MH17 inquiry stops short of blaming Russia despite missile link
Victims’ relatives frustrated as report does not name those responsible for disaster
Members of a joint investigation team present the preliminary results of their investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, in Nieuwegein, The Netherlands, on Wednesday. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images
Investigators have stopped short of blaming Russia for the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 disaster two years ago – despite finding “conclusive evidence” that the jet was blown apart by a Buk missile brought to Ukraine from Russia and fired from a site controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
An interim report by a team of criminal investigators and prosecutors from the Netherlands, Belgium, Malaysia, Australia and Ukraine, said that after the jet crashed in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers and crew, the missile launcher had been returned under camouflage to Russia.
To the intense frustration of victims’ relatives, the report emphasised that despite the mounting circumstantial evidence it was not accusing Russia of any involvement in the attack, stressing that the issue of criminal responsibility had yet to be determined.
There were at least 100 people whom investigators regarded as “linked to the crash or the transport of the Buk”, and it still had to be established, it said, who ordered the launcher to be moved to Ukraine – and crucially, who gave the order for it to be fired.
“We know exactly what happened, but who exactly was in charge and whether it was done intentionally, there the investigation is continuing”, said Fred Westerbeke of the national prosecutor’s office in The Hague.
For the first time, using data and satellite imagery provided by the US and the European Space Agency, the team pinpointed the exact location from which the 9M38 missile with its 70kg warhead was launched. Before and after photographs showed the “scorched earth” at the launch site.
Wilbert Paulissen, head of the Dutch National Detective Force, said that, “without any doubt”, the rocket was launched from a hilltop on farmland at Pervomaiskyi, about 6km south of the village of Snizhne – an area controlled by pro-Russian fighters.
He said local witnesses reported “a loud explosion and a high whistling sound”, after which some photographed a smoke trail in the sky.
Flight MH17, which was packed with Dutch holidaymakers, including 80 children and three infants, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, hit the ground about 25km from the missile launch site at 4.20pm on July 17th, 2014, Mr Paulissen said.
Debris from the Boeing 777-200 was spread over 50sq km and concentrated around Hrabove, northwest of Pervomaiskyi.
This report by the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT) confirms the findings of a separate investigation by the Dutch Safety Board last year which concluded that MH17 was downed by a warhead fired from a Buk missile system which detonated roughly a metre from the cockpit.
The JIT has primary responsibility for making a watertight case for prosecutions after Russia used its veto in July 2015 to prevent the UN Security Council agreeing to set up an international criminal tribunal to investigate the crash.
However, despite the two investigations and the vast quantities of evidence they’ve amassed, it remains unclear how prosecutors will ever file criminal charges – because there is no international agreement on what court a case could be heard in.
This has left the victims’ families frustrated and sceptical about the likelihood of a successful outcome.
“As a family we are impatient. We want to know what happened, how it happened and why. We want those responsible to face justice.”
However, even if those who fired the missile were identified, she believed they would not be handed over. “Moscow would have to be put under intense pressure with sanctions. That’s the only way to make it possible.”