Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Investigators examining the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on Thursday released audio recordings of phone calls between Ukrainian separatists and top Russian officials.
The airliner was shot down on July 17, 2014, while flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Nearly 300 passengers and crew were killed. The years-long investigation has so far said the plane was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile, although Moscow has denied involvement.
Dutch crash investigators said the audio records show almost daily contact between separatists in the Donetsk People's Republic and "leaders in Moscow." The calls were intercepted in the weeks leading up to the crash of MH17.
"They spoke with leaders in Moscow, near the border with Ukraine and in Crimea," the investigators said Thursday. "Communication mostly took place via secure telephones provided by the Russian security service."
In the phone calls, investigators say, separatist leader Alexander Borodai spoke once to a Russian official and said he was "carrying out orders and protecting the interests" of Russia.
"That's the bottom line," he said.
In other calls, a separatist commander said "men are coming with a mandate" from Russian defense minister Sergey Shoygu and another was told the separatists would receive military support from Moscow.
Investigators say they have been told by former fighters the Russian security service FSB and GRU intelligence agency were involved in managing separatists.
The Joint Investigation Team has so far charged three Russians and one Ukrainian in connection with the downing of the flight.