Trial against first MH17 suspects starts in Netherlands on Monday

The trial against the first four suspects in the downing of flight MH17 starts in the high-security court at Schiphol Airport on Monday. Russians Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy, Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko are suspected of playing crucial roles in delivering the missile system that shot down MH17​.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17th, 2014. All 298 people on board, including 196 Dutch, were killed. The four suspects will be prosecuted - in absentia - for causing the crash and leading to the death of everyone aboard. They are also facing charges of murdering 298 passengers and crew members of MH17. 

This trial is expected to take over a year. 

Investigation by the Dutch Safety Board (OVV) and the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) previously revealed that the Malaysian Airlines flight was shot down by a BUK missile system from the 53rd Anti-aircraft Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces, fired from a field in Ukraine that was under the control of pro-Russian separatists at the time.

“We now have the information, have the proof, that the Russian Federation is involved in this tragedy, in this crime, one way or another.” Dutch Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said in a press conference in June 2019,when the prosecution of the first suspects was announced. The JIT stressed that Russia was not cooperating in the investigation.

But Russia's attitude towards the investigation went much further than non-cooperation, the Volkskrant reported on Thursday. According to the newspaper, the country, and specifically the Russian secret service GRU, actively tried to sabotage and hinder the investigation. They used tactics ranging from trying to hack the JIT to sending women to seduce investigators.

Following the announcement of the first four suspects' prosecution,  the Russian Federation denounced the  "biased, one-sided nature of the inquiry". 

In February 2020, Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus of Justice and Security announced that Russia requested to handle the prosecution of the three Russians suspects. Grapperhaus informed Moscow that this is not an option, he said. 

In addition to the JIT criminal investigation, the Netherlands was also in talks with Russia about state liability. The Netherlands and Australia officially held Russia accountable for its role in the MH17 disaster - providing the BUK missile system with which the passenger plane was downed. 

A survey held in February 2020 showed that 55 percent of Russian citizens "agree" or "completely agree" that Russia should pay grief damages to the relatives of the MH17 victims should the international investigation show that Russia was responsible for this disaster. While the vast majority of Russians still think their country had nothing to do with the disaster, a growing percentage think that it might have been responsible.