Dutch judges are due to deliver their verdict on Thursday in the trial in absentia of three Russians and a Ukrainian for their alleged roles in the downing of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner in 2014 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 separatists -Russian and Ukrainian forces.
A careful international investigation has 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 returned to Russia caused the explosion and crash of Flight 17.
Investigators say it was 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 victims’ bodies, tapped phone conversations and numerous social media posts. and other open source data to track the movements of the Buk system before and after the destruction of Flight 17.
They demanded life sentences for the four suspects, the heaviest sentence possible under Dutch law.
Moscow and defense attorneys for one of the suspects questioned the findings and strongly denied any involvement in the downing of Flight 17.
The trial culminates 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 those who died anticipated Thursday’s verdict on what the court might say about any Russian role in the downing of Flight 17. None of the four defendants is accused of firing the missile that detonated the Boeing 777 in flight and none of them appeared in the Netherlands for trial.
Piet Ploeg, who lost his brother Alex; Alex’s wife, Edith; and their son Robert as they flew on a vacation to the Indonesian island of Bali, said earlier this week that “Russia is not judged, but in fact it is judged”.
He said it was also important to him that “the court says something about Russia’s role” as well as the role of the four suspects.
The only one of the suspects represented by lawyers during the trial, Oleg Pulatov, asserts his innocence. His lawyers accused prosecutors of “tunnel vision” by basing their case on the findings of the international investigation while ignoring other possible causes.
They suggested other possibilities, including that Ukrainian forces accidentally shot down the plane using a Buk missile. Pulatov’s defense team also sought to discredit the evidence and argued that he did not get a fair trial.
“What matters to me is that the truth comes out. It is important to me that my country is not blamed for this tragedy,” Pulatov said in a video message to the judges in June as the evidence was presented. was ending.
The other three suspects are Russians Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy and pro-Russian Ukrainian rebel Leonid Kharchenko. All four have been charged with murdering everyone on board for their alleged involvement in the tragedy, including transporting the missile system to and from Ukraine.
Even if they are found guilty, they are unlikely to serve a prison sentence anytime soon.
Hundreds of family members from several countries around the world are expected in court near Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport for the reading of the verdict on Thursday afternoon.
“I hope the time when they can start to find peace will be near,” Ploeg said.