Published: Sat, May 26, 2018
Global News | By Blake Casey

Russian military says had nothing to do with downing of flight MH17

Russian military says had nothing to do with downing of flight MH17

Wilbert Paulissen of the Dutch National Police said at a news conference in the Netherlands on Thursday that investigators "scrutinized images" and established a "type of fingerprint" of where the missile came from.

Moscow and the Ukrainian anti-government separatist groups it supports have previously denied involvement in the incident.

"Today the JIT concluded the BUK missile launcher that was used to shoot down MH17 originated from the 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade of the Russian armed forces", Westerbeke told reporters.

FILE - Malaysian investigators along with members of the OSCE mission in Ukraine, examine a piece of the crashed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in the village of Petropavlivka, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, July 23, 2014.

However, they left open the possibility that the missile could have been fired by another party.

The Joint Investigation Team consists of investigators from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine.

"The possibility that Russian Federation would extradite or allow its citizens who are suspected of participating in the destruction of the plane, to participate in an global investigation seems very, very unlikely", said Andrew Foxall, head of the Russian Federation program at policy analyst group The Henry Jackson Society. Rebel leaders said at the time they were receiving military assistance from Russian Federation.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the findings were based on "fake data" presented by bloggers and that Moscow's information regarding the case was largely ignored. The worldwide team running the criminal investigation appealed for help from witnesses who can testify about the involvement of the Russian military's 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade.

Westerbeke said the new conclusion raised new questions, "such as the question about how actively involved the brigade itself was in bringing down Flight MH17".

Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said the JIT is not yet ready to name suspects, but added: "I can say that we are now entering the. last phase of the investigation".

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The investigators' findings support earlier conclusions from the United Kingdom "citizen investigative journalist" group Bellingcat, which said more than two years ago that photographs from the day the plane was shot down linked the Buk missile to Russia's 53rd brigade in Kursk, as NPR's Corey Flintoff wrote at the time.

Now the team has painstakingly recreated the route taken by the missile convoy from Kursk towards the border into Ukraine using videos and photos.

Paulissen was speaking at a presentation of interim results of the long-running investigation into the downing of flight MH17.

The Russian defense ministry said Friday that a serial number shown on investigators' images of the Buk missile "clearly shows" it was manufactured in 1986, and it could not have been used past 2011 because the missiles have a 25-year limit to their operation after which they are decommissioned. Two years ago, prosecutors said there were about 100 people under suspicion of direct or indirect involvement.

Of the 298 people of more than 30 nationalities killed, 196 were Dutch, 42 Malaysian and 27 Australian.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte chose to shorten his visit to India by a day and join cabinet talks on May 25 about the new findings, Dutch news agency ANP reported.

Piet Ploeg, a member of a foundation for victims' relatives, said the Dutch government should not consider legal steps against Russian Federation.

His Belgian counterpart, Didier Reynders, called on all countries to co-operate fully with the investigation "so that those responsible can be brought to justice".

Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed.

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