The Netherlands and Australia are holding Russia responsible for its role in the 2014 crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, after a team of international investigators said they found proof that the missile that downed the plane belonged to a Russia-based military unit.
Investigators said at a news conference in the Netherlands on Thursday that the Buk missile that brought down the plane over eastern Ukraine belonged to the 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade of the Russian army based in Kursk, Russia. After the Joint Investigation Team unveiled its findings yesterday, the Russian government said its military wasn’t involved in the crash and that Russia never sent missiles to Ukrainian territory, according to an Interfax report citing the country’s Defense Ministry.
“On the basis of the JIT’s conclusions, the Netherlands and Australia are now convinced that Russia is responsible for the deployment of the Buk installation that was used to down MH17,” Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok said in a statement on Friday. “The government is now taking the next step by formally holding Russia accountable.”
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who was on a visit to India yesterday, cut his trip short, returning to The Hague to discuss the topic during the weekly meeting of his cabinet.
Russia on Friday denied it’s responsible for supplying a Buk missile that took down MH17, its Defense Ministry said in an emailed statement. The country is analyzing videos presented by Dutch investigators, according to the statement.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Blok discussed the findings of the investigation by phone, but Lavrov heard no facts confirming Russia’s responsibility, Interfax reported. Russia has responded to all requests for legal aid from Dutch prosecutors, Lavrov was cited as saying, adding Russia is ready to cooperate with the Netherlands if investigation is transparent and fair, according to Interfax.
Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said that based on the JIT findings “the only conclusion we can reasonably now draw is that Russia was directly involved in the downing,” according to a statement. “We have requested negotiations to open dialogue around the circumstances leading to the tragic loss of innocent lives.”
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wrote on his Facebook page that he has instructed the country’s foreign ministry to work out proposals “immediately to join the process” started by the Netherlands and Australia.
The latest conclusions from the JIT came almost four years after the July 2014 catastrophe, which killed 298 people, most of them Dutch citizens. Dutch King Willem-Alexander, on a state visit to Luxembourg, repeated that the MH17 crash remains an “open wound” in Dutch society, according to local media reports.
In September 2016, Dutch investigators concluded that the flight en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was brought down by a Buk missile system fired from rebel-held territory in Ukraine.
In July of last year, the five countries working together in the investigation — Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine — picked the Netherlands as the country where suspects will be prosecuted. No suspect has been identified so far.
The step by the Dutch and Australian governments is “separate from the criminal investigation and any prosecution and trial of the perpetrators of the downing of flight MH17,” according to Blok’s statement on Friday.
The investigation is in its “final phase” and it won’t take many more years to find missing information, Dutch prosecutor and JIT coordinator Fred Westerbeke said at the press briefing yesterday.
(Adds comments from Russia, the Netherlands, Australia and Ukraine starting in fourth paragraph.)
–With assistance from Wout Vergauwen, John Hermse, Vladimir Kuznetsov, Jason Scott and Daryna Krasnolutska.
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.