The Netherlands has expressed its disappointment that a suspect in the 2014 shooting-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 was released by Ukraine ahead of a prisoner swap with Russia.

Pro-Russian rebel Volodymyr Tsemakh is suspected of having been an air defence commander for a separatist group in eastern Ukraine where the airliner was shot down.

The plane, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was targeted by a surface-to-air missile that an international team of investigators believes came from Russia. All 298 people aboard were killed.

Tsemakh was freed on Saturday and flown to Moscow.

He could still play an essential role in the international probe into the disaster, according to the Dutch Foreign Ministry.

‘The government had urged the relevant Ukrainian authorities not to include Mr Tsemakh in the prisoner swap,’ a letter from the ministry to the Dutch parliament said.

The long-awaited prisoner swap on Saturday involved several dozen people. It was described by Moscow as an ‘important step’ forward for the two sides.

Bilateral relations have deteriorated since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014.