MH17 verdict: Dutch court confirms a Russian missile hit the aircraft

The verdict was passed in absentia, meaning it is unlikely they will ever serve their sentence.
Ameya Paleja
Judges view flight MH-17 wreckage
Judges view flight MH-17 wreckage

Getty Images Europe 

A Dutch court has convicted two Russians and one Ukrainian separatist guilty of the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014, CNN reported. The three have been sentenced to life in prison and fined more than 16 million euros (US$16 million), while the fourth accused has been acquitted for lack of evidence.

The convicted trio consists of Russians Igor Girkin, a former colonel of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), and Sergey Dubinsky, who worked for Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency and deputized Girkin, who then held the post of minister of defense in the rebel-controlled territory of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine and is currently involved in the conflict with Ukraine.

The third, Leonid Kharchenko, is a Ukrainian national with no military background but led a combat unit in 2014 and took orders directly from Dubinsky, the prosecutors alleged. The trio have been held responsible for firing a warhead from the Russian Buk missile system that brought down a commercial airline flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

What happened to flight MH17?

On July 2014, Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 left Amsterdam Schiphol Airport at 10:31 GMT but lost contact with the air traffic control when it was 30 miles (50 km) from the Russia-Ukraine border.

The aircraft's wreckage was found distributed over an area of over 9 sq. miles (50 sq. km), and not a soul survived from 298 people onboard. This included 80 children and people from over a dozen nations. Nearly 200 people were Dutch.

A Joint Investigation Team (JIT) led by the Dutch Safety Board (DSB) reported after a 15-month-long investigation that the aircraft was brought down by a Russian-made Buk missile system, which fired a Russian-made 9N314M-type warhead.

Simulations carried out by the investigators confirmed that a 154-pound (70 kg) warhead exploded 13 feet (4 m) above the cockpit, showering the forward section of the aircraft with hundreds of high-energy objects that killed the three-member crew in the cockpit immediately.

The cockpit first broke away as the plane continued its flight, after which the wing tips came off, and the rear of the aircraft broke away. The plane's fuselage crashed into the ground upside down not more than 90 seconds later, a BBC report said.

A premeditated act

The investigation alleged that the Buk missile system was fired from farmland in eastern Ukraine, then under pro-Russian rebels. The men convicted played essential roles in transporting the missile system and its crew into Ukraine, which was then moved back to Russia post the strike.

The Dutch court noted that using the Buk missile system required preparation and transport to a launch site. The missile firing was a deliberate act and needed a highly trained crew.

Even though the strike's target was not a passenger aircraft, the men involved in the operation were well aware that nobody on board would survive. Since the accused were not official parties to the conflict, they did not have combat immunity and were not allowed to shoot down any aircraft, military or civilian.

The Dutch court said that the men convicted in absentia had a right to appeal. Still, calling the verdict politically motivated, Russia has refused to extradite the sentenced men to the Netherlands, the CNN report said. The convicted men will, therefore, never serve their sentence, but families of the victims were relieved that Russian involvement had been called out, AP said in its report.

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