A new phase opened this week in the trial of the MH17 crash, this Malaysia Airlines plane shot down in July 2014 over Ukraine with 283 passengers and 15 crew on board – none had survived.
After a year of hearings focused on procedural issues, the Dutch court on Monday June 7 began examining evidence of the involvement of the four suspects indicted: 3 Russians, Sergei Dubinsky, Igor Guirkin and Oleg Poulatov, and a Ukrainian, Leonid Khartchenko, four high-ranking separatist groups who, with the support of Russia, confronted the Ukrainian army in the summer of 2014.
Three questions for four accused
Four days of hearing and three questions, recapitulated in a statement issued by the Schipol court on Monday, June 7, as a guideline: “Was flight MH17 shot down by a BUK missile?” Was a BUK missile fired from an agricultural field near Pervomaisky? Did the accused play a role in this? “
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The international investigation group (Joint Investigation Team, JIT) formed following the crash had in fact concluded that a Russian anti-aircraft missile system of the “BUK” type belonging to the 53e Russian anti-aircraft brigade. The Dutch public prosecutor’s office announced in June 2019 to prosecute four suspects accused of having “Cooperated to obtain and deploy the BUK to its launch site with the intention of shooting down an aircraft”. None of the accused is present at the trial, and only Oleg Poulatov has agreed to be represented by a lawyer.
“It’s a very difficult day for us, it’s the first day of the pursuits and it’s difficult”, told reporters at the trial on Monday, June 7, Evert van Zijtveld, a Dutchman whose two children were killed in the crash. Openly singled out, Russia has since 2014 denied any involvement in the MH17 crash and has repeatedly accused Kiev of firing the BUK missile, responsible for the disaster. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov assured on June 7 that Moscow was following the trial closely, while deploring their “Exclusion” of the investigation.
A mass of evidence
The prosecution does not lack evidence, to the point of seeing the defense complain on June 7 of not having had time to study with its client a file of nearly 40,000 pages. No big surprises in the facts presented either, the independent investigation group “Bellingcat” having, in 2014, meticulously reconstructed the route of the BUK missile system, probably responsible for the crash, from Russia to a field near the hamlet of Pervomaïski, then under separatist control.
But if the Bellingcat sleuths mainly relied on images, videos and messages posted on social networks, JIT investigators were able to take advantage of a call for testimonies launched in 2018 and 2019, and distributed in particular in the form of text messages sent en masse to eastern Ukraine. Nearly 20 witnesses “Russians, Ukrainians and separatists”, three of whom were near the launch site, assured JIT that they had seen the missile firing or the plume of smoke left by it. “Nothing we didn’t suspect, but investigators had more witnesses than expected,” commented on Twitter Christo Grozev, one of the main representatives of the Bellingcat group.
The court also proceeded on June 9 to the examination of a series of telephone interceptions carried out by the SBU, the Ukrainian security service, in which several of the defendants discussed deliveries of weapons and anti-aircraft systems from Russia. In one of them, Oleg Poulatov and Sergei Dubinsky, two former Russian military intelligence officers, discuss the imminent arrival of a “Buk-M” system near Pervomaisky, just three hours before flight MH17 be shot. A display of proof that must continue until Thursday, June 10.