‘Strong indications’ Putin supplied missile that downed MH17, say investigators
There are “strong indications” that Vladimir Putin decided to supply the Russian missile system that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over Ukraine, international investigators say.
The team investigating the 2014 incident, in which all 298 passengers and crew on board were killed, say they have found convincing evidence of the Russian president’s involvement in allowing the Buk-TELAR missile system that downed the jet into Ukraine.
However, the team – which is made up of experts from the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Belgium and Ukraine – says it is suspending its investigation, claiming to have insufficient evidence to launch any fresh prosecutions.
Dutch prosecutor Digna van Boetzelaer said the investigation “has now reached its limit ... all leads have been exhausted” as the team laid out the evidence it had uncovered. Russia has always denied involvement in the downing of the civilian jet.
In response to the announcement, Ukraine said it would use all international legal mechanisms to try to bring Mr Putin to justice for the shooting down of flight MH17.
“The difficulty of obtaining evidence, and functional immunity, do not allow prosecuting the president of the RF [Russian Federation] in national courts,” the country’s prosecutor general, Andriy Kostin, wrote on Twitter. “We will seek to employ all the existing international legal mechanisms to bring him to justice.”
The Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said that the ending of the investigation is a “bitter disappointment” but that the Netherlands “will continue to call the Russian Federation to account for its role in this tragedy”. Most of the victims of the downing of MH17 were Dutch. Ten were British nationals.
At the time the plane was shot down, Ukrainian forces were fighting Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region. Russia illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, but denied its military was involved in the fighting in Donetsk at that time.
Last November, a Dutch court convicted convicted two former Russian intelligence agents and a Ukrainian separatist leader of murder for helping to arrange the Russian Buk missile system that was used to shoot the Boeing 777 down on 17 July 2014.
The three men, who were tried in absentia, remain at large. One Russian was acquitted.
As part of the conviction of the three men, the Dutch court ruled that Russia had in fact had “overall control” of separatist forces in Donetsk starting from May 2014.
The Russian foreign ministry accused the court of bowing to pressure from Dutch politicians, prosecutors and the news media.
Prosecutors said on Wednesday that they could not identify the specific soldiers responsible for firing the missile that downed the plane, which is said to have come from Russia’s 53rd brigade in Kursk.
They cited a 2014 phone intercept between Russian officials as evidence that Mr Putin’s approval had been necessary before a request for equipment made by the separatists could be granted.
In addition, they played a 2017 conversation between Mr Putin himself and the Russian-appointed chief administrator of Ukraine’s Luhansk region, in which they discussed the military situation and a prisoner exchange.
Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 in what it has termed a “special military operation”, and in September said it had annexed Donetsk and three other Ukrainian regions. The annexing was decried as illegal by the international community.
Piet Ploeg, whose brother, brother’s wife, and nephew all died in the downing of MH17 and who now heads an organisation representing the families of the victims, said he was disappointed that the investigation had ended, but was glad that the prosecutors had laid out their evidence.
“We can’t do a lot with it; Putin can’t be prosecuted,” he said. “We wanted to know who was ultimately responsible, and that’s clear.”
As well as the criminal trial that was held in the Netherlands, the Dutch and Ukrainian governments are suing Russia at the European Court of Human Rights over Moscow’s alleged role in the downing of MH17.