Three Russians and a Ukrainian will face murder charges for the July 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Eastern Ukraine that left 298 people dead, an investigation team said on Wednesday.
Dutch National Police Chief Wilbert Paulissen identified the suspects as:
- Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov, from Russia.
- Leonid Kharchenko, from Ukraine.
Paulissen said their trial in the Netherlands would start in March.
MH17 was shot out of the sky on July 17, 2014, over territory held by pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine as it was flying from Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. All 298 people aboard were killed, including one Canadian.
Over 190 victims were Dutch, with the crew predominantly Malaysian. Victims also were from about 10 other countries, including Canada.
Ajax, Ont., resident Andrei Anghel was travelling to Bali with his girlfriend, Olga Ioppa, when the plane crashed in July 2014. Anghel, 24, was a medical student in Romania.
A joint investigation team formed in 2014 by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine found the plane was shot down by a Russian missile.
Russia denies involvement
The Russian government denies having lent any support to pro-Russia rebels fighting Ukrainian government troops and also denies any involvement in shooting down MH17.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on its website that it regretted the findings released Wednesday.
“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 statement read.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters earlier in the day that Russia had expressed an interest “right from the start” in taking part in the investigation but was rebuffed.
Last year, Russian President Vladimir Putin called MH17’s downing a “terrible tragedy” but said that Moscow was not to blame and that there are other explanations for what happened.
The governments of the Netherlands and Australia have said they hold Russia legally responsible.
The Dutch-led international team said Girkin was a former colonel in Russia’s federal security service FSB, serving as minister of defence of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) in the summer of 2014.
It said Dubinsky was head of the military intelligence agency of DNR, while Pulatov was head of a second department of the DNR military intelligence agency. Ukrainian national Kharchenko was head of a reconnaissance battalion for the second department, it said.
The team said it would ask the Russian government to allow it to question the suspects, who are currently in Russia. It said Kharchenko was thought to be in Ukraine at the moment.
Watch Dutch team confirming in 2018 the missile came from Russia
Prosecutors have previously said the missile system that brought down the plane came from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade, based in the western Russian city of Kursk.
Chief Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke added on Wednesday: “We have evidence showing that Russia provided the missile launcher.”
The accused are likely to be tried in absentia, however, as the Netherlands has said Russia has not co-operated with the investigation and is not expected to hand anyone over.
Asked if she expected the accused to attend the trial, Silene Fredriksz of Rotterdam, whose son Bryce was on the plane with his girlfriend Daisy, said: “No. No, I don’t think so. But I don’t care. I just want the truth, and this is the truth.”