Investigators probing the 2014 downing of flight MH17 said Thursday for the first time that the missile which brought down the plane over eastern Ukraine originated from a Russian military brigade.
But Moscow quickly rejected the accusation, saying no such weapon had ever crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border and that it was an attempt to “discredit Russia in the eyes of the international community”.
The Joint Investigation Team “has come to the conclusion that the BUK-TELAR that shot down MH17 came from 53rd Anti-aircraft Missile Brigade based in Kursk in Russia,” top Dutch investigator Wilbert Paulissen said.
He told reporters gathered for a press conference in Utrecht that “the 53rd Brigade forms part of the Russian armed forces”.
The Malaysian Airlines flight on a Boeing 777 was blown out of the sky over conflict-torn eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014 while en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
All 298 passengers and crew, most of them Dutch, were killed in the disaster. In all there were 17 nationalities on board including Australians, Britons, Malaysians and Indonesians.
The investigators had previously concluded that the plane was hit by a Russian-made BUK missile brought in from Russia and fired from territory in Ukraine held by Moscow-backed rebels. But they had stopped short of directly saying who pulled the trigger.
Now the team has painstakingly recreated the route taken by the missile convoy from Kursk towards the border into Ukraine using videos and photos.
– Prosecutions? –
Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko said there is “every reason to expect that in the near future the Dutch prosecutor’s office will be able to file a prosecution against the individuals involved in shooting down the plane”.
A large convoy of some 50 vehicles including six BUK-TELAR missile systems left the Kursk base on June 23, 2014, the investigators said.
The missile system that shot down flight MH17 was then filmed several times on July 17 and 18 in eastern Ukraine as it was transported on a low flatbed truck-and-trailer.
Paulissen said the team had “ascertained that the BUK-TELAR has a number of unique characteristics. These characteristics as such served as a type of fingerprint for the missile”.
Moscow has repeatedly denied any involvement in the disaster, putting the blame instead on Kiev.
“Not a single anti-aircraft missile system from the Russian Federation has ever crossed the Russia-Ukraine border,” the defence ministry said in a statement carried by news agencies.
The Russian foreign ministry later said “it is clear that these gratuitous accusations are an attempt to discredit our nation in the eyes of the international community.”
The probe being led by the Netherlands is focusing on some 100 people suspected of having played an “active role” in the incident, but investigators have not yet publicly named any suspects.
They have identified two people, who go by the aliases Orion and Delfin, as top suspects after obtaining their wire-tapped conversations before and after the plane was shot out of the sky.
Chief investigator Fred Westerbeke said Thursday the probe was now in its “last phase” but added there was “still work to be done”.
Over the past years “we’ve gained a lot of proof and evidence but we are not ready yet” to move towards bringing charges, he told the press conference.
– Piecing together the puzzle –
Investigators are urging witnesses to now come forward and confidentially help answer several questions, such as the names of the BUK system’s crew, who gave the orders and what were they.
They also displayed part of the BUK missile system used in the attack, urging anyone who recognised handwriting on its exhaust system and casing to contact them.
Dutch officials have announced any suspects arrested in the case will be tried in the Netherlands under a deal with the countries in the joint probe.
Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok, who recently held talks in Moscow about MH17, said Thursday’s revelations were “an important piece of the puzzle” offering “more clarity” about what had happened.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also cut short a trade visit to India, to return to the Netherlands to discuss the latest MH17 developments with his cabinet on Friday.
Trump doctor denies the president underwent any ‘neurologic evaluations’ at Walter Reed Hospital
The physician to the president claimed that President Donald Trump did not undergo "neurologic" evaluations during a surprise visit to Walter Reed Hospital.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham released a picture of a memorandum from Dr. Sean Conley, which was printed on "Office of the Press Secretary" letterhead.
The memo was sent to Grisham.
On Saturday, Grisham had claimed the purpose of the visit was to conduct a "partial" physical. Dr. Conley referred to the visit as an "interim check up."
‘I don’t know how Secretary Pompeo is not dragged in’: Ex-FBI counsel says Secretary of State must testify
On Monday's edition of CNN's "Cuomo Prime Time," former FBI general counsel James Baker told Chris Cuomo that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has to answer for the allegations laid out in the impeachment testimony.
"They wanted to give [Ukraine Ambassador Marie] Yovanovitch support, she asked them for support, they decided no, maybe because they thought the president would jump all over them. So what?" said Cuomo.
"The issue with her is that they wanted to and were inclined to get her out of the way, unless she was willing to play ball, unless she was willing to acquiesce in this sort of irregular channel and the goals of the irregular channel that Ambassador Taylor described," said Baker. "They were going to either get her out of the way, or have her join the team. This is what it seems to me was going on. They were trying to achieve these other objectives and they were going to either do it by forcing the career people to go along and compromise their values, quite frankly, or they were going to do it through the Giuliani channel."
Rudy Giuliani was not just working for Trump — he also said he worked for Pence: State Department testimony
One of the strangest moments of the testimony of State Department official David Holmes, as laid out in the transcript released by the House Intelligence Committee on Monday, was when Holmes told Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) that President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani claimed to be working as an adviser to Vice President Mike Pence.
"Was Rudy Giuliani representing his client as a private attorney?" asked Zeldin.
"I have never spoken with him, sir. So, I mean, you could ask him," said Holmes, but he added, "At one point he, Mr. Bakanov, told me that, you know, someone named Giuliani said he was an adviser to the Vice President."