The Russian party immediately tried to hide facts about the real causes of the tragedy by spreading a lot of misinformation in mass media – from the false versions about the Ukrainian anti-aircraft missile system (AMS) “Buk” to bombing led by the Ukrainian warplane which was eventually discredited.
However, in 2015 Russia used its veto power in the UN Security Council to block the formation of an international criminal tribunal in the MH17 case.
Despite of Russia’s active efforts to prevent the truth from being established, the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) formed in 2014 including representatives from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, thoroughly investigated the circumstances of the plane crash. Its official findings formed the basis of the trial, which has been in process since March 9, 2020 at the Schiphol courthouse near Amsterdam (the trial is taking place in the Netherlands, taking into consideration that most of the victims on board of the Boeing were Dutch).
It was clarified that the liner had been shot down by the “Buk” anti-aircraft missile system (AMS) owned by the 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade of Russian Federation from Kursk.
The accused are Russians, namely the notorious former “DNR Defense Minister” Igor Hirkin (with the call sign “Strelkov”), Sergei Dubinsky (“Hmuryi”), Oleh Pulatov (“Gyurza”) and Ukrainian citizen Leonid Kharchenko (“Krit”).
On July 3 the preliminary trials finished where the suspects were not present, except for Pulatov’s lawyers. The latter’s arguments point to attempts to prolong the trial process – almost every aspect of the investigation aroused doubts, and the alternative investigation has been suggested.
The defense party provided videos as “evidence” where eyewitnesses kind of saw or heard about the presence of the Ukrainian military aircrafts in the air. However, such assumptions cannot serve as evidence, so most of Pulatov’s lawyers’ claims were rejected. The next stage of the trial is on August 31st and it is going to last for about two months.
Henceforth, the curator in the so-called “DNR” who has been recently detained by the Ukrainian intelligence can be a significant witness in this case. His intercepted telephone conversations testify to active communication and giving instructions to the suspects in the MH17 case. The Bellingcat intelligence community, which is actively investigating the plane crash, named the detainee, and this is Andriy Kunavin.
The Dutch international law expert Marike de Hoon in her interview with DW suggested that the trial might take 5 years. Moreover, the Pulatov’s case will possibly be singled out.
The defendants’ attempts to appeal for the “combatant immunity” hoping to escape responsibility resulted into that Russia’s role will be discussed in judicial process too. The prosecution party has accused the latter of trying to interfere with the investigation.
The Polish international law expert Tomasz Liachowski emphasizes that the trial in the Netherlands can admit the guilt of only the individuals of the accused party, and not the state as a subject of international law. However, there are aspects of international law that can be appealed to and that demonstrate Russia’s responsibility. They include the 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, the international humanitarian law, and qualification of hitting the Boeing as a war crime.
According to the Polish expert, the evidence in the MH17 case destroys the narrative usual for Russia about the “civil war” in Eastern Ukraine (there is no doubt that the Malaysian liner was shot down by the Russian AMS “Buk”).
This trial is not the only one, and Russia’s involvement in the crime can be proved in the future. Thus, on July 10th the European Court of Human Rights registered a lawsuit filed by the Netherlands against Russian Federation over the MH17 plane crash, pointing to violations of three articles of the European Convention of Human Rights, namely the articles concerning the right to life, the right to torture prohibition and the one to effective legal protection.
In addition, there are also individual lawsuits from the victims’ relatives. On the 6th anniversary of the tragedy, the EU urged Russia to accept responsibility and help establish the ones who is guilty. Justice in the MH17 case may be achieved in the future and Russia’s role as a sponsor of terrorism in Eastern Ukraine will be ascertained.