The trial in the case of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which is currently taking place in the Netherlands, has reached its climax: the prosecutor issued a final charge and demanded that the court sentence the four defendants – three Russian citizens Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Ukrainian citizen Leonid Kharchenko – to life imprisonment.
The prosecutor’s office has also requested their arrest before the final decision of the court takes effect, given the fact that they may again commit violent crimes in other armed conflicts.
‘We demand that, for having jointly caused the crash of an aircraft, which resulted in the death of people, and for having jointly killed 298 people on board, the defendants Girkin, Dubinsky, Pulatov, and Kharchenko should each be sentenced to a life term in the prison,’ says the indictment.
A Boeing 777 of Malaysian Airlines took off on July 17, 2014, at 12:31 from Amsterdam heading to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) and, while flying over the Ukrainian Donbas region at an altitude of 10 km, at 16:20 stopped responding to dispatchers’ requests and disappeared from the radar. As it was established by the investigation, at 16:20:03 a missile launched from a Buk self-propelled air defense missile system detonated on the left side of the cockpit. It has also been established that the aforementioned Buk belonged to the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade of the Russian Army, stationed in Kursk. The launch was made from a field near the Pervomaisky settlement in Donetsk Oblast in territory controlled by the terrorists, or the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR).
At the time of the crime, Girkin held the position of the so-called minister of defense of the self-proclaimed DPR, while Dubinsky was his deputy. Pulatov was the head of the intelligence department, and Kharchenko was his subordinate. At that time, there were fierce battles between the Russian-controlled militants and the Ukrainian army, and the terrorists were suffering heavy casualties. The Ukrainian Air Force, who could reach the enemy from a great height, posed a particular danger to them. The military equipment the terrorists had on hand was no longer enough, and so they started asking the Russian Federation for help – specifically, in the form of the Buk air defense missile system.
From the indictment: ‘Since May 2014, Girkin, Dubinsky, Pulatov, and Kharchenko have been playing a leading role in the DPR. In doing so, they work closely together. One of the elements of their cooperation concerns specifically the downing of aircraft. To achieve this goal, they are trying to obtain air defense weapons. For example, on June 8, 2014, Girkin expressed to Aksenov, the Russian-appointed leader of Crimea, his desire to enlist Russian support, including ‘a decent anti-aircraft artillery manned by trained personnel.’
From their own words
In a word, the abovementioned four defendants, who were called a ‘close-knit group of criminals’ by the prosecution, requested assistance from the Russian Federation, to be more specific, a Buk Ground Force Air Defense System to shoot down Ukrainian planes, organized delivery of this equipment, its protection, and its return to Russia. The investigation made such conclusions based on the collected evidence, and a significant part of this evidence is intercepted telephone conversations of all four defendants. Among themselves, they had been talking about the need to obtain such weapons, and then – about the delivery of the Buk to Ukraine and its subsequent return to Russia.
The target of the terrorists was Ukraine’s air force; MH17 was shot down by mistake – but it does not make this crime any less severe.
From the indictment: ‘The defendants jointly intended to shoot down the plane. And since there always is one or more person on board, they also had a joint intention to kill whoever was onboard. Furthermore, given the planned nature of their actions, it was a premeditated murder,’ – the indictment says.
If such a sentence is passed by the court, the defendants are very unlikely to actually serve it – three of them reside in Russia, which does not extradite its citizens, and the whereabouts of the Ukrainian L. Kharchenko is unknown. Therefore, the prosecutor’s office asked the court to issue warrants for their arrest.
‘If the court decides to sentence the defendants, we will do our best to ensure that those sentences are enforced, whether in the Netherlands or elsewhere.
Therefore, we demand that should the defendants be found guilty, the court, by its verdict, should also issue a warrant for their arrest on both counts. On the basis of this order, the defendants can be placed in custody before the verdict becomes final and not subject to appeal.’
The trial of the four defendants began on March 9, 2020, during which time none of them had presented themselves in the courtroom. However, according to Dutch law, this is not an obstacle to either holding the trial or issuing the sentence.