The Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) concluded last year that Russian troops commanded or helped transport the anti-aircraft missile system used to shoot down the Boeing 777, killing all 298 people on board.
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Ten British citizens were among those killed, and Russia’s repeated refusal to accept responsibility for the downing has caused diplomatic tension between the two countries.
Russian relations with the nine other nations represented on the packed flight from the Netherlands to Malaysia have also grown increasingly strained.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 left Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport at 12.31pm local time on 17 July 2014 and was due to land in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur the following day.
Instead, the plane broke apart in mid-air following an explosion near the cockpit as the aircraft flew over eastern Ukraine near the Russian border.
A total of 283 passengers, including 80 children, and 15 Malaysian crew members were killed. The victims included 193 Dutch citizens, 43 Malaysians, 38 Australians, 12 Indonesians and ten Britons, while the remainder were from Belgium, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the Philippines.
International arrest warrants have been issued for four men: Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov from Russia, and Leonid Kharchenko from Ukraine.
Girkin was a leader of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine, Dubinsky was one of his deputies, while Pulatov was deputy head of the intelligence service in Donetsk and Kharchenko led a combat unit as a commander in Eastern Ukraine, according to the prosecutors.
They added: “The JIT suspects Girkin, Dubinsky, Pulatov and Kharchenko of having played a significant role in the death of 298 innocent civilians.
“The means of evidence these suspicions are based on will be elaborated on during the criminal proceedings, then the judge will pass sentence. The suspects are innocent until the contrary is proven in court.”
According to the BBC, the court case is set to begin on 9 March next year in the Netherlands under Dutch law.
In January 2018, a US court awarded the families of 25 of the victims $20m (£15.9m) each in compensation from Girkin, the NL Times reported. In a statement he has said: “I can only say that militia did not shoot down the Boeing.”
The payments are very unlikely to ever be collected, but lawyers for the relatives said the case was “never about the money” and was intended to “bring this to the world stage”. The mother of Dutch victim Bryce Fredriksz said: “You can’t pick a bald chicken.”
Russia has denied any involvement in the downing and insists the missile was fired from Ukraine-held territory, the BBC notes.
The JIT report released last year concluded that the airspace above the conflict raging in eastern Ukraine should have been closed to civil aviation. “No one considered that civil aircraft at cruising altitude were at risk,” said Tjibbe Joustra, head of the Dutch Safety Board.
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