MH17 verdict shows Putin has been working from the same ruthless script in Ukraine for years

For many, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assault on Ukraine started last February when he launched a full-scale invasion of his neighbour. But a Dutch court ruling on Thursday on the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 showed that his ruthless attempts to wipe Ukraine from the map began eight years ago.

The Hague District Court convicted two Russians and a Ukrainian-born Russian separatist for shooting down MH17 as it overflew Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board.

The verdict was read out at 3.45 pm, the exact time the Boeing 777 passenger jet was blasted out of the sky on 17 July, 2014, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

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Defendants Igor Girkin, a former colonel in Russia’s FSB, and his subordinates Sergey Dubinskiy and Leonid Chartchenko, were sentenced to life imprisonment in absentia.

Russian Oleg Pulatov, the only suspect represented by defence lawyers at the trial, was acquitted for lack of evidence.

The trial, held in a courtroom near the Amsterdam airport from where MH17 departed, put the Kremlin’s involvement in the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine at the heart of the case.

People who lost relatives in the downing of MH17, hug at a bus stop after the court's verdict at Schiphol airport, near Amsterdam, Netherlands, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022. A Dutch court has convicted two Russians and a Ukrainian of the murders of 298 people who died in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine. One Russian was acquitted for lack of evidence. (AP Photo/Phil Nijhuis)
People who lost relatives in the downing of MH17 after the court’s verdict in Amsterdam (Photo: Phil Nijhuis/AP)

The trial offered proof that the plane was shot down with a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile fired with a clear purpose from a field held by pro-Russian separatists at the time.

Evidence included photographs of a smoke trail, satellite data of the pasture with apparent traces of a fire, transmission tower data and the statements of an anonymous witness.

Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, reacted to the verdict by demanding action up Russia’s chain of command.

“Holding to account masterminds is crucial too, as the feeling of impunity leads to new crimes,” he said.

Nato Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, said it was an important day for justice and accountability, adding: “There can be no impunity for such crimes.”

The verdict will provide some closure to the families and friends of those who perished in the disaster. However, the three convicted suspects are unlikely to ever serve their sentences.

Russia denies any involvement, nor does it recognise the authority of the court, so there is little prospect of apprehending them.

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It also serves as a reminder that Mr Putin’s pitiless playbook goes back a long way. By the time MH17 fell from the clouds, he had already annexed Crimea.

The rocket that felled the jet was fired from the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed militia had already seized control.

Mr Putin effectively gave the green light to local warlords to use any means necessary to undermine the Ukrainian authorities, so long as they swore fealty to him.

The events in 2014 should be enough to show the world Mr Putin’s brazen atrocities in Ukraine.

However, this year’s invasion has multiplied the catalogue of war crimes against him.

Just this week, Mr Zelensky said investigators had uncovered more than 400 war crimes in areas of Kherson abandoned by Russian forces as they retreated.

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It has been a similar story elsewhere, as Ukrainian forces have retaken territory, with mass graves found in Bucha, Izyum and Mariupol, not to mention air strikes on a theatre in Mariupol used as a refuge for children, and on a Mariupol hospital.

Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Andriy Kostin, says at least 34,000 possible war crimes have been carried out by Russian forces since February.

A UN commission last month agreed, saying that Russian forces were responsible for the “vast majority” of war crimes and human rights violations at the start of the invasion.

But will Mr Putin ever face justice? If this year, and indeed the past eight years have shown, he has no regard for the international rule of law or even global opinion.

Nonetheless, the verdict in the Netherlands is important. Even if Mr Putin ignores it, the rest of the world needs to remember the carnage he wreaked.

Inews.. .

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