Moscow must ensure that those charged with murder over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 face justice, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, after international investigators accused three Russians and a Ukrainian over the disaster.
The trial of the four men with military and intelligence links will start in the Netherlands in March next year, although they are likely to be tried in absentia as neither Russia nor Ukraine extradites their nationals.
They would be the first people to face justice over the catastrophe five years ago in which 298 people died.
But Moscow slammed the “absolutely unfounded accusations” over the downing of the plane, which was travelling between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur when it was hit by a missile over part of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian rebels.
The Dutch-led inquiry team on Wednesday said international arrest warrants had been issued for Russian nationals Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, all of whom are suspected of roles in the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic.
Dutch prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said the four were to be held responsible for bringing the BUK missile system from Russia into eastern Ukraine “even though they have not pushed the button themselves.”
“We won’t demand their extradition because Russian and Ukrainian law forbids the extradition of their nationals. But we ask Russia once more to cooperate — many of our questions remain unanswered,” he told a press conference.
The same investigation team said in May 2018 that the BUK anti-aircraft missile that hit the Boeing 777 had originated from the 53rd Russian military brigade based in the southwestern city of Kursk.
Pompeo welcomed the charges, saying: “We call upon Russia to… ensure that any indicted individuals currently in Russia face justice”.
– ‘Waiting for five years’ –
Relatives of those killed aboard MH17 also welcomed the news.
“It’s a start. I’m satisfied,” Silene Fredriksz, whose son and daughter-in-law were killed in the disaster, told reporters. “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 (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. Because he made this possible. He created this situation. He is the main responsible person.”
Piet Ploeg, president of a Dutch victims’ association who lost three family members on MH17, told AFP that it was “very important news”.
“The relatives of the victims have been waiting for this for nearly five years,” he said.
Girkin, 48, is the most high-profile suspect, having previously been the self-proclaimed defence minister in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine before apparently falling out with the Kremlin.
Girkin, who is thought to be living in Moscow, denied the separatists were involved. “I can only say that rebels did not shoot down the Boeing,” he told Russia’s Interfax news agency.
Dubinskiy, 56, who was formerly in the Russian military intelligence agency GRU, was head of the intelligence service of the Donetsk People’s Republic, while Pulatov, 52, an ex-soldier in the GRU’s Spetsnaz special forces unit, was one of his deputies.
Kharchenko was a military commander in Donetsk at the time, the Dutch prosecutors said.
During the press conference by the investigators, number of telephone intercepts were played that they said showed the four were involved.
– ‘Absolutely unfounded’ –
Russia vehemently denied all involvement, and complained that it had been excluded from the probe.
“Once again, absolutely unfounded accusations are being made against the Russian side, aimed at discrediting Russia in the eyes of the international community,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on its website.
Russia insisted last year that the missile was fired by Kiev’s forces, adding that it was sent to Ukraine in the Soviet era.
Despite claims by Ukraine’s government and Dutch media that senior Russian officers would also face charges, none were named by the prosecutors on Wednesday.
The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) probing the attack includes Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine, representing the countries hardest hit by the disaster.
The Netherlands and Australia said in May last year that they formally “hold Russia responsible” for the disaster. Of the passengers who died, 196 were Dutch and 38 Australian.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry urged Russia to “acknowledge its responsibility”.
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.
Trump tries to change the subject by blaming Obama — then accidentally admits he’s putting kids in ‘cages’
President Donald Trump was the target of a Democratic press conference with four Congresswomen of color who were calling him out for racist tweets telling them to go back to their countries.
The women attacked every policy that Trump seems to be losing on. Trump seemed to try and pivot to another issue entirely, blaming former President Barack Obama for building the cages that he's putting children in after he takes them from their parents.
The Obama Administration built the Cages, not the Trump Administration! DEMOCRATS MUST GIVE US THE VOTES TO CHANGE BAD IMMIGRATION LAWS.
CNN reporter slams Trump with a devastating roundup of his most racist statements
On Monday's edition of CNN's "The Situation Room," as fallout continues from President Donald Trump's racist attacks on four progressive black and Hispanic women lawmakers, White House correspondent Jim Acosta showed viewers a supercut of some of the president's most racist behavior in recent years.
"President Trump is doubling down on his racist tweet aimed at four Democratic women of color in Congress," said Acosta. "The president is dumping more fuel on the firestorm he touched off by telling those members of Congress, if they aren't happy in this country, they can leave. President Trump is defending his racist attacks on Twitter, not concerned that his tweets aimed at four women of color in Congress may appeal to white nationalists."
‘We will not be silenced’: Young women of color in The Squad refuse to back down in the face of Trump’s racism
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) promised on Monday that the young women in Congress known as "The Squad" would not back down in the face of racist attacks from President Donald Trump.
Pressley spoke at a press conference with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).
"I also would like to just underscore the fact that despite the occupant of the White House's attempts to marginalize us and to silence us, please know that we are more than four people. We ran on a mandate to advocate for and represent those ignored, left out and left out and left behind," Pressley said.