May 24, 2018
The Russian Defense Ministry dismissed the findings of an international investigative team that announced Thursday it had unequivocal evidence that a Russian-made missile shot down a Malaysian Airlines jet over eastern Ukraine four years ago, killing all 298 people aboard.
Russia rejects claim its missile downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17
The Joint Investigative Team (JIT) said video and photos from social media along with an analysis of parts of the rocket found at the crash scene traced the rocket to an area of Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed rebels.
JIT said it was convinced the missile was fired by the 53rd anti aircraft missile brigade, a unit of the Russian army from Kursk in the Russian Federation. The findings support previous claims by Dutch prosecutors that the Boeing 777, bound for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from Amsterdam, was shot down with a mobile launcher that had been trucked in from Russia and was covertly returned there.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, however, questioned the impartiality of the investigation.
"I remind that all data presented… in the briefing of the investigation team had two main sources – the Internet and the Ukrainian special services," he said. "The impartiality of this data and consequently the conclusions made on its basis cannot help but cause doubts."
Konashenkov said no Russian missile launchers had ever been sent to the Ukraine to aid ethnic Russians in clashes over the disputed Crimea region, which Russia has annexed.
Russian arms manufacturer Almaz-Antey also rejected the findings, insisting that its simulations place the suspected missile launch in an areas controlled by Ukrainian government forces during the time of the incident.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, however, lauded the "professional, independent work" of the Joint Investigative Team.
"As the UN Security Council concluded, those responsible must be held to account," he said. "Almost four years since this global tragedy, it is important that justice is served."
The team asked the public for help in identifying the individuals within the 53rd anti aircraft missile brigade who might have been involved in the missile strike.
"Who formed part of the crew? With which instruction did they set out? Who was responsible for the operational deployment?" said Dutch investigator Wilbert Paulissen. "Please do not keep that information to yourself but contact the JIT."
Prosecutors said they have presented their findings to Moscow and are seeking answers, but so far have not received a formal response. The international 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 based in the city of Kursk.
Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said the Joint Investigation Team is not yet ready to name suspects, but added: “I can say that we are now entering the … last phase of the investigation. "
Any suspects identified and charged will be prosecuted in Dutch courts – if they can be arrested and brought to trial. Of the 298 people killed, 196 were Dutch, 42 Malaysian and 27 were Australians. Among more than 30 nationalities killed was a joint Dutch-American citizen.
The investigative team includes members from Australia, Belgium, Ukraine, Malaysia and the Netherlands. Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok welcomed the newly released findings.
“This is an important piece of the puzzle,” Blok said. “I am very impressed by the evidence that has been collected.”
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