missile. They have identified him as Col. Gen. Andrey Ivanovich Burlaka, chief of the operational staff of the FSB’s Border Service and one of the most senior officers in the FSB, a successor to the Soviet Union’s KGB. The BBC separately reached a similar conclusion.

A Dutch-led Joint Investigative Team, including Australia, Malaysia, Belgium and Ukraine, concluded in 2018 that the missile system belonged to a Russian brigade. Then in 2019, the investigative team named the four suspects, who are charged with murder in a trial just getting underway. They are all presumed to be in Russia, which has dismissed the international investigation, saying it is biased against Moscow. The four are to be tried in absentia. But investigators have also appealed for more information about who else was involved.

The international investigators and Bellingcat have scrutinized intercepted telephone conversations during the period before and after the shoot-down. Over and over again, they heard reference to a shadowy FSB officer, “Vladimir Ivanovich.” According to Bellingcat, the officer at the start of July 2014 “was already in a crucial role supervising militant activities” in the separatist region “and authorizing the flow of weapons across the border.” This continued until the end of July. The officer, the intercepts show, “played a critical role in the chain of command” between the separatists and the Russian government.

Bellingcat identified “Vladimir Ivanovich” as Gen. Burlaka by scrutinizing leaked text messages and travel records, and by comparing the audio of the intercepted calls involving “Vladimir Ivanovich” with the audio from a Russian television broadcast of Gen. Burlaka’s voice. The findings suggest President Vladimir Putin’s regime was overseeing the separatists at the time the Russian missile was fired at the airliner.

Mr. Putin, a former director of the FSB, surely knows exactly what happened. Yet when asked two years ago whether a Russian missile could have destroyed the plane, Mr. Putin said, “Of course not.” How much longer will Russia continue to deny that it bears responsibility for this awful crime?

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