Downing of flight MH17: Dutch court sentences three men to life in prison

Issued on: 17/11/2022 – 03:00Modified: 17/11/2022 – 03:04

The court under the direction of President Steenhuis (2ndL) stands prior to the verdict in the trial of four men prosecuted for their involvement in the M17 downing case, in Badhoevedorp on November 17, 2022. © John Thys, AFP

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Dutch judges on Thursday convicted three men of murder for their role in the 2014 shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine, and sentenced them to life in prison. A fourth man was acquitted.


The convicted men, two Russian former intelligence officers and a Ukrainian separatist leader, were found guilty of downing the plane and killing all 298 people on board.

Former Russian intelligence officers Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy and Ukrainian separatist leader Leonid Kharchenko were found “guilty of murder”. Oleg Pulatov, another former Russian intelligence officer, was found not guilty.

“Only the most severe punishment is fitting to retaliate for what the suspects have done, which has caused so much suffering to so many victims and so many surviving relatives,” Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said, reading a summary of the ruling.

Families of victims stood weeping and wiping away tears in the courtroom as Steenhuis read the verdict.

Reacting to the ruling, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said it was “important”. But he added that “those who ordered” the attack must now face trial. “Punishment for all Russian atrocities – both present and past – will be unavoidable,” Zelensky wrote on Twitter.


Important court decision in The Hague. First sentences for the perpetrators of downing. Holding to account masterminds is crucial too, as the feeling of impunity leads to new crimes. We must dispel this illusion. Punishment for all RF’s atrocities then & now is inevitable.

— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa)

Russia however slammed the ruling as politically motivated and a travesty of justice.

“The course and the results of the proceedings indicate that they were based on a political order to reinforce the version promoted by The Hague and its associates,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement.

The foreign ministry also said the court was under “unprecedented pressure” from Dutch politicians, prosecutors and media.

Moscow said the trial in the Netherlands could go down in history as “one of the most scandalous in the history of legal proceedings with its extensive list of oddities, inconsistencies and dubious arguments of the prosecution”.

The MH17 passenger flight was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew.

At the time, the area was the scene of fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces, the precursor of this year’s conflict. Russia invaded Ukraine in February and claims to have annexed the Donetsk province where the plane’s wreckage and victims’ remains were once scattered across cornfields.

Reading a summary of the ruling, Judge Steenhuis said the men did not enjoy any immunity from prosecution as they were not members of the Russian armed services.

“There is no reasonable doubt” that MH17 was shot down by a BUK missile system, he said.


The ruling is an important milestone, though the suspects remain fugitives. They are all believed to be in Russia, which will not extradite them.

Moscow denies any involvement or responsibility for MH17’s downing and in 2014 it also denied any presence in Ukraine.

In a briefing in Moscow on Thursday, Deputy Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ivan Nechaev told reporters the government would examine the court’s findings.

“We will study this decision because in all these issues, every nuance matters,” he said.

British relatives of the victims of the downing of flight MH17 pay their respects at the national monument in Vijfhuizen, southwest of Amsterdam, on November 16, 2022. © Robin Utrecht, AFP

(FRANCE 24 with Reuters and AFP)

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