Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says Australia is “considering options” after investigators identified a Russian military unit as firing the missile that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014.
The airliner with 298 people aboard was hit by a Russian-made missile on July 17, 2014, over territory held by pro-Russian separatists.
All aboard died, two thirds of them Dutch and 38 of them Australian residents.
Wilbert Paulissen, head of the crime squad of the Netherlands’ national police, said the missile had been fired from a carrier belonging to Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade.
“All the vehicles in a convoy carrying the missile were part of the Russian armed forces,” he told a televised news conference.
Russia repeated on Thursday that it had nothing to do with the incident.
“Not a single air defence missile launcher of the Russian Armed Forces has ever crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border,” Russia’s TASS news agency quoted the Defence Ministry as saying in a statement.
Ms Bishop said Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine were now “considering options” towards prosecution as they remained united to pursue justice for those who lost their lives and their families.
“That a sophisticated weapon belonging to the Russian Army was dispatched and used to shoot down a civilian aircraft should be of grave international concern,” Ms Bishop said in response to the latest report.
In an interim update on their investigation, prosecutors on Thursday said they had trimmed their list of possible suspects from more than a hundred to several dozen.
“We have a lot of proof and a lot of evidence, but we are not finished,” said chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke. “There is still a lot of work to do.”
He said investigators were not yet ready to identify individual suspects publicly or to issue indictments.
The question of whether members of the 53rd Brigade were actively involved in the downing of the plane remains under investigation, he said.
Mr Westerbeke called on witnesses, including members of the public, to help identify members of the crew that was operating the missile system. He also asked for tip-offs in determining what their orders were and in identifying the officials in charge of the brigade.
A Joint Investigation Team, drawn from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, is gathering evidence for a criminal prosecution in the downing of the plane.
The Dutch Safety Board concluded in an October 2015 report that the Boeing 777 was struck by a Russian-made Buk missile.
Eventual suspects are likely to be tried in absentia in the Netherlands after Russia used its veto to block a UN Security Council resolution seeking to create an international tribunal to oversee criminal complaints stemming from the incident.