The defendants did not attend the trial and are not in detention. Those convicted are Igor Girkin, a former colonel in Russia’s Federal Security Service, who later served as Minister of Defense in the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic; Sergey Dubinsky, a former GRU officer, Russia’s military intelligence agency; and Leonid Kharchenko, the Ukrainian commander of separatist forces in Donbass.
They are sentenced to life in prison, although they may never be caught.
The fourth accused, Oleg Bulatov, who served in a special unit of GRU, was acquitted for lack of evidence. Bulatov was the only defendant to have lawyers sent to defend him during the trial, and he had previously asked the court to acquit him, saying he had played no role in the incident.
The ruling follows a years-long investigation into who fired a Buk surface-to-air missile that hit a Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014, causing bodies and debris to be strewn across fields in eastern Ukraine.
The incident occurred during fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces in an area where several Ukrainian military aircraft were shot down in the weeks leading up to the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
Russia has long maintained that it was not a party to the conflict that erupted in Donbass in 2014, and that it did not control pro-Russian fighters in Donetsk, where the four defendants held high positions as part of separatist militias.
However, the court determined that Moscow funded and armed the separatist forces in Donetsk and generally controlled the separatist region and its powers.
The court also found that Bock’s shooting was premeditated but that the defendants likely believed they were shooting at a military aircraft.
“The judgment cannot reinstate those who died,” said presiding judge Hendrik Stenheis. “But it was made clear who was to blame.”
After the verdict was announced, the victims’ family members wept and hugged each other.
“This is a good and balanced verdict, in which three people received the highest possible sentence and Russia’s role in this was confirmed,” said Piet Bloig, who lost his brother, sister-in-law and nephew. “I feel relieved that justice has been done.”
“We were applauding, and we were glad that finally, after eight years, we could hear the truth,” said Thomas Schansman, whose 19-year-old son, Quinn, was on board. “There are a lot of people who could be behind bars for this, but what I want right now is for Putin and the Russian government to acknowledge their responsibility.”
Not only has the Kremlin denied its involvement, it has sought to discredit the investigation as politically biased. It has promoted various explanations of how the plane was shot down, from blaming the Ukrainian government to dismissing the evidence in the case as fabricated.
In Russia’s first official comment on the ruling, the Foreign Ministry rejected the decision, calling it a “political regime”.
Dutch investigators went to great lengths to expose Moscow’s allegations, and published a detailed report timetable From the strike and determine the role The defendants played in the delivery of the missile system to the Pervomaisky launch site and the subsequent downing of the plane.
Several family members of the Flight 17 victims have pointed out that Russia’s all-out invasion of Ukraine this year could have been avoided had the international community pressed Moscow hard in the years since the downing of the plane.
“Despite the evidence to the contrary, the West was happy to accept that separatist groups in Ukraine were not simply proxies of the Russian Federation, so they could turn a blind eye to Russian aggression,” said Elliot Higgins, founder of Bellingcat. , which has linked the Buk missile system to Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade and shared its findings with Dutch investigators.
Higgins added, “Had the West stood up to Russian aggression in 2014, we might have avoided the situation we are in today.”
Two days before the sentencing, a missile landed in a Polish village near the Ukrainian border, killing two men. It was likely a stray Ukrainian air defense missile, Warsaw said, but the incident was another example of Russian aggression having deadly consequences for innocent bystanders.
Girkin, who served as commander of Kremlin-backed separatist forces in Donetsk, once bragged that he “caused the war” in Ukraine. For years, he lived safely in Russia, but recently left a low profile in Moscow, reportedly returning last month to the front lines in Ukraine.
Girkin is believed to be the most senior military officer in direct contact with Moscow at the time of the downing of the plane, and he allegedly helped move the Buk missile system. He had previously said he felt a “moral responsibility” for the mass killing of passengers, but denied playing a direct role.
In mid-October, Girkin wrote on his popular Telegram blog that he had once again joined the “Active Army”. Girkin often uses the blog as a platform to harshly criticize Russia’s military strategy in Ukraine. His wife, Myroslava Reginska, shared a photo of Girkin, who also goes by the nom de guerre Igor Strelkov, wearing an army uniform.
After reports that Girkin had returned to the front, the Ukrainians launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise a $100,000 reward for his capture.
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