Corina Ruhe, Anne van der Schoot and Celeste Perri
Dutch investigators said Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was brought down in 2014 by a Buk missile system that was fired from rebel-held territory in Ukraine and shuttled back and forth from Russia, stoking renewed tensions over the crash that killed 298 people.
About 100 people were involved in shooting down the flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, the joint team of investigators who are building a criminal case said Wednesday at a news conference in the Netherlands. While the people have been identified, there are no official suspects in the investigation as yet. Russia disputed the probe.
The findings have the potential to further inflame tensions between Russia and the West after the 2014 annexation of Crimea triggered European and U.S. sanctions that were expanded after Russian-backed separatists took over parts of eastern Ukraine. The report also comes after the U.S. blamed its former Cold War foe for meddling in its presidential election by hacking e-mails from the Democratic National Committee.
“We have no single doubt about the conclusions we’ve drawn," said Wilbert Paulissen, of the so-called Joint Investigation Team reviewing the accident. The investigators stitched together their case from mobile-phone records, intercepts and witness accounts among other evidence. While saying the missile arrived from Russia and its launcher was later sent back there, the team wouldn’t comment on the possible involvement of the Russian government.
The investigation will now pivot to identifying precisely who was responsible for firing the missile from farmland in the vicinity of Pervomaiskiy in Ukrainian territory that was controlled by the rebels, the team said. The group will focus on better understanding the chain of command with regard to the use of the weapon and asked for help from witnesses to identify those involved.
The report “once again directly links the state-aggressor to the airplane being shot down,” Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement, referring to Russia. The two neighbors have been at odds since former Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych, who was backed by President Vladimir Putin, was ousted in 2014 following deadly street protests.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry reiterated its distrust in the investigation, with spokeswoman Maria Zakharova expressing disappointment about the findings and calling the probe “biased and politically motivated.” Russia wants a full probe into the crash, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call earlier Wednesday.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said Monday that the missile was fired from Ukrainian-held territory, the latest in a series of attempts by Russia to shift blame away from the separatists. After the report, military officials in Moscow said the investigation’s use of material from the Internet and Ukraine’s security services raised doubts over its objectivity.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Wednesday’s outcome was “an important step” toward finding and bringing those who’re responsible to justice. “It’s important that I take the opportunity to call on the Russians to, in line with the Security Council resolution, do everything they can to find the perpetrators, to bring them to justice and also to sentence them,” he said in a TV interview.
The Joint Investigation Team consists of the Dutch public prosecutor and a dedicated Dutch police force, as well as police and juridical authorities of Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine. The group is seeking to establish the facts, to identify who’s responsible for the crash and to collect evidence for prosecution.
The team’s probe follows last year’s Dutch Safety Board report, which laid blame for the crash on a Buk missile fired from the eastern part of Ukraine, without saying who fired it. The criminal probe is designed to apportion blame and hold those who committed the act responsible with a trial. The Netherlands was appointed leader of both investigations because the majority of victims were Dutch.The team gave no timeline for a conclusion to the investigation, other than to say that it will continue “unabated.”
Copyright Bloomberg 2016