Russia wants Ukraine to hand over MH17 key witness: report

Russia wants the Ukraine to give possible MH17 key witness Vladimir Tsemach to them. Russia added the man to a list of prisoners the countries plan to exchange in the coming week, Het Parool reports based on reports from Ukrainian parliamentarian Mustafa Najem, editor of Ukrainian Tsenzor.net Yuri Bukusov, and independent Russian news site The Insider.

Tsemach previously stated in an interview that he helped hide the Russian BUK missile with which flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on 17 July 2014. All 298 people on board, including 196 Dutch, were killed. It is expected that he will be called to testify in the trial against four men suspected of involvement in the downing of the plane, which will start at the high security court at Schiphol in March next year.

Ukrainian soldiers managed to take Tsemach into custody in June, smuggling him from the self proclaimed pro-Russian Dontesk People's Republic (DNR) and transferring him to Kiev. Tsemach was the commander of a DNR anti-aircraft unit near Snizhne, from where the BUK missile was fired at MH17. He is still in Ukrainian custody.

If Russia did indeed ask that Tsemach be transferred to them, it is a strange request. Tsemach is a Ukrainian citizen, which means Russia has no formal reason to want him. The discussions around the prisoner exchange are taking place behind closed doors, making it difficult to determine whether Moscow really made this request. Ukrainian MP Najem told Het Parool that he "knows no more" than that the request was made. He would not give the newspaper his sources, but said that they were reliable. 

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