Ambassador's interview to the AsiaTimes on the situation around MH17 downing investigation (published on July 17-18, 2019)

Q.: What specific factors do you believe underpin Malaysia’s skepticism of the international probe? From what you can discern, what is Malaysia’s official stance on the matter? What, if any, effect might Mahathir’s remarks have on Malaysian support for or compliance with international prosecutorial efforts?

Valery Yermolov: Dissatisfaction with the international probe into the 2014 downing of MH17, expressed by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad and a number of local NGOs and experts, demonstrates that not only Russia has doubts over impartiality and true objectives of the ongoing investigation.

The main reason for growing skepticism is the absence of solid evidence, substituted with fabricated video clips, dramatic images and photographs from dubious information sources, ill-quality fragments of intercepted telephone conversations of alleged perpetrators, etc. It does not mean that there is no reliable data at the disposal of investigators: there is, but it is being neglected for political reasons.

Secondly, it is the international team’s obsession to make Russia responsible at any cost that makes Malaysian authorities doubt the independence of the probe. As you can see, evidence is being selected by the criteria of being supportive of Russia’s involvement with the crash.

Membership of Ukraine in the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) is another issue of large concern. The country that made decision not to close its airspace for civil aircrafts, while being completely aware of all the dangers (active armed conflict in the Southeastern region of Ukraine), should not play one of the leading roles in the investigation process. If, for some reason, Ukraine is interested to hide the truth about the tragedy of MH17, it can manipulate the ongoing probe to produce an “acceptable” result and put blame on the third party (say, Russia).

Judging by the official statements of the Malaysian Foreign Ministry, Kuala Lumpur as a member of the JIT supports the international investigation led by the Netherlands. At the same time, Malaysian diplomats continuously call for a more comprehensive and transparent scrutiny of existing evidence and search for additional data, which can shed more light on the tragedy. It is clear that Malaysia seeks truth and justice for the sake of the deceased and their families. There is no “hidden agenda” here. Sadly, other countries, represented in the JIT, place politics above justice.

I believe that Tun Dr Mahathir’s remarks helped many people, especially in Malaysia, realize that for the past five years the JIT has produced nothing concerning the real cause of MH17 crash, and that the already announced trial of the alleged perpetrators will not bring the result everyone is waiting for. You should not expect fair court proceedings or deserved punishment for the culprits at the end of the day, but rather an ugly, politicized spectacle, which serves the sole purpose – to portray Russia as the “evil mastermind” behind the murder of 300 civilians. I sincerely sympathise families of all MH17 passengers and regret that eventually they might not get the truth they deserve. Thanks to the JIT.

Q.: Has the Russian government been uncooperative with the probe? From what I understand, Russia has gathered evidence of its own relating to the incident, which it has attempted to make available to investigators. Has the Dutch-led team evaluated or considered those findings? What do you consider the most compelling evidence provided by the Russian side which either challenges or invalidates the explanation of events put forward by Dutch-led probe?

Valery Yermolov: I believe our country has been so far most cooperative to the probe. From the very first day of the tragedy, Russia has been actively interested in finding the truth and willing to help in every respect, both within technical investigation of the incident (which was finalized in October 2015) and criminal proceedings, conducted by the JIT.

Russia presented all information it had on the MH17 crash. I should say that Russian relevant agencies carried out an enormous amount of unprecedented work. It includes a full-scale experiment performed in 2015 by Almaz-Antey Corporation (manufacturer of the “Buk” anti-aircraft missile system), which helped identify the type of missile used to down MH17 (Russian Armed Forces does not possess such type of missiles since 1999, but Ukraine does). Primary radar data, submitted by Russia to the Netherlands in October 2016, disproved the possibility of a missile launch from the spot on which the JIT was insisting. A set of documents, declassified by the Russian Defence Ministry in September 2018, showed that the missile that downed MH17 (according to the JIT findings), after being manufactured, had been delivered to the anti-aircraft unit, which nowadays belongs to the Ukrainian Armed Forces and is stationed in this country. Russian experts also proved that the video clips supporting the JIT’s conclusions that the “Buk” system that downed MH17 had been delivered from Russia, were fabricated. All these findings had been shared with the Dutch-led team and later on presented publicly during media briefings at the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation (all materials are available online).

This exhaustive data, put forth by the Russian side, questions the quality, impartiality and professionalism of the JIT’s performance. However, international investigators have been wilfully ignoring this data.

Q.: Since the incident took place in the airspace of Ukraine while a military conflict was active within its borders, what is Russia’s view of the Ukrainian government’s role and responsibilities in relation to this incident?

Valery Yermolov: Extent of Ukraine’s responsibility for not closing airspace above the armed conflict zone should be assessed by relevant international authorities. At the very least, we can call it criminal negligence. At the same time, the JIT shows little interest in giving its own assessment of the Ukraine’s decision, despite the fact that Kiev authorities had every security reason to close country’s airspace.

Q.: Prosecutors have made available images and video of a truck convoy carrying what appears to be a missile system. It is said to be crossing the border from Russia to Ukraine and that markings on the equipment are unique to the 53rd Brigade anti-aircraft unit based in the western Russian city of Kursk. How do Russian investigators evaluate these images?

Valery Yermolov: As I have already mentioned, these video and images had been examined in detail by the qualified experts of the Russian Defence Ministry. Their findings were presented during a media briefing on September 17, 2018, and proved that that the truck and the missile system had been deliberately and falsely put together on the same video. In a nutshell, this so-called evidence, interpreted by the JIT as a solid proof of the “Buk’s” origin, is a bad-quality fabrication, produced with the same purpose – to draw another link between MH17 tragedy and Russia. In reality, both vehicles had never met; neither had followed the route, showed in the video.

Q.: What is Russia’s stance toward returning citizens who have participated in military actions in eastern Ukraine? Does Russia plan to surrender any named suspects who may be on its territory?

Valery Yermolov: According to Russian laws, our country does not surrender its citizens to foreign nations. In case there is evidence that Russian nationals have committed any crimes abroad, they should be prosecuted in accordance with domestic legislation of the Russian Federation.

Q.: What, if any, information can you share about those meetings (between Dutch, Australian and Russian government officials in March this year)? What actions would you recommend international investigator take to address skepticism and criticism of the probe’s impartiality?

Valery Yermolov: Despite European media’s attempt to portray this meeting as a step forward in convincing Russia to claim responsibility for the downing of MH17, the real agenda of the trilateral negotiations was to give a comprehensive assessment of the ongoing criminal investigation of the crash. Russia gave its consent to hold such talks only after the Hague and Canberra had confirmed their willingness to discuss, among other issues related to the investigation, question of responsibility of the state in whose airspace the crash occurred, as well as the use of data submitted by Russia to the JIT.

We call on the JIT to concentrate on its main goal – to conduct an impartial analysis of all the data it possesses in order to establish the true reasons of the incident and to catch the real culprits. The manner the investigation has been conducted so far can not guarantee its independence and politics-free nature.

Q.: Can Your Excellency weigh on the possibility of further sanctions on the Russian Federation as a result of MH17?

Valery Yermolov: As our European colleagues like to say, it is highly likely. You should understand that the real intent of those, who accuse Russia of being directly involved in MH17 crash, is to discredit our country in the eyes of international community by attaching a permanent label of a “warmonger”, “murderer” or else. Thus, they try to justify any sort of restrictive measures against Russia and its citizens, including economic sanctions, in order to get the upper hand in geopolitical confrontation. What they miss is that we do not seek or want to be involved in any confrontation, and the sanctions do no harm to Russia’s economy, which has demonstrated its resilience to external pressure.