Evidence mounts of Russia's role in MH17
There is enough evidence to say that Russia supplied the rocket that killed 298 people on flight MH17 in July 2014 and that it was fired from a Russia-controlled area, investigators say.
“We have concluded that flight MH17 was downed by a Buk missile of the series 9M83 that came from the territory of the Russian Federation”, Wilbert Paulissen, a chief Dutch investigator with the JIT, the international taskforce looking into the incident, told press in The Hague on Wednesday (28 September).
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He said the Buk system was brought into east Ukraine from Russia, fired from a field near the Russia-occupied village of Pervomaiskiy, then taken back to Russia.
He indicated that it happened at a time when Russian forces were trying to stop Ukrainian air force raids.
He also said the probe had identified about 100 individuals who were involved in the Buk operation and that the next step would be to prepare criminal charges.
The MH17 disaster was a turning point in the Ukraine conflict because it prompted the EU and US to impose economic sanctions on Russia.
The JIT’s preliminary findings come ahead of EU talks, next month, on whether to prolong the sanctions beyond January.
Russia has denied involvement, but cooperated to an extent with the JIT, which is made up of some 200 investigators from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands, and Ukraine.
Russian media and politicians on Wednesday attacked the JIT report.
The Russian foreign ministry said it was "politically motivated" and "biased" and that Ukraine had fabricated evidence.
Leonid Slutsky, a prominent MP, said it was “provocative” and designed “to further marginalise the image of Russia in the global political and information space”.
The JIT sleuths said that, ultimately, it would be up to courts to decide who is right, but took pains to show that their findings were based on a wealth of hard evidence.
They listened to 150,000 intercepted phone conversations, spoke to over 200 witnesses, and collected forensic evidence, such as soil samples, from suspected launch sites in Ukraine.
They also examined “thousands” of airplane wreckage parts, 20 different types of weapon systems, and over 500,000 videos and photos.
In one exercise, they detonated a Buk missile next to MH17-type aluminium body panels at a test site.
The Dutch intelligence service, the MIVD, and the Dutch public prosecutor were also given access to classified US information.
The JIT said that, of the 100 suspects, some had played an “active role” in organising the transport of the Buk while others played a “facilitating” role, but that they did not know who masterminded the operation or who gave the order to fire.
“We invite insider witnesses, who can tell us more about the role that different persons have played, to report to the JIT”, it said.
It said that the “investigation into those responsible is a matter for the long haul and will take more time”, noting that they could have made public even more evidence, but that, “we would run the risk of playing into the perpetrators’ hands”.