Four men who international investigators believe are responsible for shooting down MH17 have been named and charged with murder.
The men are Russians Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, all of whom were fighting for Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine when the jet was hit by a missile over the territory in 2014.
A trial will start in March 2020, Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said, adding that there are no plans to seek extradition, meaning the men will likely be tried in absentia.
Barry Sweeney, the father of one of ten Britons who died on the jet, said: ‘It’s not going to bring anyone back, but if I found out why it happened, it would bring a bit of closure.’
Meanwhile Moscow slammed the ‘absolutely groundless accusations,’ claiming the international community had frozen them out of investigations to discredit Russia.
Prosecutors said Girkin was a former colonel in Russia’s FSB intelligence agency who was the self-declared minister of defence in the separatist administration in eastern Ukraine.
Wilbert Paulissen, national Police chief of the Netherlands, announces murder charges against three Russians and one Ukrainian over the shoot-down of MH17
Igor Girkin (left) and Sergey Dubinsky (right), both Russian ex-intelligence officers, were named by international investigators as two of the men responsible for shooting down MH17
Oleg Pulatov, a Russian ex-army officer, and Leonid Kharchenko, the Ukrainian commander of separatist rebels in the country’s east, have also been identified
Dubinskiy was a former minister from the Russian military intelligence agency GRU, Pulatov was an ex-soldier in Russia’s Spetznaz special forces unit and Kharchenko a Ukrainian separatist.
Ukraine’s top prosecutor has said the country will try to arrest Kharchenko and, if he is detained, will arrange for him to be tried via video-link. If he is found guilty, Ukraine will impose a sentence.
Of the Russian suspects, Mr Westerbeke said ‘in the short term we will ask Russia to hand the summons to the suspects’ and will ‘ask for Russia to cooperate again with legal help.’
Separately, open-source intelligence site Bellingcat has published its own research into what role it believes each of the men played in downing the aircraft, with Girkin at the top of a chain-of-command linking the men together.
According to Bellingcat, the BUK missile used in the attack was moved from Ukraine back to Russia with Girkin’s help after MH17 was shot down.
Because he was in command of most of the other separatists linked to the missile, it is also highly likely he was aware the weapon system had been requested and helped to transport it into the country, the site says.
Girkin spoke out on Wednesday, telling Russia’s Interfax news agency that ‘I can only say that rebels did not shoot down the Boeing.’
Bellingcat accuses Dubinsky of requesting a battle-ready BUK launcher to be sent to his help his forces in the southern city of Snizhne, based on intercepted phone calls which it analysed.
Once the missile had been fired, Dubinsky was also involved in the removal of the BUK back to Russia, the site says.
Dubinsky’s subordinates Pulatov and Karchenko are alleged to have provided security for the BUK system at its launch site.
Their unit may also have played a key role in the decision to shoot down MH17, thinking it was an enemy aircraft.
Bellingcat also went further than Dutch investigators and identified another eight men it believes were also involved in the tragedy.
Two Russians were named among the same unit as Pulatov and Karchenko which may have fired the missile at MH17.
Three Soviet Ukrainians and one Russian were identified as part of a unit stationed at Horlivka which may have first identified MH17 as an enemy aircraft.
Two more Soviet Ukrainians were implicated as being part of the Vostok Battalion, one of the largest separatist units in eastern Ukraine in 2014, which helped transport the missile launcher.
Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: ‘You know our attitude towards this investigation. Russia had no opportunity to take part in it even though it showed initiative from … the very first days of this tragedy.’
Neither Russia nor the Ukraine extradites their nationals.
Separate research by Bellingcat suggests that Girkin (pictured) was the commander in charge of the separatist unit which downed the Malaysian passenger jet
Silene Fredriksz, mother of one of the MH17 victims, speaks to reporters outside the press conference in Nieuwegein, having earlier been briefed on the findings
Ms Fredriksz, whose 23-year-old son Bryce and his girlfriend Daisy were going on a dream holiday when they were killed in the disaster, held back emotions as she spoke
Families of the victims – 196 of whom were Dutch – were briefed on the investigation before information was given to journalists.
Speaking outside the press conference in Nieuwegein about the findings, Silene Fredriksz-Hoogzand struggled to hold back her emotions.
Ms Fredriksz, whose son Bryce and his girlfriend Daisy Oehlers were among the dead, told of her relief that five years after the plane was blown out of the sky, someone was being held accountable.
‘It’s a start. I’m satisfied,’ she said. ‘I am happy that the trial is finally going to start and that the names have been announced.’
Asked if she personally blamed anyone for the crash, Fredriksz said: ‘Mr Putin. Because he made this possible. He created this situation.’
Mr Sweeney’s 28-year-old son Liam died alongside his friend John Alder on their way to watch Newcastle United play in New Zealand.
He said Liam’s mother had died two years ago but that he planned to travel to the Netherlands for the trial with other victims’ families.
‘I would like to go if I can, when I see all my friends out there, as they all know, it makes us stronger,’ Mr Sweeney said.
The development comes a year after the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team concluded that the missile which shot down the plane came from a Russian military brigade based in Kursk.
MH17 was on its way from from Amsterdam to the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur when it was brought down.
Of those killed, 196 were Dutch and another 38 were Australian. Passengers from the UK, Canada, Malaysia, Germany, Belgium, Philippines and Indonesia also died.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt called on Russia to cooperate fully with investigators on Wednesday, describing the shoot-down as ‘a horrific crime’ and saying that families of the victims ‘deserve justice’.
The Joint Investigation Team, which seeks to try the suspects under Dutch law, has said the missile system came from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade, based in the western Russian city of Kursk.
All four men named Wednesday were fighting for Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine when MH17 was shot down, investigators say, despite Russia insisting the missile was fired by Ukrainian forces (pictured, a pro-Russia separatist near a part of the plane)
The reconstructed wreckage of MH17 is presented to the media by Dutch investigators in 2015
MH17 taking off from Amsterdam’s Schipol airport just 24 hours before it was shot down over Ukraine, killing all 298 on board
The team includes researchers from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine.
The Netherlands and Australia said in May last year that they formally ‘hold Russia responsible’ for the disaster, after the findings on the origin of the missile were announced.
‘After five years, it is finally clear that justice will be done. This is very important for surviving relatives,’ Piet Ploeg, president of a Dutch victims’ association who lost three family members on MH17, told AFP.
The Dutch safety board said in 2015 that the plane had been hit by a BUK missile, with the JIT reaching the same conclusion in 2016.
Then in May 2018 the JIT said MH17 was shot down by a BUK missile from Russia’s 53rd brigade.
They showed videos and animation of the BUK launcher as part of a Russian military convoy, using video clips found on social media and then checked against Google Maps, as it travelled from Kursk to eastern Ukraine.
Russia insisted last year that the missile was fired by Kiev’s forces, adding that it was sent to Ukraine in the Soviet era.
The war in eastern Ukraine and the MH17 disaster continue to plague relations between Russia and the West.
Since 2014, some 13,000 people have been killed. Kiev and its Western backers accuse Russia of funnelling troops and arms to back the separatists. Moscow has denied the claims despite evidence to the contrary.