There are “strong indications” the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, personally signed off on a decision to supply the missile that downed flight MH17 in 2014, a team of international investigators said on Wednesday.
The Boeing 777 was flying over eastern Ukraine when it was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile in July 2014, killing all 298 people onboard.
The Netherlands and Australia said in 2018 that Russia was responsible for the disaster, after investigators concluded the Buk missile used by Moscow-backed separatists of the self-declared republic in Donetsk had come from a Russian military base.
“The investigation produced strong indications that a decision on providing the Buk Telar – or in any event a heavier air defence system with a higher range – to the Donetsk People’s Republic was taken at the presidential level,” a report published on Wednesday by the joint investigation team (JIT) said.
The JIT is made up of experts from the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Belgium and Ukraine. It said it had collected “abundant evidence” that showed the Kremlin had “overall control” over the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, where the downing happened in 2014.
Investigators cited intercepted telephone conversations between senior Russian officials and the pro-Russia separatist movement in which the decision to provide heavy anti-aircraft systems was discussed.
According to the JIT, Putin and his defence minister, Sergei Shoigu, eventually granted the request to supply heavier anti-aircraft systems to pro-Russian separatists in June 2014, a month before the downing.
However, investigators said the evidence was not enough to lead to prosecution.
“Although the investigation produced strong indications, the high bar of complete and conclusive evidence is not reached,” the report said, adding “the president of the Russian Federation, as head of state, is in any event immune under international law from prosecution.”
Dutch prosecutor Digna van Boetzelaer said that without Russian cooperation, “the investigation has now reached its limit. All leads have been exhausted.”
Moscow has always denied any involvement in the downing of the flight and refused to cooperate with the international investigation.
Wednesday’s report comes nearly three months after a Dutch court handed down sentences of life imprisonment to two Russians and a Ukrainian rebel for their roles in shooting down the MH17 which resulted in the death of all 298 people on board. The three men remain at large and it remains unclear if they will ever serve their sentences.