International prosecutors said on Wednesday they had found “strong evidence” that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved Ukraine’s use of a Russian missile system that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over eastern Ukraine in 2014.
However, they said evidence of the involvement of Putin and other Russian officials was not concrete enough to lead to a criminal conviction, and they would end their investigation without further prosecution.
Russia has denied any involvement in the downing of the civilian plane, which killed 298 passengers and crew.
“The investigation has now reached its limit,” said prosecutor Digna van Boetzelaer at a press conference in The Hague. “The findings are insufficient for the prosecution of new suspects.”
In November, a Dutch court convicted two former Russian intelligence agents and a Ukrainian separatist leader of murder for helping to arrange the Russian BUK missile system that shot down the plane. The three men, who were tried in absentia, remain fugitives.
At the time the plane was shot down, Ukrainian troops were battling Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk province.
Although Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, it denied military involvement in fighting in Donetsk at the time.
But as part of the November sentencing of the three men, the Dutch court ruled that as of May 2014, Russia had in fact “overall control” of separatist forces in Donetsk.
Prosecutors said on Wednesday they could not identify the specific soldiers responsible for firing the missile system that downed the plane, which came from the Russian 53rd brigade in Kursk.
They cited a 2014 telephone intercept between Russian officials as evidence that Putin’s approval was needed before a request for equipment from the separatists could be granted.
In addition, they played a 2017 conversation between Putin himself and the Russian-appointed chief administrator of Ukraine’s Luhansk province, in which they discussed the military situation and an exchange of prisoners.
Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 in what it calls a “special military operation” and said in September it had annexed Donetsk and three other Ukrainian provinces.
Piet Ploeg, head of a foundation that represents victims, said he was disappointed that the investigation had ended, but was pleased that prosecutors had released their evidence of Putin’s involvement.
“We can’t do much with it. Putin cannot be prosecuted,” he said. “We wanted to know who was ultimately responsible and that is clear.”
Ploeg’s brother, his brother’s wife and his cousin died on flight MH17.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by DailyExpertNews staff and is being published from a syndicated feed.)
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