A Ukrainian court on Thursday (5 September) released on bail a key suspect in the downing of a Malaysia Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine in 2014 that killed 298 people. The move raised many questions.
A judge said that Volodymyr Tsemakh, whom Ukraine’s security service has identified as a former commander of Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, should be released from custody immediately, pending further investigations.
Tsemakh is one of the people who could be handed over to Russia in a widely anticipated prisoner exchange.
Last week, Dutch prosecutors urged the authorities in Ukraine not to allow Tsemakh to travel to Russia, fearing this could jeopardize its investigation into Flight MH17, which was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
This week, 40 European politicians wrote to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy with the same request, according to European Parliament member Kati Piri. She called the release a “very disappointing move” by the country’s new President Volodymyr Zelenskyi.
Very disappointing move by Ukrainian President. Getting political prisoners home is understandably important. But not at the expense of serving justice to those involved in downing MH17. https://t.co/9BsYrlunu8
— Kati Piri (@KatiPiri) September 5, 2019
Major prisoner exchange
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that talks on a prisoner exchange were being finalised and that the swap could involve a large number of people. He said it could mark a step towards normalizing relations between the two countries.
The prisoner exchange is likely preparing the ground for another summit in the ‘Normandy format’ (Ukraine, Russia, France, Germany), to be hosted by France. French President Emmanuel Macron ambitions to help solve the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, and improve the EU’s relations with Russia.
A Dutch-led international investigation team has issued international arrest warrants for three Russians and a Ukrainian – not including Tsemakh – on suspicion of murder in connection with the downing of the airliner.
Flight MH17 was shot down on 17 July 2014, over territory held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine has killed 13,000 people in the past five years.
Dutch prosecutors have said the missile system that brought down the airliner came from a Russian anti-aircraft brigade. Russia has denied any involvement.