A Dutch court delivers its verdict on Thursday in the trial of four men for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014, amid…
A Dutch court delivers its verdict on Thursday in the trial of four men for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014, amid rising tensions over the Russian invasion.
The suspects, the Russians Igor Girkine, Sergei Doubinski and Oleg Poulatov as well as the Ukrainian Leonid Khartchenko, will however not be present in the courtroom. Still at large, they refused to attend the trial, which lasted two and a half years.
All 298 passengers and crew were killed when the plane from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was hit over pro-Russian separatist-held eastern Ukraine by what prosecutors say was a missile delivered by Moscow.
The suspects, charged with murder and playing a part in the plane crash, face life, although they are unlikely to ever serve their sentences even if found guilty.
According to the prosecution, they were part of the Kremlin-backed separatist forces and played a key role in bringing the BUK missile system to Ukraine from a military base in Russia, even if they did not press the trigger.
Moscow has denied any involvement in the drama.
The verdict will be delivered from 1:30 p.m. (12:30 GMT) in a highly secure court near Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, from where the Boeing 777 took off on July 17, 2014. The hearing is expected to last approximately one hour and half.
“Hunt Them Down”
Bereaved families around the world are on the move to hear the verdict after long years of seeking justice. The victims came from 10 countries, including 196 Dutch, 43 Malaysians and 38 Australians.
The day before the verdict, several relatives gathered at the monument erected in the Netherlands in tribute to the victims.
“If they are guilty, the international community should hunt them down,” Evert van Zijtveld, who lost his daughter Frederique, 19, his son Robert-Jan, 18, and his in-laws, told AFP.
“I can’t forgive them,” he said.
The tragedy sparked global outrage and led to sanctions against Moscow, with Ukraine’s famous sunflower fields littered with bodies and debris. Some victims, including children, were still strapped into their seats.
Eight years after the disaster, the area where the plane crashed has become one of the main battlefields following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The trial opened in March 2020 with a sad reading of the names of the victims. It was held in the Netherlands as most of them were Dutch nationals.
Three of the suspects are officially tried in absentia. The fourth, Oleg Poulatov, is represented by a lawyer and denied any guilt in a video statement.
Igor Girkin, 51, a former Russian spy who became the so-called defense minister of the breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic, was in contact with Moscow to obtain the missile system, according to the prosecution.
He denied any involvement by separatists in the downing of MH17. Having recently become critical of the Russian military for its handling of the invasion of Ukraine, he reportedly volunteered to fight there.
Sergei Dubinsky, 60, also linked to Russian intelligence, was allegedly the separatists’ military intelligence chief, and gave orders regarding the missile.
Their subordinates, Oleg Poulatov, a former Russian special forces soldier, and Leonid Kharchenko, 50, who allegedly led a separatist unit, played a more direct role in getting the missile to the launch site, according to the prosecution.
Images and information on social media have established that it was a BUK missile from the 53rd Kursk anti-aircraft missile brigade in Russia, according to investigators.
Defense attorneys say the trial was unfair and the prosecution failed to prove that a BUK missile shot down the plane. According to them, “alternative scenarios”, such as the involvement of a Ukrainian apparatus, cannot be ruled out.