U.S. Hails MH17 Indictments, Urges Moscow To Ensure Russian Suspects 'Face Justice'
By RFE/RL June 20, 2019
The United States has welcomed the indictment of four individuals for their alleged roles in the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014, calling it an "important milestone in the search for the truth."
In a statement late on June 19, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Russia to "respect and adhere" to UN demands "and ensure that any indicted individuals currently in Russia face justice."
"All of those indicted today were members of Russia-led forces in eastern Ukraine," he said, while citing the UN resolution calling on those responsible to "be held to account and that all States cooperate fully with efforts to establish accountability."
Ukraine welcomed the announcement by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) and urged Moscow to "acknowledge" its responsibility in the tragedy, while Russia alleged that the investigation was aimed at "discrediting" the country.
Moscow said it disagreed with the conclusions of the international investigators.
Dutch prosecutors earlier in the day announced that, after a long probe by the JIT, three Russian nationals and a Ukrainian will be tried on murder charges for their role in the catastrophe that claimed the lives of all 298 people aboard the Boeing 777 passenger jet.
The Dutch-led JIT, which also has members from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, and Ukraine, told a news conference that evidence showed a direct line of military command between Moscow and pro-Russia separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine.
Dutch Chief Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said the four suspects are likely to be tried in absentia in the Netherlands, beginning in March 2020. He said they will be placed on national and international wanted lists.
"The criminal trial will take place even if the suspects choose not to appear in court," Westerbeke said.
Westerbeke identified the suspects as Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov, and Leonid Kharchenko," noting that Kharchenko is Ukrainian, while the others hold Russian citizenship.
He said Moscow had not cooperated with the probe and blamed Russia for being involved in the "crime in one way or another." Moscow was "in a position to tell us what happened…I'm sure they know what happened," he added.
Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus told the Dutch parliament that the government had taken unspecified "diplomatic steps" against Moscow for failing to fully comply with legal requests or providing incorrect information.
After his annual call-in television program on June 20, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed that the international investigators had failed to provide any evidence that Moscow was behind the downing of MH17.
"What we've seen as evidence of Russia's guilt absolutely does not suit us. We believe that there is no proof there," Putin told reporters.
The Russian Foreign Ministry earlier denied it had not cooperated in the investigation, even as it claimed the probe was intended to damage Moscow's reputation.
"Once again, absolutely groundless accusations are being made against the Russian side, aimed at discrediting the Russian Federation in the eyes of the international community," the Foreign Ministry said.
The airliner flying between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur was blasted out of the sky on July 17, 2014, over territory in eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russia separatists.
The JIT initially announced in 2016 that the sophisticated Buk missile system used in the attack came from Russia.
Russia's 53rd Antiaircraft Missile Brigade had transported the Buk in 2014 to and from Ukraine, the JIT additionally concluded in May 2018.
Moscow seized control of the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and has supported the separatists who control parts of the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in a war that has killed some 13,000 people since April of that year. The passenger flight was downed in the conflict zone over non-government-controlled territory.
Wilbert Paulissen, head of the national investigative department of the Dutch police, said the investigation will continue as there currently "isn't enough evidence to take the same steps" against any other officials or active soldiers.
The four suspects named were also on a list of people released on June 19 by the open-source investigative collective Bellingcat.
Bellingcat, which began gathering and analyzing open-source data about the downing in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, previously identified several individuals it claimed were involved in the attack, including Dubinsky.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and Interfax
Copyright (c) 2019. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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