MH17 investigators appeal for witnesses of Moscow’s involvement

International investigators are pleading for witnesses to testify about the role Russian government officials may have played in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in 2014, saying that intercepted telephone conversations pointed to Moscow’s involvement.

The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) released the appeal along with audio recordings ahead of a trial next year in the Dutch city of Hague.

Earlier this year, four men were charged with murder and causing the downing of the plane over eastern Ukraine in July 2014. The disaster killed 298 people.

In a statement, the JIT said it sought more information about who gave orders to the four defendants and the crew of the Buk missile system that investigators concluded shot down the plane.

“The JIT wants to get in touch with further witnesses who are able to testify about these command lines and the role that Russian government officials might have had,” the appeal stated.

The Russian government has consistently denied any involvement in the downing of the aircraft, saying the accusations were “unfounded.”

Russian state media and Russian officials have put out a range of often contradictory explanations for the tragedy.

The aircraft was shot down over the territory held by pro-Russian separatists of the Donetsk People’s Republic, or DPR, in eastern Ukraine.

In its appeal, the JIT said it possessed information indicating “the influence of the Russian Federation extended to administrative, financial and military matters in the DPR.”

“There was almost daily telephone contact between the leadership of the DPR and their contacts in the Russian Federation. 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,” the JIT said.

Audio recordings released by the JIT appear to refer to or involve senior Russian officials. The JIT also said it had found indications that the Federal Security Service, Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, provided secure communications technology to pro-Russian separatists.

Investigators have issued national and international arrest warrants for four suspects: Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy and Oleg Pulatov, all Russian citizens, as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko.

The trial is expected to begin on March 9, 2020 in the Hague, and the defendants are likely to be tried in absentia.