3 sentenced in 2014 for shooting down Malaysian plane over Ukraine


SCHIPHOL, Netherlands (AP) — A Dutch court convicted three men on Thursday of murder for their role in shooting down a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane with a Russian surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 people on board. the plane as it flew over a

SCHIPHOL, Netherlands (AP) — A Dutch court convicted three men on Thursday of murder for their role in shooting down a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane with a Russian surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 people on board. the plane as it flew over an area controlled by separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014.

The convictions, along with the life sentences handed down to the two Russians and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian who were tried in absentia, were seen as blaming the downing of the plane on the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin, even if the Kremlin has always denied any connection with it.

The trial, held in a courtroom near Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport where flight MH17 took off for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, placed the Kremlin’s involvement in the separatist conflict in the is Ukraine at the heart of the matter.

Against the geopolitical upheaval caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this year, the court ruled that in 2014 Moscow had overall control of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, the breakaway area where the missile was launched.

Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said evidence presented by prosecutors in the trial – which lasted more than two years – proved the Boeing 777 was shot down by a Buk missile fired by pro-Moscow Ukrainian fighters on July 17 2014. The crash scattered the wreckage and bodies across farmland and fields of sunflowers.

The 298 passengers and crew killed in the bombing came from more than a dozen countries, although nearly 200 were Dutch citizens.

As relatives of the victims wiped away their tears, Steenhuis described their torment at having to wait for the remains of their loved ones to be returned to them.

“A piece of bone from a hand. A piece of leg or foot. In two cases, no part of a loved one returned,” he said.

Russians Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy, and Ukrainian separatist Leonid Kharchenko, all of whom remain at large, have been convicted for their role in bringing the Buk missile system from a Russian military base into Ukraine and setting it up for its launch.

Russian Oleg Pulatov, the only suspect represented by defense lawyers at trial, was acquitted for lack of evidence.

Prosecutors said the convicted men had two weeks to appeal.

The court awarded damages to the families of more than 16 million euros ($16.5 million), but it is unclear who would pay that sum.

Relatives of the victims welcomed the verdict even though it is unlikely that any of the three convicted will serve their sentence.

“It is part of justice for us. It’s not all yet, but it’s a good start,” said Seline Frederiksz-Hoogzand, who lost her son Bryce and girlfriend Daisy. “Even though no one will go to jail, justice has been served. .”

“The truth on the table – that’s the most important thing,” said Anton Kotte, who lost his son, daughter-in-law and 6-year-old grandson when MH17 was shot down. He called the hearing “D-Day” for loved ones.

For the families, the ordeal of attending the trial was compounded by the fact that it was held near the airport where their loved ones boarded the fateful flight. Outside the court, planes could be heard taking off and landing on a cold, gray day.

Prosecutors focused their case on the circumstances of the plane’s downing, saying that from mid-May 2014, the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic “was in fact controlled from the Russian Federation”.

Three hours before MH17 was shot down, Associated Press reporters in Ukraine saw a Buk system with four missiles driving through the rebel-held town of Snizhne near where the plane was shot down .

Several families of victims were relieved that the court highlighted Russian involvement.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, they are fully responsible, all the way to the Kremlin,” said Peter Langstraat, a lawyer representing one of the families. “You cannot move this heavy military equipment without the consent of someone high up in the military hierarchy. What does it mean? Near or in the Kremlin.

Marieke de Hoon, assistant professor of international criminal law at the University of Amsterdam, said the tribunal’s findings could be used in further proceedings by Ukraine and the Netherlands seeking to hold Moscow accountable.

“Today the court declared that indeed, from mid-May 2014, it was an international armed conflict, which means that Russia was a party to this conflict,” he said. she said, adding that the court “has a high authority value”.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the verdict was an essential first step in assigning responsibility for the crime, but added that more prosecutions and convictions were needed.

“This is an important decision of the court. … (But) those who ordered it must also be in the dock, because impunity leads to new crimes,” he said. tweeted.

Malaysia welcomed the court’s decision and thanked the investigators for their work. “While nothing can bring back the lives of the victims or alleviate the grief and suffering of their families and loved ones, I hope the court’s decision can bring some relief and peace to the families and loved ones of the victims. “said a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken hailed the verdict as “a solid step towards justice”, he said there is still work to be done to hold those responsible to account.

The Russian Foreign Ministry accused the court of bowing to pressure from Dutch politicians, prosecutors and the media.

“There is no need to speak of objectivity and impartiality under such conditions,” he said in a statement.

There had been fears that the massive evidence might not necessarily lead to convictions. Steenhuis, however, cited details such as where the Buk was fired from, the burns it left on a field in rebel-held territory and how it moved through eastern Ukraine. He also looked at the roles of the accused.

“There is no possible reasonable doubt,” he added, dismissing defense arguments that something else could have happened to the plane.

And even though the bombing involved a military miscalculation, Steenhuis said “such an error did not change the intent.”

The longest-serving defendant was Girkin, a 51-year-old former colonel in Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB. At the time of the attack, he was defense minister and commander of the armed forces of the separatist region of Donetsk and is now embroiled in the war in Ukraine.

Dubinskiy, 60, was a former officer in Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU, and one of Girkin’s deputies in 2014. Like Girkin, he was in regular contact with Russian officials in 2014 and was also intelligence chief in the separatist region of Donetsk. .

Kharchenko was described as the commander of a pro-Russian rebel fighting unit which took orders directly from Dubinskiy.

Pulatov is a 56-year-old former GRU special units officer who was Dubinskiy’s deputy at the time MH17 was shot down.

In a video shown in court, Pulatov insisted on his innocence and said, “What matters to me is that the truth comes out. It is important to me that my country is not blamed for this tragedy.


Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Mike Corder and Raf Casert, Associated Press


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