By MIKE CORDER
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — An international team of investigators said Wednesday it found “strong indications” that Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the supply of heavy anti-aircraft weapons to Ukrainian separatists who shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in 2014 with a Russian missile.
However, the Joint Investigation Team said they had insufficient evidence to launch any new prosecutions and suspended their long running probe into the shooting down that killed all 298 people on board the Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
Russia has always denied any involvement in the downing of the flight over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, and refused to cooperate with the international investigation.
Dutch prosecutors said in their summary of investigation findings that “there are strong indications that the Russian president decided on supplying” a Buk missile system to Ukrainian separatists. A Buk system was used to bring down MH17.
Dutch prosecutor Digna van Boetzelaer said that without Russian cooperation, “the investigation has now reached its limit. All leads have been exhausted.”
The announcement comes nearly three months after a Dutch court convicted two Russians and a Ukrainian rebel for their roles in shooting down the plane. One Russian was acquitted by the court.
None of the suspects appeared for the trial and it was unclear if the three who were found guilty of multiple murders will ever serve their sentences.
The convictions and the court’s finding that the surface-to-air Buk missile came from a Russian military base were seen as a clear indication that Moscow had a role in the tragedy. Russia has always denied involvement. The Russian Foreign Ministry accused the court in November of bowing to pressure from Dutch politicians, prosecutors and the news media.
But the November convictions held that Moscow was in overall control in 2014 over the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, the separatist area of eastern Ukraine where the missile was launched. The Buk missile system came from the Russian military’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, based in the city of Kursk.
The Joint Investigation Team is made up of experts from the Netherlands, Australia, Malaysia, Belgium and Ukraine. Most of the victims were Dutch. It had continued to investigate the crew of the missile system that brought down the plane and those who ordered its deployment in Ukraine.
As well as the criminal trial that was held in the Netherlands, the Dutch and Ukrainian governments are suing Russia at the European Court of Human Rights over its alleged role in the downing of MH17.
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