Flight MH17: Netherlands and Australia say Russia is responsible for the shooting down of passenger plane

Kremlin categorically denies accusations, blames Ukraine

Tom Barnes
Friday 25 May 2018 07:16 BST
MH17 Reconstruction Timelapse

The Netherlands and Australia will hold Russia legally responsible for “its role” in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

The Dutch government said accusing a country of being at fault for the 2014 air disaster, which left almost 300 people dead, was “a complex legal process”.

But, its cabinet said both the Netherlands and the Australian government wanted answers after crash investigators found the missile that shot down the plane was fired from Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade.

Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok said that following that conclusion, “the government is now taking the next step by formally holding Russia accountable”.

Mr Blok added the Netherlands and Australia have “asked Russia to enter into talks aimed at finding a solution that would do justice to the tremendous suffering and damage caused by the downing of MH17”.

The passenger flight was shot down over rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers and crew on board, including 28 Australians, as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur in July 2014.

Russia has routinely denied any involvement in the attack, claiming on Thursday none of its missile launchers have ever moved onto Ukrainian soil, despite photo evidence released by prosecutors seeming to suggest otherwise.

Prosecutors stopped short of saying who actually fired the fatal shot, but Mr Blok told reporters on Friday the findings “point to direct involvement of Russia”.

The foreign minister said attempts to hold Russia responsible for the plane’s downing under international law would be a different, parallel process from the ongoing investigation by prosecutors seeking to establish individual criminal responsibility.

But, a Dutch cabinet statement mooted presenting the case to an international court or organisation for their judgment as a “possible” next step, adding Australia shared its assessment of Russia’s role.

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson said the UK “fully supports” the request by the Dutch and Australian governments for Russia to accept state responsibility for the disaster.

“The Kremlin believes it can act with impunity. The Russian government must now answer for its actions in relation to the downing of MH17,” Mr Johnson said.

“This is an egregious example of the Kremlin’s disregard for innocent life.

“The UK will continue to offer its full support to the efforts of the joint investigation team, the Dutch and Australian authorities and other grieving nations to deliver accountability for this terrible act and justice for all those who died.”

The father of one of the passengers has welcomed the move.

“This is great news,” said Hans de Borst, who lost his daughter Elsemiek in the crash. “I understand why the government waited, but now the evidence is clear.”

Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop called for support from the international community for the move.

“This represents a threat to international security,” she said.

“If military weapons can be deployed and then used to bring down civilian aircraft in what was essentially a war zone, then international security is at risk and we call on all countries to inform the Russian Federation that its conduct is unacceptable.”

The US department of state said it “strongly supported” the move by the Netherlands and Australia.

“It is time for Russia to acknowledge its role in the shooting down of MH-17 and to cease its callous disinformation campaign,” said department spokesperson, Heather Nauert.

“As the findings of the joint investigative team made clear, the BUK missile launcher used to bring down the passenger aircraft is owned by the Russian Federation and was assigned to the Russian 53rd anti-aircraft brigade near Kursk.

“It was brought into sovereign Ukrainian territory from Russia, was fired from territory controlled by Russia and Russia-led forces in eastern Ukraine, and was then returned to Russian territory.”

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg, called on Russia to accept responsibility for the crash and cooperate with international efforts to establish accountability.

“The downing of MH17 was a global tragedy, and those responsible must be held accountable,” Mr Stoltenberg said.

“Nato has repeatedly expressed its full support for the efforts undertaken by the Dutch authorities and others to shed light on what happened on that terrible day, and to achieve justice for the 298 people who were killed and their loved ones.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the Dutch and Australian conclusions, and said that an atmosphere of “mutual distrust” existed between the investigation team and Russia.

“We categorically deny the allegations,” he said. “The investigation was a collective investigation … but it did not include the Russian side. Ukraine, however, was allowed to participate.”

Mr Peskov said Ukraine held responsibility for the disaster given that it “took no measures to close air space in and around a war zone”.

Meanwhile, the investigative group Bellingcat says it has “conclusively identified” joint investigation team person of interest Andrey Ivanovich as former Russian defence ministry officer Oleg Ivannikov.

Also known by the covert name “Orion”, the group claim the figure it believes to be Mr Ivannikov coordinated the military activities of pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine from early 2014 until at least the following year.

Bellingcat also alleges the agent arranged the transport of arms across Russia-Ukraine border at the time MH17 was downed.

It said this was the first time it had been established a high-ranking Russian military official had been operating inside Ukraine at the time the Malaysia Airlines flight was destroyed.

Additional reporting by agencies

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