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  • Writer's pictureChuka Nwanazia

Flight MH-17 Disaster: Russian Cooperation and What We Know So Far ...

Flowers for victims of the MH-17 disaster at Schiphol.

It’s 2019, five years after the MH17 disaster and suddenly the Russians are open to the search for the truth behind the unfortunate disaster. It was a long and gruesome time, especially for the families of the victims. Last year May, the Netherlands was dealt a heavy blow when the Russians made it quite clear that they were not interested in working together to find out the truth and apprehend those responsible for the disaster. Russia was then held liable by the Netherlands for the 298 deaths after the first evidence appeared and it was clear that the rocket that shot down the MH17, came from a Russian army base.

The fact remains that 298 people lost their lives five years ago when flight MH17, which was on its way to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down from the sky above Eastern Ukraine. Among those on board were 196 Dutch nationals. The Dutch nation is still grieving and so are the family members of the other victims. Meanwhile, the investigation into the disaster is still in full swing and while a lot of information has surfaced, there’s still so much information that is missing and the Netherlands has made it clear that this information can only be obtained if the government of Russia joins the Joint Investigation Team (JIT). A request that Russia has only recently agreed to, after more than four years of refusing to cooperate with the governments of the nations of the victims.

The Joint Investigation Team has so far acquired the names of military personnel who might be involved in shooting down flight MH17, but are yet to announce them until the investigation is completed. The early announcement of names could damage the process because suspects will then defend themselves in public.

So what do we know so far about the disaster?

The Boeing 777 from Malaysia Airlines was shot down on 17 July 2014 by a Buk rocket launched from an agricultural field near the village of Pervomaisk, which lies in territory owned by pro-Russian separatists. The Buk installation came from the 53rd brigade of the Russian army in Kursk. The rocket was brought from Russia into the war zone in eastern Ukraine, followed a route from Donetsk to the village of Snizjne on a low-loader and was then driven to the launch site on its own. The missile reached the plane in a matter of seconds and exploded at the height of the cockpit. A rain of metal particles pierced the device that fell into a number of pieces and crashed. The Buk installation was returned to Russia the next day.

What about the role of Russia?

That is a problem. The Russians have always denied any involvement in the disaster from the onset. They believe that the evidence from the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) is based on manipulated social media images. The JIT is a collection of dozens of detectives and prosecutors from five countries working together. These countries are; the Netherlands, Belgium, Ukraine, Australia and Malaysia. They have sought the cooperation of the Russians from the beginning and have always been met with deaf ears. At a certain point, it felt like the Russians didn’t want to cooperate with the investigation because they were either trying to hide something or protecting the perpetrators.

According to Moscow, no rocket installation was brought to Ukraine at the time the disaster happened. They have always constituted that Russia has nothing to do with the disaster and the JIT’s investigation was nothing more than a witch hunt and they would not cooperate with a witch hunt.

What do other countries think about it?

The Netherlands and the other countries in the JIT have so far received a lot of support from other countries. The G7 - the group of seven major industrialised countries have called on Russia to cooperate with the JIT on the MH17 investigation. President Trump also assured Prime Minister Rutte during his visit to the White House that the US is behind the Netherlands in the MH17 case. Earlier, the EU had also expressed its support.

What is the trial going to be like?

No one has been charged with any crimes yet and the chances of a successful criminal trial are deemed to be small at the moment. Nevertheless, preparations are currently being made. The countries in the JIT have agreed that the MH17 trial process will be held in the Netherlands at the District Court of The Hague and then later moved to the Schiphol Judicial Complex because it is more suitable for a major international process. Furthermore, it has been agreed with Ukraine that suspects can be interrogated via a video link and those convicted will serve out their sentences in Ukraine.

But the big problem is Russia. They have no intention of ever extraditing residents. The JIT already knows the names of the soldiers involved, but this will only be announced when the investigation is completed.

Recently, Russia has finally agreed to go into discussions with the Netherlands and maybe also cooperate with the JIT investigation in order to find out the truth behind the disaster. It may be coming late but it’s still a welcomed idea. One can only hope that the Russians are able to cooperate fully so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice. This will provide some closure and measure of comfort to the families of the victims. They deserve it after all these years.

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