Updated at 11:31 a.m. ET on 2018-05-25
A missile that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine in July 2014, killing everyone on board, originated from a Russian antiaircraft military unit, a Dutch-led international criminal investigation has officially concluded for the first time.
The Joint Investigative Team (JIT), comprising authorities from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands, and Ukraine, made the announcement about its latest findings at a press conference in Bunnik, Netherlands, on Thursday.
The JIT “has come to the conclusion that the Buk-TELAR that shot down MH17 came from the 53rd Antiaircraft Missile Brigade based in Kursk in Russia,” top Dutch investigator Wilbert Paulissen told reporters. “The 53rd Brigade is part of Russia’s armed forces.”
Flight MH17 was shot down over a conflict zone in Ukraine’s Donetsk region on July 17, 2014, as the Boeing 777 was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. The 298 passengers and crew included 200 Dutch citizens, 43 Malaysians, and 13 Indonesians.
The announcement came a day after Malaysia’s new government announced that it would soon end its search for another Malaysian airliner, flight MH370, which disappeared while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing four years ago. The plane was carrying 239 passengers and crew when it vanished from radar screens not long after take-off on the night of March 8, 2014. There were 153 Chinese nationals and 38 Malaysians on board.
In July 2016, Malaysia, Australia and China announced they were ending a massive international search in the Indian Ocean for wreckage from the plane, another wide-bodied Boeing 777. In January 2018, Malaysia’s previous government hired a private U.S. firm, Ocean Infinity Ltd., to resume the hunt.
But on Wednesday, Transport Minister Anthony Loke said the government would not renew its contract with the Houston-based underwater exploration firm, as of May 29, according to the state-run Bernama news agency.
Following Thursday’s JIT news conference in the Netherlands about MH17, Russia’s Defense Ministry reiterated that it had nothing to do with the downing of the airliner.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department later issued a statement expressing “complete confidence” in the latest findings by the JIT.
“Today’s announcement confirms and adds detail to what we have said from the earliest days of this tragedy: MH17 was shot down by a Russian-made BUK surface-to-air missile fired from territory in eastern Ukraine controlled by Russia and Russia-led forces,” the State Department said.
“It is time for Russia to cease its lies and account for its role in the shoot down,” the U.S. statement went on to say.
Bellingcat, a British-based team of open-source researchers investigating the disaster, had already identified the 53rd Antiaircraft Missile Brigade as being the likely source of the Russian-made Buk missile, which, according to investigators, brought down the passenger jet.
Russia denies interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs, despite compelling evidence that Moscow has provided military, economic, and political support to separatists fighting against Kiev. Russia and the separatists deny shooting down MH17 and have offered several other theories to explain the incident, all of which have been rejected by investigators.
In 2016, the JIT determined that MH17 was shot down from separatist-held territory in the Donetsk region by a Russian-made Buk antiaircraft system provided by the Russian military. The JIT report said the Buk system entered Ukraine near Krasnodon and was spirited back into Russia immediately after the airliner was shot down.
The Bellingcat investigation, conducted jointly with the independent Russian website The Insider, said in December it had identified a senior Russian general as a figure of interest in the downing of the airliner.
The Bellingcat investigative group – which uses sophisticated digital technics to analyze open-source audio and visual data – alleged that a man identified on intercepted communications as Delfin (Dolphin) was a retired Russian colonel general, Nikolai Tkachyov, who was currently serving as chief inspector of Russia’s Central Military District.
Tkachyov denied that he was Delfin or that he was in eastern Ukraine in 2014.
This report was produced mostly by Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty (RFE-RL), a sister entity of BenarNews.
CORRECTION: An earlier version misreported that a Russian military unit had shot down MH17, according to findings by the Joint Investigation Team.