JIT MH17: strong indications that Russian president decided on supplying Buk
The Hague - There are strong indications that the Russian president decided on supplying the Buk TELAR to the DPR separatists. This is the conclusion of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in its investigation into those responsible in the Russian Federation for the downing of flight MH17 with a Buk missile. The JIT has shared its findings with the next of kin of the 298 victims and published a report. Although a lot of new information has been discovered about various people involved, the evidence is at the moment not concrete enough to lead to new prosecutions.
Flight MH17 was shot down on 17 July 2014 by a Russian Buk missile from an agricultural field in eastern Ukraine. Members of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) were involved in heavy fighting with the Ukrainian army. In November 2022, the District Court of The Hague sentenced three military leaders of the DPR to life imprisonment for their role in the downing of the passenger plane. A fourth suspect was acquitted. The verdicts of the court are now irrevocable. In addition to the DPR's involvement, the JIT has investigated the crew of the Buk TELAR and those responsible for supplying this weapon system.
The court established that the Buk missile that downed MH17 came from the Russian Federation. The JIT investigation pointed to the 53rd brigade in Kursk, Russia. The Buk crew could explain why flight MH17 was shot down and what their assignment was in Ukraine. In order to establish the identity of the crew, among other things, the JIT tracked down transport orders from this brigade. They show that in June and July 2014 three convoys of vehicles and military personnel were sent from Kursk to the Ukrainian border. The Buk TELAR that shot down MH17 is riding along with them. After a thorough investigation, the JIT investigation led to three officers from the 53rd brigade who are named as crew members or their supervisors. Their involvement in the shooting down of MH17 is not confirmed by other sources. Therefore, the JIT will not reveal their names. Russian authorities have not answered questions about the crew, saying there was no Russian Buk TELAR present in eastern Ukraine.
Supplying the Buk TELAR
Although the Russian government denies this, the court ruled that Russia did participate in the battle and even had overall control over the DPR in July 2014. This is also reflected in the JIT investigation into the decision-making process in the supplying of the Buk TELAR. DPR leaders are in close contact with advisers from the Kremlin and Russian intelligence services. After the separatists ask for longer-range anti-aircraft systems, their request is discussed in the second half of June 2014 at the Presidential Executive Office in Moscow. That is a state body that supports the President. After this, the request for a heavier air defense system is presented to the minister of Defense and the President. The request is granted.
Position of the President
In recorded telephone conversations, Russian officials say that the decision to provide military support rests with the President. The decision is even postponed for a week "because there is only one who makes a decision (…), the person who is currently at a summit in France". At that time, on 5 and 6 June 2014, President Putin is at the commemoration of D-Day in France. There is concrete information that the separatists' request was presented to the president, and that this request was granted. It is not known whether the request explicitly mentions a Buk system. A little later, the heavier air defense systems are delivered, including the Buk that shoots down MH17. Although we speak of strong indications, the high bar of complete and conclusive evidence is not reached. Furthermore, the president enjoys immunity in his position as Head of State.
Deployment of the Buk TELAR
After the Buk TELAR has been delivered, it is deployed from the agricultural field in Pervomaiskiy. Girkin, Dubinskyi and Kharchenko have already been convicted for this, but other persons have also been investigated. For example, the prime minister of the DPR has several daily contacts with a general of the Russian security service FSB; more than twenty times on 17 July 2014 . However, it cannot be established that the prime minister or general were aware of the availability of the Buk TELAR in advance, or that they deliberately assisted in the downing of MH17.
No further prosecutions
As it is currently not possible to prove the identity of crew members of the Buk TELAR, and other concrete information about this is lacking, it cannot be ascertained why they fired a Buk missile at MH17, what their assignment was and what information they had when they fired. The JIT did uncover a lot about the decision-making in the supplying of the Buk TELAR. However, the evidence gathered is not conclusive enough to lead to convictions in court, according to the Netherlands Public Prosecution Service. Therefore, no new prosecutions are being initiated at this time.
Mrs Digna van Boetzelaer / Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor (Netherlands):
“The purpose of this investigation was to find out the truth, and I think we have come further than we ever imagined in 2014. The world now knows what happened to flight MH17. Three offenders have been identified and sentenced to life imprisonment. The bar for establishing individual criminal liability is high. At the moment we do not meet that bar for the persons discussed in the remaining investigation. The findings we have uncovered about the Russian involvement up to the highest level can play an important role in proceedings where the liability of this state is at issue.”
Mr Andy Kraag / Head of the National Criminal Investigation Department (Netherlands):
“The intensive investigation of the past 8.5 years has yielded a lot. Not only did the JIT provide evidence for the guilt of three offenders. We also learned a lot about those responsible for supplying the Buk TELAR that was used to shoot down MH17. The JIT’s investigation has now reached its limits. All relevant and available telecom data, radar and satellite data has now been analysed. Many witness calls have been made, countless witnesses have been heard, hundreds of intercepted conversations have been analysed. The JIT has investigated everything it can without the cooperation of the Russian authorities and without jeopardising people’s safety. Any further evidence must be sought in the Russian Federation. And for this the JIT is dependent on the cooperation of the Russian authorities or Russian (insider) witnesses. Our door remains open for them.”
Mr David McLean / Assistant Commissioner Australian Federal Police (Australia):
“In the interests of the next of kin, Australia has been committed to the MH17 investigation since 2014. The 298 victims, 38 of whom are from Australia, deserve that. We remain vigilant in the next phase. Solving these kinds of crimes is a matter of patience, which is why the JIT agreement has been extended. The JIT remains committed to the MH17 investigation. “