Nov. 17 (UPI) — A Dutch court on Thursday found two Russian nationals and a Ukrainian guilty of murder in the downing of the MH17 passenger jet with a Russian surface-to-air missile while flying over eastern Ukraine in 2014.
Russians Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy, along with Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, were fighting for the pro-Moscow Donetsk People’s Republic separatist movement they fired on the passenger plane, according to the ruling from the District Court of The Hague.
The court found the men guilty of the deaths of the 298 people onboard and sentenced them to life in prison.
A fourth man, Russian national Oleg Pulatov, was acquitted of the charges. The Dutch court ruled that Russia had overall control of separatist forces in eastern Ukraine when the carrier was shot down.
None of the men appeared in court when the verdicts were handed down.
The Public Prosecution Service had demanded life sentences for all four.
“The court followed the Public Prosecution Service in almost all the facts as presented by the Public Prosecution Service at the hearing. We are very satisfied with that,” Digna van Boetzelaer, deputy chief prosecutor and leader of the MH17 team, said in a statement immediately after the ruling.
“I am also pleased that the court has assigned the claims of the next of kin.”
The ruling states Girkin was the military leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic and was convicted of deploying the missile. Dubinsky was found guilty of ordering and overseeing the transport of the Buk missile launcher.
Kharchenko was found guilty of overseeing the Buk, acting on Dubinsky’s instructions.
The United States heralded the decision “as an important moment in ongoing efforts to deliver justice for the 298 individuals who lost there lives” in the attack.
“While this is a solid stop towards justice, more work lies ahead to meet the U.N. Security Council’s demand in resolution 2166 that ‘those responsible … be held to account,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement, referring to the July 2014 motion adopted by U.N. Security Council condemning the shootdown.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry described the ruling as “remarkable” in the context of establishing justice and punishment for such crimes, and said it was only possible due to the instigative work of the Joint Investigation Team, of which Kyiv was a partner.
It added that it also indicates that those who take such actions will ultimately end up in the courtroom where “punishment of those perpetrators is inevitable.”
“Apart from individuals, the Russian Federation as a state shall be brought to account,” it said in a statement, stating the transfer of the weapons to the separatists is an “obvious breach of international law.”
Russia, on the other hand, rejected the ruling as politically biased with the goal of blaming it for the shootdown.
“Even though our country is not a party to the court case, the Dutch prosecutor’s office tried to present the matter otherwise while the court was given the role of an extra with the assignment to tailor the respective probative evidence to fit a guilty verdict and to ignore any facts contradicting it,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement. “As you can see, dutch justice completed its assignment.”
The Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 was shot down July 17, 2014, in the early days of fighting between the Ukrainian military and Moscow-supported separatists. Ukraine had closed its airspace to all planes flying 32,000 feet and under.
The Malaysian air flight was flighting at 33,000 feet but was still fired upon by separatists, the court rules. It was shot down when it traveled from Kuala Lumpur to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.
In March, Australia and the Netherlands announced that they had started legal proceedings against Russia through the International Civil Aviation Organization in connection with the incident. Among the deaths were 38 Australians and 196 Dutch nationals.