MH17: Four years after tragedy
Four years after the deadly shooting down by Russia of the Malaysian Airlines Boeing flight MH17, killing 298 people on board, the world is still far from punishing the perpetrators. Despite the fact that this year the Joint Investigation Group officially established that the passenger jet had been downed by the Buk anti-aircraft missile system owned by one of the Russian army units, Russia still has not admitted its guilt.
On this day four years ago, July 17, 2014, the passenger Boeing 777 of Malaysia Airlines en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over the territory of eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region temporarily occupied by pro-Russian militants. There were 298 people on board MH17 – passengers and crew, citizens of Australia, Belgium, Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Canada, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Romania, South Africa, Vietnam, United Kingdom, and the United States. All were killed in the crash.
Actually, suspicions that the plane had been brought down by the pro-Russian militants were initially confirmed by these vey militants' reports. While Ukraine and the entire world were in an aftershock from the tragedy, the terrorists hastened to claim publicly that they had managed to shoot down a Ukrainian An-26 military transporter plane. "In the area of Torez, we have just shot down an AN-26 plane that is now lying somewhere behind the Progres coal mine. We warned them not to fly in 'our sky'... The bird fell over the coal waste pile..." militant commander, a Russian national Igor Strelkov (aka Girkin) reported on the same day.
"Breaking" news got an immediate spin across Russian news platforms, while first videos emerged on the internet of militants looting the site of the wreckage. Shortly, the militants realized that this was not in fact a Ukrainian plane but rather an international passenger jet torn apart. As a result, they rushed to refute their own initial statements and denied being involved in the plane downing.
First there emerged a version that MH17 had been shot down by Ukrainian military, who aimed at... Russian Air Force 1. Later on, the "incontrovertible eyewitness testimonies" were voiced of some people who "saw with their own eyes" how at an altitude of 10 km the Boeing was shot at by a Ukrainian fighter jet. This version (in different interpretations) was used until the Joint Investigation Team had their say - MH17 was shot down from a Buk launcher. It was then that the Russian authorities and their puppet warlords in Donbas started altering their "testimonies." This time, they claimed that indeed, the Boeing was shot down from the Buk launcher, but it was the Ukrainian Buk, and the missile flew from the Ukrainian-controlled territory, since the militants "were not in control" of the territory that the investigators had identified as the launch site for the missile.
However, it became clear from the information made public by the Ukrainian SBU [security service] shortly after the tragedy that militants and their Russian supervisors, while setting up that information noise, in parallel lines were concealing flight recorders of the downed Boeing. In favor of this opinion played the fact that OSCE experts tried unsuccessfully to get to the crash site several times, but managed to do so only two weeks after the crash. Besides, the fragments of the downed Boeing were sent to the Netherlands, where the state of Ukraine has transferred the investigation rights, as late as December 2014.
In October 2015, a non-government OSINT investigation community Bellingcat published their first report stating that the liner had been shot down from the Russian Buck missile launcher.
In May 2016, the group reported that they had been able to find out the serial number of the launcher and, thus, to rule out the hypothesis that it belonged to the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
The investigators said they were certain that on July 17 and 18, 2014, a self-propelled missile launcher Buk reg.No. 332 of the Russian 53rd air defense unit was seen on photos and videos, having been deployed in the eastern Ukraine, and that is based in the area of the city of Kursk. On one of the videos, this Buk … is moving towards the center of the district, from where, according to the Dutch Safety Board, a missile was launched that shot down the MH17.
In September 2016, the JIT also reported that the Buk, which had shot down the Boeing from the skies over the area of Donbas controlled by militants, was brought to Ukraine from Russia. At the same time, Prosecutor of the National Prosecutor's Office of the Netherlands Fred Westerbeke said that there were about 100 people involved in the downing and that the investigation was extended until 2018.
Also, the investigators managed to identify Russian military involved in the tragedy. According to the JIT, intercepted telephone conversations released by the SBU in July 2014, refer to Major-General, callsign "Khmuryi" [Gloomy], Sergei Dubinsky, Colonel-General of the Russian Army in reserve Nikolai Fyodorovich Tkachev, callsign "Dolphin," and GRU [military intelligence] operative Oleg Ivannikov, callsign "Orion." The latter, according to Bellingcat, personally participated in the transfer of Buk, which shot down the MH17, and directed the special operation. At the same time Tkachev even wanted to sue Bellingcat. However, officially, the investigation has mentioned no names so far.
According to Deputy Prosecutor General of Ukraine Yevhen Yenin, all those involved in the MH17 crash will receive notifications of suspicion once the investigation into the case has been completed.
In March of this year, the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands decided that the trial of suspects would be held in the District Court of The Hague. On May 25 it became known that the Government of the Netherlands began to take steps to bring Russia to justice for the MH17 crash. Bringing Russia to justice will be carried out separately from prosecution of immediate perpetrators.
In May, after promulgating new findings of the MH17 investigation, the Dutch government began to take steps to hold Russia accountable. In particular, the Netherlands and Australia say they are convinced that Russia is responsible for its participation in the plane downing, of which the Russian side was informed.
In addition, Australia appealed to the court for compensation for the families of those killed in the crash. Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop clarified that the families of 38 Australians wanted recognition of Russia's responsibility for the crime, and planned to start a dialogue with Russia shortly.
Last week, the Ukrainian parliament adopted bill No. 0194 on the ratification of the agreement between Ukraine and the Netherlands on international legal cooperation related to the MH17 crash. The document regulates issues related to the prosecution and conviction of persons involved in the tragedy, as well as cooperation issues between the competent authorities of Ukraine and the Netherlands.
A few days ahead the fourth anniversary of the tragedy, the G7 foreign ministers called on Russia to cooperate with Australia and the Netherlands in their investigation. According to G7 ministers, they fully support the work of the Joint Investigative Group (JIT), calling their conclusions about Russia's role in the MH17 disaster convincing, significant and very disturbing.
G7 foreign ministers noted that, according to international law, persons responsible for unacceptable actions, such as firing or launching a Russian-made Buk missile that had shot down a civilian aircraft, must be held accountable. They urged Russia to immediately engage in good faith with Australia and the Netherlands to establish and resolve all issues relating to any potential violations of international law.
However, there are doubts that Russia will listen to these calls. After all, firstly, even the date of a possible court hearing has not been set yet. Secondly, it seems that the leaders of many "concerned" European states find it difficult to blame Russian President Vladimir Putin for something major like that during their bilateral meetings as it seems it remains convenient for them to continue business as usual and watch football together.