Audio Shows 'Strong Indications' of Putin's Role in Downing Malaysia Flight

A team of international investigators on Wednesday said they had found that Russian President Vladimir Putin likely signed off on the decision to supply the long-range anti-aircraft missile systems that shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

The Joint Investigation Team said during a news conference in The Hague that their conclusion regarding Putin's alleged role was based on recorded telephone conversations involving Russian officials. According to the prosecutors, the officials said in the recording that the decision to provide the missile systems could only be made by Putin.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, a Boeing 777, was shot down by a Russian-made missile on July 17, 2014, over eastern Ukraine in territory controlled by Russian separatist forces. The flight had departed from Amsterdam and was headed to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. All 298 passengers and crew members on the flight were killed.

According to the BBC, the Joint Investigation Team said Russian officials on recorded telephone conversations stated a decision to provide military support to the Russian separatist forces in 2014 "rests with the president."

"There is concrete information that the separatists' request was presented to the president [Putin], and that this request was granted," the investigators said.

Wreckage of Flight MG17 and Putin
The main picture shows the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 near the village of Rassipnoe, Ukraine, on October 15, 2014. The smaller image shows President Vladimir Putin during a ceremony on February 2 in Volgograd, Russia. An international investigation implicated Putin with involvement in supplying the missile that shot down flight MH17. Photos by DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images

The team said they had found "strong indications" that Putin approved of the weapons supplied to the separatists that took down the flight. However, prosecutors said the evidence "was not concrete enough" to warrant a new prosecution.

Previously, a Dutch court in November convicted two former Russian security service officers and a Ukrainian separatist leader of murder for their roles in the aircraft's destruction. The three men were sentenced to life, but they have not been arrested or extradited.

The Joint Investigation Team—made up of members from the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine—noted in Wednesday's announcement that Putin enjoys immunity due to his position as leader of Russia. Russia has also long denied any responsibility for the incident.

Following Wednesday's announcement from the Joint Investigation Team, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin said he could be pursuing legal action against Putin for his alleged role in the shooting down of the flight.

Kostin wrote on Twitter that the "difficulty of obtaining evidence and functional immunity" prevents prosecuting Putin in national courts. Nevertheless, he said Ukraine "will seek to employ all the existing international legal mechanisms to bring him to justice."

"We also continue to seek ways to hold the Russian leadership accountable for the crime of aggression against Ukraine and other international crimes," Kostin wrote. "Justice takes time, but what's most important, it is inevitable. The MH17 case proves this once again."

Lawrence C. Reardon, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, explained how Kostin may be able to use the Joint Investigation Team's findings in a future case.

"The Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin stated in early February that he is hoping to establish a special tribunal to prosecute over 65,000 Russian war crimes," Reardon told Newsweek in an email. "While not yet supporting a special tribunal, the United States and the European Union agree that an international criminal prosecution must take place, perhaps by appointing an interim prosecutor who collect evidence for future trials."

Reardon continued, "Undoubtedly, an interim prosecutor would request the evidence collected by the Dutch Joint Investigation Team and the murder of 298 passengers and crew aboard Malaysia Airline Flight 17 in 2014."

He said that while the Dutch investigators couldn't find sufficient evidence against Putin to warrant further legal work, what they did manage to document could be useful.

"Should Putin be forced to step down in the future, the incoming Russian leadership might indirectly provide such evidence to put blame on Putin and not the Russian state," Reardon said.

Newsweek reached out to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment.