An international team of investigators announced on Wednesday that they have found “strong indications” that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the supply of a heavy anti-aircraft weapon to Ukrainian separatists, which was used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in 2014. The weapon, a Buk missile system, brought down the passenger plane that was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board.
Russia has always denied its involvement in the tragedy, and the Joint Investigation Team stated that they had insufficient evidence to prosecute Putin or any other suspects. The 8 1/2-year investigation into the shooting has now been suspended, with Dutch prosecutor Digna van Boetzelaer saying, “without Russian cooperation, the investigation has now reached its limit. All leads have been exhausted.”
The Joint Investigation Team, consisting of experts from the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Belgium, and Ukraine, played a recording of an intercepted phone call in which they believed Putin could be heard discussing the conflict in eastern Ukraine. The team also informed the families of the victims before making the findings public, with Dutch police representative Andy Kraag stating, “we’re really clear on what has happened, but the answer to the question why MH17 was shot down still remains in Russia.”
Russian officials have said that the decision to provide rebels with military support in the summer of 2014 was in Putin’s hands, with the investigative team citing a phone conversation referring to Putin as “the person who is currently at a summit in France.” At the time, Putin was attending a commemoration of D-Day in France.
The announcement by the Joint Investigation Team comes three months after a Dutch court convicted two Russians and a Ukrainian rebel for their roles in the MH17 shooting down. One Russian was acquitted. The convictions, as well as the court’s finding that the surface-to-air Buk missile came from a Russian military base, have been seen as clear indications of Moscow’s role in the tragedy. However, Russia continues to deny any involvement.
The findings will likely strengthen the case against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights, where the Dutch and Ukrainian governments are suing Russia for its alleged role in the downing of MH17. The International Criminal Court is also investigating possible war crimes in Ukraine, and these findings could be used by prosecutors in their case.
The Joint Investigation Team will continue to keep phone lines open for possible witnesses who may still come forward with evidence, and the inquiry could be reactivated if new information surfaces. The international community continues to seek answers and justice for the victims of the MH17 tragedy.