Investigators probing the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 released audio recordings of phone calls on Thursday between Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists and top Russian officials.
The plane was blasted out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile on July 17, 2014 during a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Nearly 300 passengers and crew were killed.
Up to now, investigators in the years-long probe have only said that the plane was downed by a Russian-made air defense system, but Moscow has always denied any involvement.
Dutch investigators looking into the crash said that the audio evidence indicates near-daily contact between separatists in Ukraine’s Donetsk People’s Republic and “leaders in Moscow.”
Investigators said the phone calls were intercepted in the weeks before the downing of MH17.
“They spoke with leaders in Moscow, near the border with Ukraine and in Crimea,” the investigators said Thursday. “Communication mostly took place via secure telephones provided by the Russian security service.”
Investigators said that in the phone calls, Alexander Borodai, a separatist leader, talked once to a Russian official and said he was “carrying out orders and protecting the interests” of Moscow.
“That’s the bottom line,” he noted.
In other calls, a separatist commander said “men are coming with a mandate” from Russian defense minister Sergey Shoygu while another was told the separatists would receive military support from Moscow.
Crash investigators also say they have been told by former combatants that the Russian security service FSB and GRU intelligence agency were involved in guiding the separatists.
Three Russians and one Ukrainian have thus far been charged with the downing of the plane.