THE HAGUE: International investigators looking into the downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine released intercepted phone calls on Thursday showing close links between “high-ranking” Russian officials and rebel suspects facing trial over the crash.
The probe said the recordings raised questions about the possible involvement of key Kremlin officials — including Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and a top aide to President Vladimir Putin — in the deployment of the missile that shot down the Malaysia Airlines plane in 2014.
The intercepts also showed that ties between the Kremlin and fighters from the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) in eastern Ukraine were “much closer” than originally believed, the probe said.
“There was almost daily telephone contact between the leadership of the DPR and their contacts in the Russian Federation,” the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team said in a statement.
“They spoke with leaders in Moscow, near the border with Ukraine and in Crimea. Communication mostly took place via secure telephones provided by the Russian security service.”
Russia’s foreign ministry dismissed the claims.
“They’ve already decided a verdict, and the rest is just an adjustment of the materials so they can support the tactics chosen by the prosecution,” ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
The investigation team is appealing for more witnesses ahead of the trial in the Netherlands next year of three Russian nationals and one Ukrainian over the downing of the jet.
The passenger plane travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was hit by a Russian-made BUK missile in 2014 over rebel-held eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.
Investigators have previously said the missile was transported to Ukraine from a Russian army anti-aircraft brigade based in the Russian city of Kursk.
The suspects facing trial —former Russian intelligence agent Igor Girkin, also known by his pseudonym “Strelkov”, Sergei Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov, Leonid Kharchenko — were all leading members of the DPR. – AFP