International investigators are set on Wednesday to start criminal proceedings against suspects in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine nearly five years ago in which 298 people were killed. The suspects may be tried in absentia, however, as the Netherlands has said Russia has not cooperated with the investigation and is not expected to hand over anyone charged.
The Dutch-led international team tasked with assigning criminal responsibility for the plane’s destruction is to inform victims’ families of their progress on Wednesday morning, followed by a media presentation.
Dutch broadcasters RTL and NOS reported late last week that investigators would reveal the names of individual suspects. Interfax Ukraine quoted Ukraine’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Olena Zerkal as saying prosecutors would name four “top” suspects. Moscow has said it does not trust the investigation.
“Russia was unable to take part in the investigation despite expressing an interest right from the start and trying to join it”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Wednesday.
MH17 was shot out of the sky on July 17, 2014, over territory held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine as it was flying from Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. Everyone on board was killed. Most of the victims were Dutch. A joint investigation team formed in 2014 by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine found that the plane was shot down by a Russian missile.
Investigative website Bellingcat on Wednesday said it had identified a number of separatist fighters who were responsible for misidentifying MH17 as a target and for the escort and deployment of the Buk missile launcher that downed the airplane. The group includes Russian military and intelligence officers and Ukrainian separatists. Bellingcat said it was not yet clear who exactly gave the order to shoot the airplane down.
The Russian government denies having lent any support to pro-Russia rebels fighting Ukrainian government troops and also denies any involvement in shooting down the plane. Last year Russian President Vladimir Putin called MH17’s downing a “terrible tragedy” but said that Moscow was not to blame and that there are other explanations for what happened.
The governments of the Netherlands and Australia have said they hold Russia legally responsible. Prosecutors have previously said the missile system that brought down the plane came from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade, based in the western Russian city of Kursk.
They said their next step would be to identify individual culprits and to attempt to put them on trial.