Three men have been found guilty of murder for their roles in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which was blown out of the sky by a Russian-supplied missile in 2014 causing the loss of 298 lives.
Russians Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko were sentenced to life in prison but are unlikely to serve time behind bars as they all refused to attend the trial and were being tried in absentia.
In a summary of the ruling, Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said: “Only the most severe punishment is fitting to retaliate for what the suspects have done, which has caused so much suffering to so many victims and so many surviving relatives.”
A fourth man, Russian Oleg Pulatov was acquitted.
Flight MH17 – a Boeing 777 – was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014 when it was brought down while flying over Ukraine’s Donetsk region, occupied at the time by Russian-backed separatists.
All 298 people on board died, most of them Dutch nationals; 43 Malaysians and 38 Australians also died.
The Dutch court handling the trial confirmed on Thursday, Nov. 17 that it was shot down by a Russian-made BUK missile fired from a field in eastern Ukraine.
“The court is of the opinion that MH17 was brought down by the firing of a BUK missile from a farm field near Pervomaisk, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew members,” Steenhuis said.
The suspects were part of Kremlin-backed forces and had key roles in bringing the BUK missile from a military base in Russia and deploying it to the launch site.
Prosecutors claimed 51-year-old former spy Girkin – currently believed to be fighting in Ukraine – was in direct contact with Russia and played a key role in obtaining the missile system used to shoot down the plane.
Dubinsky, 60, is thought to have been an intelligence chief for the Russian-backed separatists and oversaw the transport of the weapon into the Donetsk region where it was fired.
Kharchenko, 50, is believed to have played an important role on the ground, securing the missile system at the launch site and ordering it back to Russia after it became clear they had shot down a passenger jet.
The Kremlin has always denied involvement in the shooting down of MH17 and refused to extradite any of the suspects, saying it is illegal under Russian law.
But a mountain of evidence, including intercepted phone calls, shows there was “almost daily telephone contact between the leadership of the DPR [the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic] and their contacts in the Russian Federation”. The Dutch court said on Nov. 17 that Russia had “overall control over the People’s Republic of Donetsk” at the time of the disaster.
Open-source investigations website Bellingcat also traced the weapon’s route from the base of the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade in Kursk, Russia, to eastern Ukraine.
The trial began mare than two and a half years ago, starting on March 9, 2020.