On Thursday, a Dutch court convicted three individuals of murder for their participation in downing a Malaysia Airlines flight eight years ago, killing 298 people.
The Malaysia Airlines flight was shot down by a Russian missile while it was in air space over a portion of eastern Ukraine controlled by separatists in 2014. The plane was operating 1,000 feet above the restricted zone, but it was still shot down.
Flight MH17 was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on July 17, 2014, and the majority of the passengers onboard were from the Netherlands. They included 15 crew members and 80 children.
The men convicted were Russians Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinskiy, as well as Ukrainian separatist Leonid Kharchenko. They were not at the trial, and have not been apprehended, so it is not likely that they will have to serve out their life sentences. An additional Russian suspect who was at the trial was acquitted because there wasn’t enough evidence.
The convictions place the fault on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government, although the Kremlin has consistently said it played no role in the incident, according to the Associated Press.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, they are fully responsible, up until the Kremlin,” Peter Langstraat, an attorney for one of the families, said. “You cannot move this heavy military material without the consent of somebody high up in the military hierarchy. What does it mean? Close to or in the Kremlin.”
Although the three man were attempting to bring down a military jet, rather than a passenger plane, the judges still found that the act was intentional to shoot down a plane, according to the BBC.
The trial went on for over two years, and Presiding Judge Hendrik Steenhuis said the proof brought by prosecutors showed that the plane was downed by a missile from pro-Russian Ukrainian soldiers in 2014.
“This is part of justice for us. It is not the whole thing yet, but it is a good start,” Seline Frederiksz-Hoogzand said, whose son Bryce and girlfriend Daisy were killed on the flight. “Even though nobody will go to prison, justice has been done.”
“Putin has never been stopped, and still has not been stopped. And he will not stop until he is stopped,” she added. “I hope the world wakes up now, because we knew it already eight years ago.”
Eliot Higgins founded investigative research group Bellingcat, which looked into the proof and gave their discoveries to prosecutors. Higgins thinks what happened in 2014 and this year are connected.
“People were just turning a blind eye to it, policymakers just weren’t comfortable with calling out Russia in a way they really should have done. And they didn’t react in the way that could have prevented the invasion in 2022,” Higgins told the BBC. “I think there should have been more military support for Ukraine, there should have been more sanctions, there should have been a stronger response than we saw at the time. There could have been preventative measures that would have saved a lot of lives.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the decision was “a solid step towards justice,” but more still has to be done to hold the guilty accountable.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted, “It is an important decision in the court. … (But) it is necessary that those who ordered it also find themselves in the dock, because impunity leads to new crimes.”
The Russian Foreign Ministry, for its part, said the court was giving in to pressure from Dutch political figures, prosecutors, and the press. “There is no need to talk about objectivity and impartiality in such conditions,” it reportedly said in a statement.