Four charged with murder over the downing of MH17

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June 19, 2019
MH17 charges murder
Wednesday's MH17 press conference. Image: YouTube

Three Russians and a Ukrainian are to be charged with causing the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in 2014 and with the murder of its 298 passengers and crew.

Dutch prosecutors will lodge the charges on the basis of extensive evidence collected by The MH17 Joint Investigation Team, which includes representatives from  Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, Ukraine and the Netherlands.

They are issuing international arrest warrants and placing the four on national and international wanted lists.

MH17 was downed by a Russian-made missile on July 17, 2014  as it crossed Ukrainian airspace while traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

The tragedy was doubling shocking because it occurred so soon after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. Many of the MH17 victims were Dutch but there were also 38 Australians.

The three Russians were named as Igor Vsevolodovich Girkin (48), Sergey Nikolayevich Dubinskiy  (56) and Oleg Yuldashevich Pulatov (52). The Ukranian is Leonid Volodymyrovych Kharchenko (47).

The Dutch Public Prosecution Service alleges the four men cooperated to obtain and deploy the BUK TELAR that launched the missile at MH17 at the firing location with the aim of shooting down an aircraft.

READ: Social media helps investigators identify Russian army unit.

Under Dutch law, that means they can be held jointly accountable for downing flight MH17 even if that was not their intention.

Girkin was the most senior of the group and was a  former colonel of the FSB, the Russian Federal Security Service.

On July 17,  2014, Girkin was Minister of Defence and commander of the army of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic — the area where MH17 was shot down.

The prosecutors allege that as the highest military officer, he maintained contact with the Russian Federation.

Sergey Dubinskiy is a former military officer of the GRU, the Russian military intelligence service.

Dubinskiy was one of Girkin’s deputies in 2014 and also head of the intelligence service of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic. He is also alleged to have maintained regular contact with officials in Russia.

Oleg Pulatovis a former military officer of the Russian Spetznaz-GRU, the special units of the Russian military intelligence service.

In 2014, Pulatov was deputy head of the intelligence service of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and one of the deputies of Dubinskiy.

Leonid Kharchenko is the only Ukrainian suspect and has no military background.

Prosecutors say he received his orders directly from Dubinskiy and in July 2014 commanded a combat unit in the Donetsk region.

“At that time, there was an armed conflict in that area between pro-Russian fighters and the Ukrainian armed forces,’’ they said.

The men will be prosecuted for causing the crash of the Boeing 777 and the death of all those under one section of Dutch law and their murder under another.

The trial will start on March 9, 2020, before the District Court of The Hague at the Schiphol Judicial Complex.

But because neither Russia nor Ukraine allows the extradition of nationals, and given Russia’s denial it was involved in the atrocity, it is unlikely any of four men will face the court.

The charges are the result of a long-running investigation that saw the JIT announce in 2016 MH17 was shot down by a missile from the 9M38 series, which was launched by a BUK TELAR system.

It said the system was transported from the Russian Federation to an agricultural field near the town of Pervomaiskyi in Eastern Ukraine, from where the missile was launched.

After firing, it returned to the Russian Federation with one missile missing.

Last year, The JIT concluded the BUK TELAR used to shoot down MH17 came from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, a unit of the Russian armed forces from Kursk in the Russian Federation.

The charges do not mean an end to the investigation and the JIT has yet to publicly identify who actually launched the missile.

Officials at a press conference on Wednesday disclosed evidence of phone taps, social media and witness statements but said they had more that would be presented to the court.

They are still seeking witnesses with information on other people who played a role in the downing of flight MH17, including members of the 53rd Brigade.

“The investigation is ongoing and will continue to focus on the crew of the BUK TELAR and on persons who were an important link in the decision-making in the Russian Federation on military support to Eastern Ukraine in 2014,’’ they said.