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MH17: when the offenders will be punished?

Peter Dejong / AP
Peter Dejong / AP

On July 17, 2014, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was downed over Donbas. All 298 passengers and crew members were killed. Less than a month later, a Joint Investigation Team was formed allowing criminal investigators from the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine to start the investigation.     

After the investigation was completed, the trial started in the Netherlands in March 2020. Investigation identified what weapons were used to bring down the Boeing, where they came from, where the launch site was and who the suspects are. Russia denies its involvement in the tragedy.  

 Who downed the plane? In spring 2018, the Joint Investigation Team announced that the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was shot down over Donbas by the Buk missile system. Buk was owned by the 53rd Kursk-based Antiaircraft brigade of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and was brought into Donbas from the territory of Russia.  

During court hearings, investigators explained how evidence was collected to support the main version. Despite Russia’s claims that the Buk missile that downed the plane was part of Ukraine’s military registry, investigation proved that the Buk was towed from Russia. The serial number on the missile’s engine – 8869032 helped establish that similar ammunition was being produced at a military factory in Dolgoprudnoe, outside Moscow, in Russia in 1986. The launch site of the missile – Snizhne, was identified by calculations of the Dutch and Belgian experts. So, suggestions brought forward by the Russian military group of companies “Almaz-Antey”, manufacturers of Buk, that the missile was launched from Ukraine-controlled Zaroschenske, were disproved.

How the plane was downed. Twenty minutes before the downing, the MH17 flight deviated 37 kilometers from its intended flight path due to weather conditions, it was flying at 10.050 meters– the minimum altitude over Donbas. One minute later the plane left Ukraine’s airspace, and a Ukrainian air traffic controller passed the fight under the Russian control. 

At 16:20 Moscow time, the Boeing was hit by the Buk missile. The cockpit was hit hardest: the blast wave caused the cockpit and the business class section to separate. The plane continued its flight for 8,5 more kilometers, until the rear of the fuselage cracked and the tail section broke away. It all happened in less than two minutes. The debris and fragments of bodies were found in the 15 square kilometer area around the crash site.

Search and rescue workers as well as OSCE representatives were let access the crash site three days after the downing. By then the Buk had been taken back to Russia, towed to the state border from near Snizhne through Krasnyi Luch, Debaltseve and Luhansk.

Who is on trial now? Four individuals were indicted in the case, the Joint Investigation Team named them back in June 2019. They are three Russian nationals and a Ukrainian national. Judicial authorities contacted them through all possible channels including various messengers but to no avail.  

Russia discontent with the Dutch-led investigation. Moscow denies its involvement into the MH17 downing and disregards the evidence and statements released by the Joint Investigation Team. The Office of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation said they will not hand over the Russian suspects.”     

A new lawsuit by the Dutch government. On July 10, the Netherlands announced it takes Russia to the European Court of Human Rights over the downing of the MH17 flight. The lawsuit regards three Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights that Russia thus violated.   

This lawsuit by the Dutch government in the ECHR may indicate that Moscow's talks with Amsterdam did not yield results. (Following the announcement of the results of the investigation by the Joint Investigation Team in 2018, Russia entered into diplomatic talks with the Netherlands and Australia on MН17). The hearing of the MH17 criminal case in the Hague court will begin in early 2021. Now the Russian Federation, through the lawyers of one of the suspects, is trying to delay the process with numerous petitions.

The legal assessment of Russian aggression in the MH17 case may have a chain reaction in the form of new claims against Russia as an aggressor and violator of international law in other international courts. Since the Russian Constitution, rewritten by Putin, is recognized as a priority over international law, there is a significant probability that the Kremlin will ignore future verdicts. Thus, the international community will have no choice but to increase pressure on Russia, including by imposing new tough sanctions.

An indisputable fact is the personal responsibility of the military-political leadership of the Russian Federation for the deployment of a Buk missile system in the occupied part of Donbas, which was used to destroy MH17. And it is they (together with Putin) who should be punished for their own actions.  

Next stage of the trial will take place in the Netherlands between August 31 and November 13, 2020. 

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