Investigators say while the Russian president’s chain of command is clear, he has immunity and there is not enough evidence to prosecute more people.
An international team of investigators said there were ‘strong indications’ that Russian President Vladimir Putin had approved supplying the missile to the separatists who shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern China. Ukraine in 2014.
But members of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in the Netherlands said they did not have enough evidence to pursue any other suspects and suspended their eight-and-a-half-year investigation into the tragedy. As head of state, Putin also enjoys immunity.
MH17 was shot down by a Russian missile launched from eastern Ukraine as it headed towards Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam on July 17, 2014. All 298 people aboard the Boeing 777 were killed.
Russia has denied any involvement in the incident and refused to cooperate with the international investigation.
“There are strong indications that a decision has been taken at the presidential level, by President Putin, to provide… the Buk TELAR missile system,” Dutch prosecutor Digna van Boetzelaer said on Wednesday.
Investigators have already confirmed that the Buk shot down the Malaysian plane, which was flying at 33,000 feet (10 km).
“Although we are talking about solid evidence, the high bar of complete and conclusive evidence has not been reached,” she told a press conference in The Hague.
The announcement comes less than three months after a Dutch court convicted two Russians and a Ukrainian of murder following the disaster. The three men – Russians Igor Girkin and Sergei Dubinsky and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko – did not show up for trial and are unlikely to serve their life sentences.
Some 196 people who died in the accident were from the Netherlands and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that while the JIT’s decision to suspend the investigation was a “bitter disappointment”, the Dutch government would “continue to hold the Russian Federation”. .
Australia, a country of 38 passengers, promised the same.
Foreign Secretary Penny Wong and Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said 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 statement Thursday. joint statement.
Australia would “hold Russia accountable for its role in the downing of the civilian aircraft”, they added.
Russia condemned last year’s court verdict convicting the three men as “scandalous” and politically motivated.
The JIT – made up of the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine – however said the chain of command was clear.
Russian officials even postponed the decision to send arms to Ukrainian separatists because Putin was at a D-Day commemoration in France in June 2014, they said, broadcasting an intercepted phone call from an adviser saying the delay was “because there is only one who makes a decision… the person who is currently at a summit in France”.
Putin himself could also be heard talking about a “military component” during another call with a separatist leader from the Luhansk region of Ukraine.
The families of the victims said they were disappointed by the decision to stop the investigation.
“We hoped for more but we didn’t count on it,” said the president of an MH17 foundation, Piet Ploeg, who lost his brother, sister-in-law and nephew in the disaster.
Investigators said they believe they achieved more than they thought possible in 2014.
“Are we disappointed? No, because we think we have gone further than we thought in 2014. Would we have liked to go further? Of course, yes,” said Andy Kraag of the Dutch police, adding that “the answer remains in Russia.”
Van Boetzelaer said that while the investigation is suspended, the phone lines will remain open for any witnesses who may still want to provide evidence. If this happens, the investigation could be reactivated.
Other cases on MH17 are also being prosecuted.
The Dutch and Ukrainian governments are suing Russia in the European Court of Human Rights, while the Dutch and Australian governments have also brought proceedings before the International Civil Aviation Organization.
The findings revealed on Wednesday are likely to bolster the case at the Human Rights Court and could also be used by prosecutors at the International Criminal Court, who are investigating possible war crimes in Ukraine dating back to the start of the separatist conflict. .