MH17 crash: Ukraine court releases key suspect in the downing of flight

A Ukrainian court on Thursday released the man suspected to be involved in the downing of the Malaysian Airlines MH17 aircraft in the country in 2014 on bail, Reuters reported. The crash had killed all 298 people on board.

The country’s security service has identified Volodymyr Tsemakh as a former commander of Russian-backed separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.

A judge said that Tsemakh should be released immediately from custody, pending further investigation in the case.

Tsemakh is reportedly one of the people who could be handed over to Russia in a widely-anticipated prisoner exchange deal. The swap was a step aimed towards normalising relations between the two countries.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that talks on a prisoner exchange were being finalised and that the exchange could involve a large number of people.

Dutch prosecutors, however, had last week urged the authorities in Ukraine to not allow Tsemakh to travel to Russia. They said this could jeopardise their investigation into the downing of flight MH17. Forty European politicians wrote to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy with the same request, European Parliament member Kati Piri had said earlier this week.

Flight MH17 was shot out of the sky over territory held by separatists in eastern Ukraine as it flew from Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. Fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed forces in eastern Ukraine has killed 13,000 people in the past five years.

Prosecutors have said the missile system that brought down the airliner came from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade, based in the western Russian city of Kursk. Moscow, however, has denied any involvement.

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