MH17 verdict: Court finds three guilty for downing aircraft

MH17 verdict: Court finds three guilty for downing aircraft
Investigation of the crash site of MH-17 by Dutch and Australian police officers. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The District Court of The Hague has found three Russian proxies guilty of murder for shooting down a passenger jet, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, over eastern Ukraine in 2014. The missile attack cost the lives of all 298 people on board.

The men, two Russian citizens and a Ukrainian citizen, were found guilty in absentia and sentenced to life behind bars. A third Russian, Oleg Pulatov, was acquitted.

The court has now established, despite Russian attempts to accuse Ukraine of shooting down the aircraft, that the missile was Russian-made and fired from territory held by Russian proxies.

Judges ruled that the trio were guilty of deliberately trying to bring down an aircraft, even though all three suspects had declared that they believed the plane was military, and not civilian.

Igor Girkin, former military leader for the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, was convicted of deploying the missile on Ukrainian territory and seeking Russian help after downing the civilian aircraft. Girkin was not present at the trial and is currently believed to be fighting alongside Russian forces against Ukraine. Girkin claims “moral responsibility” for incident, but rejected claims of further involvement.

The former Russian military leader is a self-described Russian nationalist and is suspected of having worked directly for Russian intelligence. With the invasion of Ukraine, Girkin framed himself as a war blogger, with a rabidly pro-war stance but with deep criticism for the competences of the Russian army.

Also convicted is Sergei Dubinsky, a Russian soldier, was found to have helped oversee the transportation of the missile launcher used in the attack. Ukrainian national Leonid Kharkchenko was found to have operated the Buk missile launcher, acting on the instructions of Dubinsky.

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MH17, which was transporting passengers from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, was downed at 33,000 feet over Ukraine by a Buk 9M83 surface-to-air missile. Russian proxies looted the crash site before trying to remove evidence that they had indeed downed the plane.

In the early stage of the war in Donbas, the airspace above Ukraine remained open, despite several military planes being shot down in the prior months.

The families of victims have been petitioning in court for years to bring those responsible to justice. In 2020, the Dutch government sued Russia in the European Court of Human Rights to demand justice for the victims. Russia repeatedly used bogus experts and counter-intelligence to cover up the responsibility of Russian forces in the attack.

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