HomeWorld3 convicted in 2014 downing of Malaysian jet over Ukraine

3 convicted in 2014 downing of Malaysian jet over Ukraine

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

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

The trial, held in a courtroom near Schiphol Airport where flight MH17 departed for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, highlighted the Kremlin’s involvement in the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine. at the heart of the matter.

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

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

The 298 passengers and crew who died in the downing came from more than a dozen countries, although nearly 200 were Dutch.

As relatives of the victims blinked away tears, Steenhuis described their agony of 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 a foot. In two cases, no parts of a loved one were returned,” he said.

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Russians Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy, and Ukrainian separatist Leonid Kharchenko, who all remain at large, were convicted of their role in bringing the Buk missile system from a Russian military base to Ukraine and positioning it for launch .

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

Prosecutors said the convicted men have two weeks to appeal.

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

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

“This 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 his girlfriend Daisy. “Even if no one goes to prison, justice has been done.”

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

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, on a cold, gray day, planes could be heard taking off and landing.

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

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

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Several victims’ families were relieved, the court pointed to Russia’s involvement.

“Without 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 permission of someone high 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 court’s findings could be used in other proceedings by Ukraine and the Netherlands to hold Moscow accountable.

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

“It’s an important court decision. … (But) it’s imperative that those who ordered it also end up in the dock, because impunity leads to new crimes,” he tweeted.

Malaysia applauded the court ruling and thanked the investigators for their work. “While nothing can bring back the victims’ lives or lessen the grief and suffering of their families and loved ones, hopefully the court’s decision will bring some relief and peace to the families and relatives 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”, saying more work is ahead to hold those responsible accountable.

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

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“There is no need to talk about objectivity and impartiality under such circumstances,” it said in a statement.

It was feared that the vast amount of evidence would not necessarily lead to convictions. However, Steenhuis cited details such as where the Buk was fired, the burns it left on a field in rebel-held territory, and how it traveled through eastern Ukraine. He also delved into the roles of the defendants.

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

And even if the downing involved a military miscalculation, Steenhuis said “such a mistake didn’t change the intent”.

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

Dubinskiy, 60, was a former officer of Russia’s military intelligence agency, 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 chief of intelligence in the breakaway Donetsk region. region. .

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

Pulatov is a 56-year-old former GRU special forces officer who was Dubinskiy’s deputy at the time of the downing of MH17.

In a video played in court, Pulatov insisted he was innocent, saying: “What matters to me is that the truth be revealed. It is important to me that my country is not blamed for this tragedy.”

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

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