Australia recognises the importance to Ukraine of the prisoner exchange between Ukraine and the Russian Federation on 7 September 2019 and welcomes the release of its 35 citizens, including the 24 sailors detained in the Azov Sea last November. We acknowledge the suffering they and their families have endured, and understand their happiness at their homecoming.
Australia is disappointed, however, that Mr Vladimir Tsemakh, a person of interest in connection with the downing of MH17, was included in the exchange.
While the prisoner exchange is a matter for the two countries involved, the Australian Government had asked the Government of Ukraine to ensure Mr Tsemakh remained available for questioning by Joint Investigation Team (JIT) investigators, including Australian Federal Police, and had conveyed our deep concern at the prospect of his being included in any prisoner swap.
We recognise Ukraine faced immense pressure from the Russian Federation to include Mr Tsemakh in this exchange. However, ensuring Mr Tsemakh faces justice will be more difficult if he is in Russia.
This will be particularly disappointing for the families of the victims.
The Australian Government does welcome confirmation from the Dutch Prosecutor that the release of Mr Tsemakh will not affect the commencement of the prosecution of four individual suspects in a Dutch court in March 2020.
Australia remains committed to pursuing accountability for the downing of MH17 and to achieving justice for the victims and their loved ones. We reiterate our call to all countries – including Russia – to ensure suspects are brought to justice in line with UN Security Council resolution 2166.
Australia, together with the Netherlands, has entered into talks with the Russian Federation over its role in the downing of MH17. This follows the release of evidence by the JIT indicating that Russia was directly involved in the downing. These talks are ongoing.
Australia has committed $50.3 million over four years to support the Dutch national prosecutions and ongoing investigations, and to ensure that the victim’s loved ones can meaningfully participate in the Dutch court proceedings.