An international investigative team said Wednesday that there were “strong indications” that Russian President Vladimir Putin had personally approved the supply of the missile that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014.
However, the team said it was halting its investigation into the disaster because there was not enough evidence to prosecute further suspects and Putin was in any event immune as head of state.
A Russian-made missile slammed into a plane en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, crashing into separatist-held eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.
Dutch prosecutor Digna van Wetzeler said there were strong indications that a decision had been made “at the presidential level that Putin would supply … the Buk TELAR” missile system.
“We are talking about strong indications, but not up to the high standard of complete and conclusive evidence,” she said at a press conference in The Hague.
The announcement comes less than three months after a Dutch court convicted two Russians and a Ukrainian in absentia over the downing of MH17.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the decision was “extremely disappointing” but “will continue to hold the Russian Federation accountable”.
Russia has denied any involvement in the downing of Flight MH17. It denounced a court ruling last year that found the three men guilty of being “scandalous” and politically motivated.
– “Presidential Decision” –
However, the joint investigative team into the MH17 crash, comprising the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine, said the chain of command was clear.
Russian officials postponed the decision to send weapons to Ukrainian separatists because Putin was attending a D-Day commemoration ceremony in France in June 2014.
They played back an intercepted phone call from an adviser, saying the delay was “because the only ones making decisions… are those currently attending the summit in France.”
Putin himself could also be heard discussing the “military element” in another call with the separatist leader in the Lugansk region.
Other senior officials, such as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, did not have the necessary decision-making powers and “this was ultimately the president’s decision,” they said.
However, the case is currently on hold due to a lack of cooperation from Moscow and a lack of witnesses willing to come forward.
“Currently, the investigation is suspended because all clues have been exhausted,” said van Botzler.
Putin himself was out of control – at least for now.
“The president of the Russian Federation enjoys immunity at least under international law in view of his status as head of state,” the Dutch prosecutor added.
– “Disappointment” –
Victims of the disaster that sparked international outrage and sanctions against Russia came from 10 countries, including 196 Dutch, 43 Malaysians and 38 Australians.
Victims’ families said they were disappointed with the decision to halt the investigation.
Piet Ploeg, president of the MH17 Foundation, who lost his brother, sister-in-law and nephew to MH17, said:
Investigators said they felt they had achieved more than they thought possible in 2014.
“Would you like to go further? Of course you do,” said Andy Cragg, head of the Dutch National Criminal Investigation Service, adding that “the answer lies in Russia.”
Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Attorney General Mark Dreyfuss said on Thursday that it was “impossible” to collect evidence after Russia had repeatedly tried to thwart the investigation.
“Russia’s illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine and its lack of cooperation with the investigation have made ongoing investigative efforts and evidence collection impossible at this time,” they said in a joint statement.
They added that Australia would “make Russia accountable for its role in shooting down civilian aircraft.”
The MH17 investigation is not closed and the hotline and website will remain open, officials added.
The evidence it gathers may also be used in other courts, including the International Criminal Court and the European Court of Human Rights.
Russians Igor Gurkin and Sergei Dubinsky, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, who were convicted last year, remain released and are unlikely to serve life sentences.
Gherkin has since become a prominent critic of Russia’s military policy in Ukraine, criticizing previous withdrawals by Moscow troops.
https://www.expatica.com/nl/general/putin-likely-approved-mh17-missile-supply-investigators-say-522477/ Putin likely approved supply of MH17 missiles, investigators say