MH17: Dutch court says Russian missile downed 2014 Malaysia Airlines plane, sentencing three to life in prison

Two Russians and a Ukrainian separatist have been found guilty of bringing down the Malaysia Airlines flight in July 2014 which killed 298 people

A Dutch court has convicted two Russians and a Ukrainian separatist of downing the Malaysia Airline flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 which killed 298 people.

Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said the evidence presented by prosecutors at a trial that lasted more than two years proved that the Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was brought down by a Buk missile fired by pro-Moscow Ukrainian fighters on 17 July 2014.

One Russian was acquitted because of a lack of evidence and the three convicted were sentenced to life imprisonment.

None of the defendants appeared for the trial that began in March 2020 and if they are convicted, it is unlikely they will serve any sentence any time soon. The prosecution had sought life sentences for all four. Both prosecutors and the suspects have two weeks to file an appeal.

What was said in court?

The Hague District Court sat in a high-security courtroom at Schiphol Airport.

Hundreds of family members of people killed had travelled to the court to hear the verdict. It brought them back to the airport their loved ones left on the fateful day MH17 was shot down.

Judge Steenhuis opened the hearing on Thursday (17 November) saying “the court takes the view that the MH17 was brought down by a Buk missile” launched from an agricultural field in eastern Ukraine.

Dutch prosecutors said the missile launcher came from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, a unit of the Russian armed forces based in the Russian city of Kursk and was driven back there after MH17 was shot down.

The suspects are not accused of firing the missile but of working together to get it to the field where it was fired. They are accused of bringing down the plane and the murder of all those on board.

Anton Kotte, who lost his son, daughter-in-law and six-year-old grandson when MH17 was shot down, said the truth is “on the table” and that “is the most important thing. He said the hearing was a “D-Day” for relatives.

Robbert van Heijningen, whose brother, sister-in-law and nephew were killed, called the downing “an act of barbarism” that he could never put behind him, regardless of the verdict.

He said: “I call it a stone in my heart, and stones… don’t disappear.”

Who are those convicted?

The most senior defendant convicted is Igor Girkin, a 51-year-old former colonel in Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB.

At the time of the downing, he was defence minister and commander of the armed forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic - the region where the plane was shot down. Girkin is reportedly involved in Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Also convicted were Girkin’s subordinates, Sergey Dubinskiy and Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian who prosecutors say was commander of a pro-Russia rebel combat unit who took orders directly from Dubinskiy.

Oleg Pulatov was acquitted, but defence lawyers have accused the prosecutors of “tunnel vision”. The defence lawyers say they based their case on the findings of an international investigation into the downing while ignoring other possible causes.

In a video recording played in court, Mr Pulatov insisted he was innocent. He told judges: “What matters to me is that the truth is revealed. It’s important for me that my country is not blamed for this tragedy.”