Dutch court finds MH17 was shot down by Russian-made missile

Part of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 at the crash site in the village of Hrabove, about 80 km east of Donetsk, Ukraine, on August 2, 2014 (Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images)

Three Russians and a Ukrainian man charged with mass murder and tried in absentia for their alleged involvement in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 are expected to receive their verdict from a Dutch court on Thursday.

The Boeing 777 was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014, when it was shot down from the sky over pro-Russian rebel held territory in eastern Ukraine.

All 298 people on board were killed in the incident, including 15 crew members and 283 passengers from 17 countries.

The destruction of MH17 occurred at the start of a conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces.

An international investigation revealed that the plane had been hit by a Russian Buk missile fired from a village in eastern Ukraine held at the time by pro-Russian rebels.

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 responsibility for the incident.

The trial marks the first time an independent judgment will be made on the 2014 incident.

Three Russians, Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy and Oleg Pulatov, have been named as suspects, along with Ukrainian separatist Leonid Kharchenko.

Investigators say Girkin is a former colonel in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), Dubinskiy was employed by Russia’s military intelligence agency GRU, and Pulatov was a former soldier in Russia’s special forces, Spetsnaz-GRU.

Ukrainian Kharchenko had no military experience, but he reportedly led a combat unit in Donetsk in July 2014.

Although the suspects are not charged with firing the missile at MH17, they are “just as punishable as the person who committed the crime”, according to Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke.

The men were tried in absentia at the Schiphol court complex in Badhoevedorp, the Netherlands, and are unlikely to serve their sentences if found guilty.

Pulatov was the only suspect to be represented by lawyers and has always maintained his innocence.

Prosecutors have called for life sentences for the suspects charged with murder and causing the plane crash. They presented thousands of pages of evidence in support of their case.

Christi C. Elwood