Just days after The Atlantic published their comprehensive investigation on the whereabouts of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared into thin air in March 2014, a European joint task force revealed it has leveled charges against four men — one Ukranian and three Russians — for a second Malaysian airlines tragedy: the July 2014 explosion of MH17.
The BBC reports that the four men, who investigators believe were in direct contact with Russian officials, are accused of transporting missiles into an area of Ukraine for the purpose of shooting down a passenger jet. The four “did not push the button themselves,” investigators say, but provided the local milita with the means used to down the Malaysian airlines flight.
The joint investigative team is Dutch and plans to prosecute the four men — Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov from Russia, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenkoin — in the Netherlands under Dutch law. The trial won’t begin until 2020, however, since Dutch authorities say they still have at least eight more persons of interest to investigate in relation to the case.
Investigators believe that Girkin, a former Russian intelligence official, was in “direct contact with the Russian Federation” and that he and his team were well aware of what they were arming local militias to do, and that they’d reported their progress to Russian officials.
Investigators did not reveal why they believe the Russian-allied Ukrainian militias targeted the Malaysian Airlines jet specifically, only that the team had “evidence showing that Russia provided the missile launcher.”
Unsurprisingly, Russia has refused to cooperate with the investigation and disputes the Dutch investigators’ findings. Russian officials say they do not believe any of their anti-aircraft missiles ever crossed the Russian border into Ukraine, even though investigators believe that the missile that hit MH17 belonged to the “53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile brigade,” based in Kursk.
MH17, the second of two Malaysian Airlines aircraft to meet a tragic end in 2014, took off from Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on July 17, 2014, bound for Kualu Lumpur, but suddenly went silent and then disappeared off air traffic control radar around 50 miles from the Ukraine-Russia border, according to the BBC.
“At the time, an armed conflict was raging on the ground in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces, and several government military aircraft had been downed in the previous weeks, while government air strikes were being carried out on rebel-held areas,” the BBC reports.
A year later, after conducting a thorough investigation, Dutch authorities determined that MH17 had been hit by a “Buk missile” which destroyed the plane, instantly killing the 298 people aboard.
Families of the victims, which include 80 children and 15 crewmembers, hope that they’ll get some closure from the upcoming trial, though even investigators aren’t sure how quickly justice will move, given how little Russia appears willing to cooperate.
What is clear is that the families of MH17 are now in a better position than the families of MH370, which vanished off radar in March 2014 on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, China. The Atlantic released an intense investigative report on the doomed Boeing 777 on Monday, after reporters spent months gathering and synthesizing evidence, official reports, and interviews with those investigating the plane’s disappearance.
In that case, authorities are still stumped as to why MH370 made a sudden turn just as it was crossing into Vietnamese airspace, flew back over Malaysia, turned north over the major city of Penang, and then curved back south on a trajectory that ended somewhere over the Indian Ocean.
Investigators now believe the pilot, who could have been suffering from depression, may have deliberately flown the plane off course, killed all aboard by depressurizing the aircraft, and then manually crashed the plane into the sea, but little evidence can be corroborated and few pieces of debris from the plane have been found.