Ukraine releases MH17 suspect from custody

The Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash site in Ukraine. Source: Twitter/ @mashableThe Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash site in Ukraine. Source: Twitter/ @mashable

The court of appeal in Kiev, Ukraine decided to release Vladimir Tsemach from custody, Ukrainian news agency Interfax-Ukraine reports. Tsemach was a commander for the self proclaimed pro-Russian Donetsk People's Republic. The Public Prosecution Service in the Netherlands wants to question him in connection with the downing of flight MH17. 

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, according to Het Parool. All 298 people on board, including 196 Dutch, were killed. The expectation is 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.

The former commander was supposed to form part of an extensive prisoner exchange between Russia and the Ukraine. That exchange will happen "in the near future", Russian president Vladimir Putin said at an economic conference in Vladivostok, the Financial Times reports. "We will soon finalize our talks. It will be a large-scale exchange", Putin said. He added that the exchange will be "something of a compass" for Russia's relations with Ukraine. "It is inevitable that we will normalize our relations... as we are two parts of the same people."

On Monday Dutch Public Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said in a letter that it is "of the utmost importance" that Tsemach remains available for the MH17 trial, according to NOS. Extraditing him to Russia would complicate the criminal procedure, because Russia is a party in the conflict, the Prosecutor said.

What Tsemach's release means for the trial is not yet clear. The Joint Investigation Team has not yet responded to his release. 

Ukrainian soldiers managed to take Tsemach into custody in June, smuggling him from the Dontesk People's Republic 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.