A Dutch court on Thursday found two Russians and a Ukrainian separatist guilty of mass murder for their involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014.
Igor Girkin, a former colonel in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), and Sergei Dubinsky, who was employed by Russia’s military intelligence agency GRU, were convicted along with Ukrainian separatist Leonid Kharchenko, who had no military experience but is believed to have led combat unit in Donetsk in July 2014.
The three were sentenced to life in prison, but because the sentences were handed down in absentia, none of them are likely to serve their sentences.
The fourth suspect, Russian citizen Oleg Pulatov, a former soldier of the Russian special forces Spetsnaz-GRU, was acquitted.
The verdict was read in a high-security courtroom near Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands on Thursday afternoon.
MH17 was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014, when it was shot out of the sky over territory held by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
All 298 people on board died in the incident, including 15 crew members and 283 passengers from 17 countries. The downing of the plane occurred in the early stages of the conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces, a precursor to today’s war.
International investigators announced that the plane was hit by a Russian Buk missile fired from a village in eastern Ukraine that was held by pro-Russian rebels at the time. Prosecutors said the launcher belonged to Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade and was returned to Russian territory the day after the strike. Moscow has repeatedly denied any responsibility for the incident.
The Dutch court’s verdict in the two-year trial marks the first time an independent verdict has been reached on the 2014 incident. The suspects refused to participate in the trial, which was held at the Schiphol court complex in Badhovedorp, the Netherlands.
It comes nearly nine months after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and weeks after Moscow tried to illegally annex four Ukrainian regions, including the area from which prosecutors say the missile that downed MH17 was fired eight years earlier. It also comes two days after a missile landed in Poland, sparking fears that Russia’s attack on Ukraine could spill over into neighboring countries.
Presiding judge Hendrik Steenhuis, who handed down the verdict on Thursday, said the court found that the Russian-made missile that downed MH17 was fired from an agricultural field near the village of Pervomaysky and that Russia controlled the separatists at the time. incident.
The court found that there was insufficient evidence to determine who launched the Buk missile and that the crew probably believed they were shooting at a military aircraft rather than a passenger plane.
However, the court said that firing the missile was a premeditated act with the intention of bringing down the plane, and that it would have been “crystal clear” to the crew that no one on the targeted plane would survive.
The court also ruled that since the defendants were not entitled to combat immunity because they were not official parties to the conflict, they were not allowed to shoot down any aircraft, military or civilian.
Steenhuis cited a range of evidence for the court’s decision and rejected any alternative explanations for the incident.
Evidence reviewed by the court included fragments of a Buk missile found embedded in the aircraft and the bodies of some of the victims, along with videos and images showing the Buk system being moved to eastern Ukraine from Russia and then back to Russian territory after the plane was shot down. .