Putin likely approved missile system used to down MH17, investigation finds
There are ‘strong indications’ that President Vladimir V. Putin decided to supply the anti-aircraft missile system that Russian-backed separatists used to shoot down a Malaysia Airlines plane over eastern Ukraine in 2014 discovered an international team led by the Netherlands.
But the team said on Wednesday it had suspended its criminal investigation due to insufficient evidence and immunity privileges that prevent further prosecution in the crash of flight MH17, which killed all 298 people on board.
Investigators noted that there is no evidence to suggest that Mr Putin ordered the plane to be shot down and that he was, in any event, protected from prosecution under Dutch law as he enjoys immunity as head of state.
“The investigation has now reached its limits,” Dutch prosecutor Digna van Boetzelaer told a press conference. “All leads have been exhausted.”
The announcement came nearly three months after a Dutch court convicted three men linked to the Russian security services for their role in the downing of the plane while they were part of the separatist forces in the east of Ukraine.
The international investigative team continued to investigate who was responsible for supplying the weapons. On Wednesday, investigators presented new evidence, including cell phone intercepts showing links between the Russian military and separatists, and suggested that delivery of the missile system had been delayed because Mr Putin had participated in a commemoration of the Second World War in France.
“He’s the one making the decision, no one else,” the audio intercept said. The intercept appears to confirm that the surface-to-air missile used to shoot down the plane was trucked in from Russia at the request of the separatists.
Ms van Boetzelaer said ‘second-hand information was obtained about the possible involvement of three current or former officers’ of the Russian military. But the investigation team could not establish this with certainty, nor specify who had given the order to the separatist forces to fire the missile.
The findings “do not provide sufficient grounds to prosecute”, Ms van Boetzelaer said, “because the evidence that has been collected is not strong enough to be legal and convincing”.
She added that the Russian military “may be able to claim combatant immunity,” a rule of international law that prohibits the prosecution of members of a state’s armed forces except for war crimes.
Russian-backed separatists invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014, sparking a long-running conflict that preceded the full-scale invasion of Moscow in February 2022. The crash of MH17 in July 2014 was by far the greatest loss of civilian life in the conflict. up to this point. Most of the victims were Dutch; the flight also carried passengers from Australia, Britain, Malaysia and other countries.
Many families of victims have drawn a direct link between the accident and the current war, suggesting that the West’s failure to severely punish Moscow in 2014 helped enable its full-scale invasion.
The Kremlin did not immediately respond to the investigators’ statement. In November, The Russian Foreign Ministry has convened the trial in which the three men were convicted on political grounds.