Dutch investigators want to interrogate MH-17 catastrophe suspect detained in Ukraine

Russia wants to exchange the former DPR anti-air commander for Ukrainian political prisoners because he knows too much about Russia’s crimes in the Donbas.

Tsemakh’s testimony to the Dutch investigators will be different to the propaganda videos that he used to feature in.

Dutch investigators from the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) would like to question Vladimir Tsemakh, a former anti-air commander for the Russia-controlled Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) terrorist group. Tsemakh is a valuable witness in the case surrounding Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down over separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Tsemakh is currently being detained in Ukraine. According to various media reports, he could be a candidate in the upcoming prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine. Russia, which denies any responsibility for the MH-17 tragedy despite all the evidence, wants Tsemakh to be handed over, because he helped to conceal the Russian Buk anti-air missile system that shot down the airliner.

“The Netherlands Public Prosecution Service is interested in questioning this person. If he is exchanged, of course, it’s hard to say whether we will be able to talk to him when he’s in Russia,” said Brechtje van de Moosdijk, a spokesperson for the JIT.

The Dutch prosecutors would like Tsemakh to remain in Ukraine so that the JIT can have access to him and ask him additional questions, writes Deutsche Welle.

JIT coordinator Fred Westerbeke remarked that it is “extremely important for separatist commander Vladimir Tsemakh to remain accessible to our investigation”. Westerbeke sent a letter to the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine stating that, on the basis of recently obtained information, the Dutch prosecution service considers Tsemakh a suspect.

Reports in the mass media speculate that Tsemakh is the primary obstacle to the planned major prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine. Negotiations surrounding the exchange have been underway for several weeks.

Ukraine has not responded to Westerbeke’s letter. The former anti-air commander is not being detained in Ukraine in connection with the MH-17 case, but for crimes against Ukraine as a member of the Russian occupation forces. For this reason, the Dutch prosecutors believe that Kyiv is fully entitled to decide whether or not to exchange him.

On June 29, Tsemakh was placed under arrest for 60 days without bail. The former anti-air commander was taken out of the Donbas in a special operation by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). He has been accused of creating a terrorist group.

According to prosecutor Oleh Peresada, Tsemakh and Dmitry Kupriyan, a former chief of the DPR’s “Defense Ministry”, could testify in an international hearing on the MH-17 case. They would be questioned as witnesses through a video conference.

On June 19, the JIT revealed the names of four chief suspects believed to be responsible for the catastrophe: the three Russian citizens Igor “Strelkov” Girkin, Oleg “Caliph” Pulatov, Seregy

“Gloomy” Dubinsky, and the Ukrainian citizen Leonid “Mole” Kharchenko. The trial could begin in spring 2020.

The SBU announced that the suspects were being accused of committing “an act of terrorism which led to human deaths”.

On July 17, 2014, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over the city of Shakhtarsk in eastern Ukraine. The crew and all passengers were killed, a total of 298 people, including 80 children.

At a press conference in May 2018, nearly four years later, the JIT presented fragments of the missile that had downed the aircraft. The Buk system that launched the missile belonged to the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, which is based in Kursk, Russia.

The following day, Australia and the Netherlands officially declared Russia responsible for the incident. The Council of Europe has also urged Russia to accept responsibility and to cooperate fully with all attempts to establish the truth, bring about justice, and identify the exact guilty parties.

  MH17, Tsemakh, Ukraine, Donbas, Russia