On November 17, a Dutch court sentenced two Russians and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian militiaman to life in prison for the murders of 298 people on board Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, shot down by a Russian missile over eastern Ukraine in July of 2014.
One defendant was acquitted in the trial, which took two years, and presented what the presiding judge described as “plentiful evidence” with “no reasonable doubt possible” about the verdict.
Importantly, the court found that the incident, which took place as Russian-backed separatists stoked a war in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, to be “international” because of Russia’s direct involvement.
“Abundant indications reveal that from mid-May 2014, the [separatists] in fact took directions from the Russian Federation. As a result, the involvement of the Russian Federation in the conflict with Ukraine led the conflict to become an international one,” the court said in a summary of the verdict posted online.
But Russia has steadfastly denied blame for the plane’s demise. Now, in reporting the verdict, Russia’s Sputnik news agency falsified the court’s extension of responsibility to the Kremlin.
Sputnik reported: “The Hague District Court ruled that the crash of the MH17 plane was connected to a non-international armed conflict in eastern Ukraine.”
In fact, the court said just the opposite.
Polygraph.info has fact-checked Russian disinformation about MH17 numerous times over the years. The court’s ruling marks a milestone that leaves no room for doubt that a Russian Buk anti-aircraft system was transported across the Russian border into Ukraine and deliberately used to fire on flight MH17 as it flew from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.
All four defendants remain at large and were tried in absentia. The court handed life sentences to Russians Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy, and to Ukrainian separatist Leonid Kharchenko. Another Russian, Oleg Pulatov, was acquitted for not having firsthand involvement. The court also awarded the families of those killed $16.5 million in damages.
The court found that Dubinskiy, commanding officer for the so-called “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR) militants, was in charge of getting the Russian Buk system to the launch site from across the Ukraine border. Kharchenko, as executive commander, ensured that it was guarded thus a “co-perpetrator.”
Girkin, the court said, was highest DPR military leader in eastern Ukraine and bore ultimate responsibility. “He also actively endeavored to make the [launcher] used on 17 July 2014 disappear as quickly as possible, rather than condemning its use,” the court said.
Girkin is a former colonel in the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), while Dubinskiy is a former officer in the Russian military intelligence service or GRU. The court acquitted Pulatov, another ex-GRU officer aware of the Buk’s arrival but not present at the launch.
Sputnik’s report on the verdict also recycled old Russian claims that the Dutch investigation had refused to accept “evidence” from Moscow “proving” a Ukrainian missile was used.
However, the court cited a sweeping volume of evidence:
“In the view of the Court, it has been proven that Flight MH17 was hit by a [Russian] Buk missile fired from a farm field near Pervomaiskyi in Ukraine. This field was located in separatist-controlled territory.
“The Court has no doubt whatsoever that the MH17 was hit by a Buk missile fired from this farm field. This is clear from photographs of a smoke trail in the sky, statements by a protected witness, satellite images, intercepted telephone conversations and transmission mast data, photographs and videos of a Buk TELAR being brought in and removed, and examination of fragments in the remains of a crew member and in the truss and the groove of the aircraft.
“Investigation in the Netherlands and abroad has not revealed any traces of evidence tampering. Alternative scenarios, for example, that the Buk missile was fired from a different area, are ruled out based on the evidence.”
Explaining the rationale for life sentences, the court said:
“Causing the crash of Flight MH17 and the murders of all persons on board is such a serious accusation, the consequences are so devastating, and the attitude of the accused is so reprehensible, that a limited period of imprisonment will not suffice.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement welcoming the verdict as the result of international collaboration.
“Today’s decision is the result of sustained work by a Joint Investigation Team comprised of authorities from the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, and Ukraine,” he said, “and reflects the Netherlands’ firm commitment to establish the truth and pursue accountability in this case.”