Netherlands urged Ukraine not to send MH17 suspect to Russia
The Netherlands said Saturday it had pressed Kiev in vain to drop the handover to Russia of a key figure in the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 and regrets it was done.
The Dutch government contacted Ukraine “several times and at the very highest level” to prevent the handover of Vladimir Tsemakh, a suspected air defence specialist for pro-Moscow rebels in eastern Ukraine, Foreign Minister Stef Blok said in a letter to parliament.
Blok added that he “regretted” Kiev’s decision.
Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down by a Russian-made missile in July 2014 over eastern Ukraine, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board, two-thirds of them Dutch.
Blok said authorities had had the opportunity to question Tsemakh, 58, before he left for Russia but the Netherlands still “deeply regretted” his handover.
Russia had insisted that Tsemakh be handed over and rejects any suggestion that it had a role in the disaster.
Ukrainian security services chief Ivan Bakanov told Interfax-Ukraine news agency after the swap took place that “an absence of Tsemakh on the list of people to be exchanged would have automatically led to a halt in negotiations with Moscow.”
He added that this “demand by Moscow” was “fresh proof of Russian implication in the crash of MH17.”
Piet Ploeg, chairman of the Dutch MH17 victims foundation told AFP: “Of course we’re not happy with the transfer of Mr Tsemakh to Russia but we understand it’s a very difficult dilemma for Ukraine.
“We are under the impression that this move by Russia has only one purpose, it’s to keep Mr Tsemakh away from the JIT investigation”, Ploeg added referring to a Joint Investigation Team established to conduct a criminal investigation into the disaster.
It looks “very suspicious,” Ploeg said, adding that “from our point of view, it’s kind of obstruction from Russia.”
Foreign minister Blok said that “the government notes once again that Russia is supposed to cooperate” with the investigation.
Earlier Saturday, Russia and Ukraine carried out a long-awaited swap of 70 prisoners in a deal hailed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky as a “first step” towards ending their more than five-year conflict.