Investigators looking into the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines plane have released recordings of phone calls they say are between Ukrainian separatists and top Russian officials.
They say they show the degree to which the “leadership” of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic was talking to “leaders in Moscow”.
Flight MH 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on (July) while flying between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur.
A statement from the international 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.”
Investigators say the calls and evidence on ties between Moscow and the DPR raise questions about the possible involvement of officials in the deployment of the Russian-made missile it says destroyed the plane.
All 283 passengers and 15 crew were killed in the incident – 193 of them were Dutch.
The Joint Investigation Team (JIT), based in the Netherlands, previously took pieces of MH 17 from where it came down in Ukraine and reassembled it in a hangar.
It concluded that it had been shot down by a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile.
The Russians have denied involvement.
However, 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 to track the movement of the missile launcher from the base of the 53 rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade in Kursk, Russia, to eastern Ukraine.
The JIT says the conversations it has obtained appear to indicate links between key figures in the Donetsk rebels ‘*** high) 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 defense minister.
The JIT says it has been told by former fighters that the Russian security service – the FSB, and the military intelligence service – the GRU, were involved in the daily management of the Donetsk People’s Republic.
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.
The call goes as follows
“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?
” Mongol: Yes.
“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 with murder, appealed for further witnesses to come forward following their latest revelations.
Russia cast doubt on the authenticity of the recordings.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters the world was awash with what she called fake news, making it vital to test their veracity.