MH17: NL taking 'diplomatic steps' against Russia for not cooperating in investigation

MH17 wreckage
Investigators begin recovery of Malaysia Airlines MH17 wreckage in Ukraine, Nov. 16, 2014 (ArnoldGreidanus/Twitter)Investigators begin recovery of Malaysia Airlines MH17 wreckage in Ukraine, Nov. 16, 2014 (ArnoldGreidanus/Twitter)

The Netherlands took "diplomatic steps" against Russia because the country is still refusing to cooperate with the investigation into the downing of flight MH17, Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus of Justice and Security said in a letter to parliament on Wednesday. While the Dutch prime minister expressed support for his cabinet member and the investigators handling the case, the Russian Federation denounced the  "biased, one-sided nature of the inquiry."

The diplomatic steps were taken at the request of the Public Prosecution Service, Grapperhaus said, though he did not say exactly what these steps were.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he was open to discussing with Russian President Vladimir Putin the development that four suspects were formally accused of taking part in a military action that led to the Malaysia Airlines flight being blown out of the sky over Eastern Ukraine in 2014. "If appropriate, I will talk to him about this, as I have done many times, in 2014, 2015 and 2017," he said. Responding to questions of the judicial independence in the newly announced criminal case he added, "This is not a political process, nor is it politically charged."

He said he a misinformation campaign would not tarnish the Joint Investigation Team, for which he has "enormous respect."

The Russian Federation responded in dismay, calling the investigation without merit and an attempt to discredit the nation. "As was the case at its previous news conferences, the JIT did not produce a single shred of concrete evidence to back up its groundless statements," the country's Foreign Affairs ministry said in a statement.

Rutte spoke after a letter by Grapperhaus, sent to parliament, was made public by the Dutch government. The publication took place shortly after the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) announced that four suspects, three Russians and one Ukrainian, will be prosecuted for the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight. Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy, Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko are suspected of playing crucial roles in delivering the BUK missile system that shot down MH17. They will be prosecuted for causing the crash and leading to the death of everyone on board. They are also facing charges of murdering 298 passengers of MH17.

"The government sees the decision to prosecute by the Public Prosecution Service as an important step in finding the truth and finding justice for the victims and their relatives", Grapperhaus said in his letter to the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament. "Progress is being made step by step. The government greatly appreciates the work that has already been done."

By prosecuting the case in open court under Dutch law, the Public Prosecutor is protecting the rights of both the suspects and the victims’ relations, Grappenhuis said. He added that the decision to prosecute has the full and unanimous support of all countries participating in the Joint Investigation Team - the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Ukraine and Malaysia. This last statement may have to do with recent statements by the Malaysian Prime Minister questioning Russia's involvement in the disaster. 

A number of parties in the Tweede Kamer are pleased that the investigation into the disaster has reached the point of prosecuting the first suspects. The CDA and D66 called this the first step towards justice for the victims, according to NOS. The PVV called it important that Russia and Ukraine cooperate in the criminal investigation. "For finding the complete truth, the cooperation of not only Russia but also the Ukraine is indispensable", a spokesperson said to the broadcaster.

"Moreover, the JIT representatives accuse Russia of withholding full cooperation. We categorically deny such accusations. From the very first day of the tragedy, Russia has been vitally interested in finding the truth and willing to help the investigation in every respect," the Russian Foreign Affairs ministry said. The ministry noted that it turned over radar data from the day and documentation about the missile, though it took the country well over two years to hand over the material the JIT requested.

The four suspects will be tried in the Netherlands, by the court in The Hague. The first hearing will be on March 9th next year, at the high security court complex at Schiphol. This location was chosen because the courtroom facility in The Hague is not equipped for a case of this magnitude, the court said on Wednesday. The trial will be led by judge Hendrik Steenhuis, who in 2016 handled a hate speech trial against PVV leader Geert Wilders about statements he made about Moroccans. 

Two of the four suspects, Girkin and Dubinskiy, already denied being involved in the downing of MH17 and said that they will not testify in the case.