8 years later, Dutch judges to pass verdicts in passenger jet downing over Ukraine

People inspect the crash site of a passenger plane in Ukraine.
People inspect the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 near the village of Hrabove, Ukraine, on July 17, 2014.
(Dmitry Lovetsky / Associated Press)

Dutch judges are set to deliver their verdict Thursday in the trial in absentia of three Russians and a Ukrainian over their alleged roles in the 2014 downing of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet and the deaths of all 298 people on board.

The judgment will come more than eight years after the airliner traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, during fighting between pro-Russia separatists and Ukrainian forces.

A painstaking international investigation established that a Buk missile fired from a launcher that was trucked into rebel-held territory in Ukraine from a Russian military base and then driven back to Russia caused Flight 17 to explode and crash.


Investigators say it came from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade, a unit of the Russian armed forces based in the Russian city of Kursk.

During the trial, prosecutors led judges through thousands of pages of evidence to support their case, including pieces of metal recovered from the bodies of victims, tapped phone conversations and extensive social media posts and other open-source data to track the movements of the Buk system before and after Flight 17 was destroyed.

They have demanded life sentences for all four suspects, the highest possible punishment under Dutch law.

Moscow and defense lawyers for one of the suspects have cast doubt on the findings and steadfastly denied any involvement in the downing of Flight 17.

Four men are on trial in absentia for the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014, which killed 298 people.

Dec. 22, 2021

The trial is culminating amid geopolitical shockwaves from Russia’s nearly nine-month invasion of Ukraine. In late September, Moscow illegally annexed parts of eastern Ukraine, including where the wreckage of Flight 17 landed in 2014.

Some families of the people who died anticipated Thursday’s verdict for what the court might say about any role Russia played in bringing down Flight 17. None of the four defendants is accused of firing the missile that blew up the Boeing 777 in midair and none of whom appeared in the Netherlands for trial.


Piet Ploeg, who lost his brother Alex; Alex’s wife, Edith; and their son Robert as they flew to a vacation on the Indonesian island of Bali, said earlier this week that “Russia isn’t standing trial, but effectively it is standing trial.”

He said it is as important to him that “the court says something about the role of Russia” as well as about the role of the four suspects.

The only one of the suspects represented by lawyers during the trial, Oleg Pulatov, maintains he is innocent. His lawyers accused prosecutors of “tunnel vision” in basing their case on the findings of the international investigation while ignoring other possible causes.

They suggested alternative possibilities, including that Ukrainian forces accidentally shot down the plane using a Buk missile. Pulatov’s defense team also sought to discredit evidence and argued he didn’t get a fair trial.

An international group of investigators said Thursday that its four-year probe found “legal and convincing evidence” that the missile that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine belonged to the Russian army.

May 24, 2018

“What matters to me is that the truth is revealed. It’s important for me that my country is not blamed for this tragedy,” Pulatov said in a video message to judges in June as the presentation of evidence wrapped up.

The other three suspects are Russians Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy and pro-Russia Ukrainian rebel Leonid Kharchenko. All four were charged with murdering all those on board for their alleged involvement in the tragedy, including the transport of the missile system in and out of Ukraine.


Even if convicted, they would be unlikely to serve any prison sentence anytime soon.

Hundreds of family members from several countries around the world are expected at the court near Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport for the reading of the verdict Thursday afternoon.

“I hope the moment that they can start finding peace will be near,” Ploeg said.