Flight MH17: in the Netherlands, a trial-river for four ghost defendants

From Monday, Dutch justice will try three Russians and a Ukrainian, suspected of having transported a missile system at the origin of the crash of the Boeing of Malaysia Airlines.

The American TV channel CNN had, at the time, compared the emotional intensity of the event to that of the funeral of John Fitzgerald Kennedy: tens of thousands of Dutch people in tears, massed in the passage of a long convoy of hearses. On July 23, 2014, they brought back the first victims of the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 which was to connect Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

The Boeing 777 was flying at an altitude of 10,000 meters, six days earlier, when ‘it was shredded by a Russian-made missile fired from the ground in eastern Ukraine. Eight thousand pieces of debris, in total, were to be collected by investigators. Assessment of the disaster: 298 victims, including 196 Dutch. On that day, “the Netherlands was definitely plunged into chaos and disorder on the world stage” , analyzes André Gerrits, professor of international relations at the University of Leiden. “This country, which had a great sense of security, discovered that it was vulnerable” , agrees the essayist Paul Scheffer, professor of European studies in Tilburg.

From Monday March 9, the Dutch justice will judge, in the highly secure court of Schiphol, three Russians and a Ukrainian, all linked to the camp of the pro-Russian separatists. The states parties to the investigation have delegated the right to organize the trial to the Netherlands, while Russia has refused to establish an international criminal court. However, the dock should remain empty throughout this trial, which will last at least a year: Moscow will not extradite Igor Guirkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Poulatov. The Ukrainian Leonid Khartchenko, another officer of the separatist forces in the east of his country, will also be absent.

Judgment in absentia

Guirkine, 49, “former” member of the FSB, Russian domestic intelligence – which he claims to have left – was one of the main commanders of the separatist forces and proclaimed himself “defense minister”. Doubinsky, 57, a war veteran, was reportedly the intelligence officer of the Donetsk separatists. His deputy, Poulatov, 53 – the only one to secure the services of a Dutch lawyer – is a former member of military intelligence (GRU). Khartchenko, 47, was active in a separatist intelligence unit.

The four men, who will be tried in absentia for murder and face sentences of at least 30 years in prison, are suspected of having supervised the delivery of a Russian BUK missile system. Others, more than likely experienced military personnel, carried out the firing: the International Investigation Team (JIT) is still trying to identify them, with the hope of bringing them to trial one day. At the same time, perhaps, as those who really planned this large-scale operation, which could not be improvised.