The defendants did not appear for trial and are not in custody. Those convicted were Igor Girkin, a former colonel of the FSB, Russia’s security service, who later served as defense minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic; Sergei Dubinsky, former officer of Russia’s military intelligence agency GRU; and Leonid Garchenko, the Ukrainian commander of separatist forces in the Donbass.
They were sentenced to prison, although they were never caught.
A fourth defendant, Oleg Pulatov, who served in the GRU’s special unit, was acquitted for lack of evidence. Bulatov was the only defendant who sent lawyers to defend him during the trial, and he previously asked the court to acquit him, saying he had no role in the incident.
The verdict followed a years-long investigation into who shot down a Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014, leaving bodies and debris scattered across fields in eastern Ukraine.
The incident occurred during fighting between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces in the area where several Ukrainian military jets were shot down in the weeks before Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down.
Russia has long maintained that it is not a party to the conflict that erupted in Donbas in 2014, and that it does not control pro-Russian militias in Donetsk, where four defendants held high positions as part of separatist militias.
However, the court determined that Moscow funded and armed separatist forces in Donetsk and generally controlled the breakaway region and its officials.
The court also found that the puck launch was intentional, but the defendants most likely thought they were shooting at a military aircraft.
“Judgment cannot bring back the dead,” said presiding judge Hendrik Steenhuis. “But clarity is provided as to who is to blame.”
After the verdict was announced, the families of the victims hugged each other and cried.
“It was a good and balanced verdict, where three people got the maximum sentence, and Russia’s role was confirmed,” said Pete Blok, who lost his brother, brother-in-law and nephew. “I feel relieved that justice has been served.”
“We were clapping and we were happy that finally, after eight years, we could hear the truth,” said Thomas Schansman, whose 19-year-old son Quinn was on the plane. “Many more people could be in jail for this, but what I want now is for Putin and the Russian government to accept their responsibility.”
The Kremlin not only denied involvement, but tried to smear the investigation as politically biased. It promoted various explanations for how the plane was shot down, from blaming the Ukrainian government to dismissing the evidence in the case as fabricated.
In Russia’s first official comment on the verdict, the Foreign Ministry dismissed the decision as a “political order”.
Dutch investigators went to great lengths to debunk Moscow’s claims, publishing a detailed one Chronology Strike and character setting The defendants played a role in delivering the missile system to the missile site at Bervomaisky and shooting down the plane.
Several family members of the Flight 17 victims have suggested that if the international community had pushed back harder against Moscow in the years since the plane was shot down, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine could have been avoided this year.
“Despite evidence to the contrary, the West has been happy to accept the idea that separatist groups in Ukraine are not only representatives of the Russian Federation, but that they can turn a blind eye to Russian aggression,” said Eliot Higgins, founder of Bellingcat. , which attached the Pak missile system to Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Squadron and shared its findings with Dutch investigators.
Higgins added: “If the West had stood up to Russian aggression in 2014, we might have avoided the situation we are in today.”
Two days before the verdict, a missile landed in a Polish village near the border with Ukraine, killing two people. Warsaw said it may have been an errant Ukrainian air defense missile, but the incident was another example of Russia’s aggression having dangerous consequences for innocent bystanders.
Kirkin, who served as commander of Kremlin-backed separatist forces in Donetsk, once boasted that he had “pulled the trigger on the war” in Ukraine. For years he lived safely in Russia, but he recently left Moscow and returned to the front line in Ukraine last month.
Khirkin is believed to be the most senior military officer in direct contact with Moscow at the time the plane was shot down and is said to have helped transport the Pak missile system. He had previously said he felt “a moral responsibility” for the mass death of passengers, but denied directly contributing.
In mid-October, Kirkin wrote on his popular Telegram blog that he had rejoined the “active military.” Kirkin often uses the blog as a platform to sharply criticize Russia’s military strategy in Ukraine. His wife, Miroslava Reginska, shared a photo of Kirkin, who is wearing a military uniform and also goes by the name Igor Strelkov.
Following reports that Kirkin had returned to the battlefield, Ukrainians launched a crowdfunding campaign to collect a $100,000 reward for his capture.