MH17 Shoot-Down – A court in the Netherlands has convicted and sentenced to life in prison two Russians and one pro-Moscow Ukrainian separatist in the 2014 shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine.
The three men, who were tried in absentia along with a fourth suspect, were convicted of murder by the Dutch court for their role in the shooting down of the passenger plane. The court acquitted the fourth suspect for lack of evidence as it issued its long-awaited ruling on November 17.
Ukraine welcomed the ruling, while Moscow called it “scandalous” and said it would not extradite its citizens.
The downing of flight MH17 in July 2014 killed all 283 passengers and 15 crew members onboard the flight, which had taken off from Schiphol Airport outside Amsterdam. The victims came from more than a dozen countries, although more than two-thirds of them were Dutch citizens.
WATCH: We take a look at what investigators say actually happened over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014.
“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.
The three men convicted were former Russian intelligence agents Igor Girkin and Sergei Dubinskiy, and Leonid Kharchenko, a Ukrainian separatist leader. Russian Oleg Pulatov, the only suspect represented by defense lawyers at the trial, was acquitted.
The three men, who are believed to be in Russia, were all found to have helped to arrange the transport into Ukraine of the Russian military BUK missile system that was used to shoot down the plane. Prosecutors said the convicted men have two weeks to file an appeal.
The ruling also said the missile that shot down flight MH17 was a Russian-made BUK missile supplied from Russia and fired from a field near Pervomaisk. Steenhuis said the court believed Russia had overall control at the time of the separatist forces in eastern Ukraine.
The court also awarded damages to the families of more than 16 million euros ($16.5 million), but it is unclear just who would pay that sum.
The verdict comes more than eight years after the Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was blown out of the sky. The midair explosion and crash on July 17, 2014, happened amid a conflict between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian forces.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Twitter that holding the “masterminds” accountable was also crucial “as the feeling of impunity leads to new crimes.” Punishment for all of Russia’s atrocities then and now is inevitable, he added.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters earlier the ruling sent a strong signal that “every war crime committed by the Russians will be documented, investigated, and brought to a conclusion no matter how much time it takes.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the verdict as “a solid step” toward justice, but he said more work lies ahead to hold those responsible to account.
The verdict “reflects the Netherlands’ firm commitment to establish the truth and pursue accountability in this case,” he said in a statement.
Russia called the ruling politically motivated and said the court was under “unprecedented pressure” from Dutch politicians, prosecutors, and media.
“We deeply regret that the District Court of The Hague has neglected the principles of impartial justice for the sake of the current political situation, thus inflicting a serious blow to the reputation of the entire judicial system of the Netherlands,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
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.”