Was the downing of flight MH17 state-sponsored murder?

Author : Editorial Board

Source : The New York Times

International investigators tied three Russians and a pro-Russian Ukrainian to the crime. They — and their sponsor — must be called to account
13:54, 20 June 2019

The site of a Malaysia Airlines plane crash in the Donetsk region of Ukraine on July 17, 2014.

In Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, lying — willfully, methodically, shamelessly — is the default response to any accusations of wrongdoing. Russia did not meddle in American elections. Accusations of systematic Olympic doping are malicious foreign inventions. The Novichok nerve agent killers in Salisbury, England, were there only to admire the cathedral’s spire. Russia has nothing to do with the secessionists in eastern Ukraine.

Shaping reality to fit political maneuvering has a long tradition in the Kremlin, and unfortunately the practice is gaining popularity in the White House and among would-be authoritarians the world round. That makes it all the more important that institutions dedicated to the rule of law, to reliance on fact and to the primacy of truth should resolutely push back.

And that’s why the murder charges announced by international prosecutors on Wednesday against three Russians and a Ukrainian over the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 five years ago, with the loss of 298 lives, are very important even if Russia refuses to surrender the suspects or acknowledge their culpability, as it will. Even if there are no defendants in the dock, Moscow’s lies will be.

Russia’s involvement has long been clear. A day after MH17 was shot down over Ukraine’s warring eastern provinces on July 17, 2014, the United States government concluded from available evidence that the plane had been brought down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile launched from rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine. American officials said at the time that they believed the missile battery had most likely been provided by Russia to pro-Russian separatists.

Subsequent findings by a Joint Investigation Team of prosecutors from Ukraine and four countries whose citizens perished in the disaster — the Netherlands, Malaysia, Belgium and Australia — and by private agencies like the online investigative site Bellingcat meticulously documented how a Russian missile launcher belonging to an active Russian military unit was driven into eastern Ukraine and used to fire a Buk missile at the Malaysian jumbo jet. At the time, Ukrainian separatists had been targeting government aircraft at altitudes only slightly lower than those used by commercial jetliners.

The charges announced Wednesday went beyond declaratory accusations and linked actual faces and crimes to the crash. The destruction of MH17 was not collateral damage in some nasty conflict, declared Fred Westerbeke, the chief prosecutor of the Netherlands, but murder committed by men acting on Moscow’s orders in a proxy war against Ukraine. And they will be tried in a Dutch court beginning on March 9, 2020 — Dutch, because 193 of the passengers were Dutch — whether they’re present or not.

The four men, for whom international arrest warrants were issued, have figured in previous reports, including intercepted telephone calls in which they discuss movements of the missile launcher and the actual missile firing. One, Igor Girkin, had been a colonel in Russia’s F.S.B. spy service; two, Sergey Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov, had served with the G.R.U. military intelligence agency; and the fourth, Leonid Kharchenko, was a Ukrainian who led a rebel combat group in Donetsk under the Russians.

The accused did not actually fire the missile, the investigators said, but they “formed a chain” linking the breakaway “Donetsk People’s Republic” directly with Russia. They were responsible for bringing the Russian missile system into eastern Ukraine, and so could be held criminally responsible for murdering 298 people.

And therefore so could Moscow. “We now have proof Russia was involved in this tragedy, this crime,” Mr. Westerbeke declared. “One day after 17 July they were in a position to tell us exactly what happened. They knew. The Buk was used in eastern Ukraine and they knew this. They didn’t give us this information.” Moscow, of course, denies it all, and will continue to act as a victim of Western intrigue, trusting that Western governments will make noise for a time and then go back to doing business with Russia.

That must not happen. These are not some political shenanigans that Moscow stands accused of; these are murders by the Kremlin’s agents in a dirty war. An open trial is how just societies judge those who violate the rule of law, and it is a response to Moscow’s crimes and lies that should have the full and public support of all law-abiding nations.

Read the original article here.

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