Investigators looking into the downing of MH17 have released recordings of phone calls they say are between Ukrainian separatists and top Russian officials.
The international team leading the probe on the attack on the Malaysia Airlines flight in 2014 says the new calls show the degree to which the “leadership” of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic was talking to “leaders in Moscow”.
A statement from the team said: “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.”
They say the call recordings and the evidence they provide on the extent of the ties between Moscow and the DPR raise questions about the possible involvement of officials in the deployment of the Russian-made anti-aircraft missile which brought down the flight.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014 while flying between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur.
All 283 passengers and 15 crew were killed.
The Joint Investigation Team (JIT), based in the Netherlands, took the pieces of MH17 from the area where it fell in Ukraine and reassembled it in a hangar at a Dutch air base.
It concluded that it had been shot down by a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile.
The Russians have denied involvement. But the JIT and a number of other investigating groups, such as Bellingcat, have offered evidence of Russia’s involvement.
Bellingcat says it used social media posts to track the movement of the Buk missile launcher from the base of the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade in Kursk, Russia, to eastern Ukraine.
The JIT says the conversations it has obtained appear to indicate the links between key figures in the Donetsk rebels high command and various unnamed Moscow officials.
One of the DPR leaders, Alexander Borodai, is heard telling a Russian official he is “carrying out orders and protecting the interests of one and only state, the Russian Federation. That’s the bottom line”.
In another call, at the beginning of July 2014, a DPR member tells a local commander in Russian that “men are coming with a mandate from Shoygu”.
At the time, Sergey Shoygu was, as he still is, Russia’s defence minister.
The JIT says it has been told by several former fighters that the Russian security service, the FSB, and the military intelligence service, the GRU, were involved in the daily management of the DPR.
It says this has been confirmed by some of the other calls including one between a Ukrainian rebel with a call sign Mongol and another with a call sign Sherif, which goes as follows (translated from Russian):
“Sherif: It’s a week we’ve directly…. [inaudible] to Moscow and we get the orders. (…)
“Mongol: We get the orders from Moscow as well. It’s the same with us.
“Sherif: But it’s FSB in your case? Right?
“Sherif: And it’s GRU in our case. That’s the only difference.
“Mongol: I know about it perfectly well.”
It was agents from the GRU who were also accused of the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.
The JIT, which has so far charged three Russians and one Ukrainian in connection with the attack, appealed for further witnesses to come forward to shed new light on the findings, following their latest revelations.
Russia is yet to react.