MH17 four years later. What do we know?

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Frequently I post a blog documenting the status of the MH17 investigation. For an overview of previous blogposts see this blog.

At July 17, 2018 it is exactly four years ago 298 innocent people were killed because a BUK surface to air missile hit their aircraft, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 operating as flight MH17.

Four years later, little more we know than we knew in the first months after the disaster. Not a single name of an individual has been made public by the prosecution service as a suspect.

The criminal investigation 

The criminal investigation which has the purpose to identify suspects and find enough evidence to bring suspects to court is still not finished. The leader of the Joint Investigation Team, Fred Westerbeke in a pressconference stated it can take another 5 years before a court case can start.

In two pressconferences JIT made public some of the results of the investigation. In September 2016 JIT announced the BUK missile was launched from an area south of Snizhne which was at the time of the launch under control by Russia supported separatists. JIT also stated the BUK TELAR launcher was brought into Eastern Ukraine from Russia. After the launch the BUK TELAR went back towards the Russian border.

In a May 24, 2018 pressconference JIT announced the BUK TELAR belonged to the 53rd Antiaircraft Missile Brigade of the Russian army based in Kursk.

Names of suspects 

Names of suspects have not been made public by JIT. They stated not before the start of the trial the names will be made public. From citizen journalists and media research some likely names of suspects were revealed. Examples are  Sergey Nikolaevich Dubinsky and Oleg Vladimirovich Ivannikov.

The motive
Four years after the disaster it is still unknown why MH17 was shot down. It is very likely the crew operating the BUK made a mistake. JIT did not make any announcement on the motive.

Open source investigation
MH17 is the first case were citizen journalism played a very important role in investigation what happened. Eliot Higgins and his team of Bellingcat did a lot of research on MH17. Bellingcat found out the BUK TELAR belonged to the Russian army. They reconstructed the route it took and concluded the BUK came from an army base in Kursk. Many months later JIT came to the same conclusion.

Russia does not cooperate 

Russia does not cooperate with the criminal investigation despite UNSC resolution 2166  calling on all United Nations member states “to provide any requested assistance to civil and criminal investigations”

To start with, Russia initialy did not hand over raw radar data. It handed over a video recording. Two years later, a few days before a JIT pressconference, Russia showed radar images during a press conference. JIT did not have that information. Despite legal assistance requests, Russia did not hand over radar data from a second radarstation as  JIT announced in May 2018.

JIT also requested Russia for information on the whereabouts of the specific BUK TELAR which crossed the Russian-Ukraine border. JIT also requested information on serial numbers written on BUK parts found at the crash site.

Russia did not respond to the requests. As a result, JIT requested the help of the public at the May 2018 press conference.

Russian disinformation
Another new aspect is the enourmous amount of Russian disinformation on MH17. Clear lies started  within hours after MH17 was shot down by a man called Carlos pretending to be an air traffic controller. Carlos has clear ties to the Kremlin paid media Russia Today (now called RT).

The list of lies by Kremlin is almost endless. Many ambassadors made false statements. Also Lavrov, minister for Foreign Affairs made false statements. President Putin mentioned Carlos and lies about Russian evidence not accepted by JIT. An overview of lies by Kremlin here. 

Trial for suspects in the Netherlands 

As Russia vetoed a UNSC resolution for a MH17 tribunal, a trial under hybrid or domestic law had to be created. Suspects of the MH17 shotdown will be prosecuted under Dutch law by a Dutch judge. In June 2018 it was made public the MH17 trial is to be held at the Justice Complex Schiphol at Badhoevedorp. To be able to prosecute Ukraine suspects, which does not extradict its own citizens, a change in Dutch law had to be made. Suspects are heard  using a videolink.

Court cases applications by next of kin. 

Next of kin filed applications at the European Court for Human Rights (ECtHR).

One case was filed by German laywer Elmar Giemulla against the state of Ukraine. Ukraine responded to the application by stating Giemulla first should start a trial under Ukraine law. Since May 2017 there is no news on this application.

Australian lawyer Jerry Skinner filed an application against the Russian Federation in June 2018 at the ECtHR on behalf of a group of 270 Dutch next of kin.

In January 2018 news broke that a group of MH17 victims’ relatives won a lawsuit in a United States court which entitles them to hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, television program Zembla reports based on court documents. A total of 25 surviving relatives, including 10 Dutch, took part in this lawsuit filed against Igor Girkin, a leader among pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. (source). It is extremely unlikely the amount will ever be paid.

 

Russian Federation held liable for the downing of MH17 

The day after JIT made public the BUK TELAR belonged to a Russian unit, the Dutch and Australian state held Russian Federation liable for the downing. The next step could be the two states are starting negotiations with Russia. However that does not seem to be likely to be accepted by Russia as Russia denies all responsibility. The next step, which could take over a year, could be the Netherlands and Australia file an application at either the ECtHR or the ICJ.

Extremely complex political influenced investigation

The criminal investigation is extremely complex because of political reasons. Malaysia played from the start a remarkable rol. Initially it was not a member of JIT. Malaysia did not yet hold Russia liable for the downing of MH17. On the contrary, the minister of Transport stated there is not enough evidence which points to Russia. A lot can be explained by the close relation between the current prime minister of Malaysia Mahathir Mohamad and president Putin. Geopolitics seems to be more important than finding truth.

In domestic politics, Dutch rightwing parties PVV and FvD did not support a resolution by the Dutch parliament to support the Dutch government in holding Russia responsible. All other parties supported the resolution.

Dutch most critical member of Parliament Pieter Omtzigt no longer is involved in MH17 debates. He made a mistake during a public event on MH17 to inform a fake witness what he should tell. I do not expect Omtzigt to return as a spokesman for CDA on MH17. It seems CDA was put under pressure by coalition member VVD to get rid of Omtzigt.

Press coverage

No improvement by the media on covering MH17. Most of the coverage are reports of pressconferences by JIT and Bellingcat. Dutch RTL Nieuws once a while reports some interesting news. Also Nieuwsuur does some investigation. Newspapers do not do any investigation.

 

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1 Comment on MH17 four years later. What do we know?

  1. BUK missile was launched from an area south of Snizhne which was at the time of the launch under control by Russia supported separatists.
    – You seems to be aware of Russian propaganda campaign, yet you also retranslate it. It was a Russian SAM. It is almost certain that it was operated by a regular Russian army crew, just as many other Russian army tanks, APCs and other equipment. Yet you, as well as many in EU, still referring to “separatists”.

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