Four Years After Airliner Atrocity, Russia Still Denies Responsibility, Accusing Ukraine

By Patrick Goodenough | July 18, 2018 | 4:33am EDT
A convoy of hearses carrying the remains of victims of the downed Malaysia Airlines flight moves from the Eindhoven Air Base in the Netherlands to a military base for identification on July 23, 2014, six days after the downing. Dutch and Australian military aicraft had flown the remains from Ukraine. (Screen capture: YouTube)

( – Four years after a Russian-made surface-to-air missile downed a Malaysian airliner over separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine, Moscow marked Tuesday’s anniversary with recycled denials of responsibility and finger-pointing at the authorities in Kiev.

All 298 passengers and crew onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, were killed when the aircraft crashed on July 17, 2014.

A Russian foreign ministry statement and tweets posted by various diplomatic missions denied investigators’ findings that the BUK-type missile responsible for the atrocity came from a Russian military unit.

They said that Russia had “sent for disposal” all such missiles in 2011 and so could not have been responsible, whereas Ukrainian forces possessed them “in large numbers.”

“It is our common duty to find out the truth in the course of full, unbiased & transparent investigation that must be based on solid facts, not unsubstantiated accusations,” said one tweet, posted by the Russian mission to the U.N.

Other Russian messages alleged that the “main cause of the tragedy” was the Kiev government’s failure to establish a no-fly zone for civil aircraft over the conflict zone. And Russia further insinuated that since Ukraine was part of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) looking into the incident, it has the opportunity to improperly influence its findings.

The JIT comprises representatives from five countries affected by the tragedy – Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine – and is being led by the Dutch justice ministry and law enforcement agencies. One hundred and ninety-three of the dead were Dutch nationals.

Two months ago the Netherlands and Australia, which accounted for 39 victims, announced that they hold Russia responsible, after the JIT determined that the missile which brought down the plane originated from Russia’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade, based in the nearby Russian city of Kursk.

In one of Tuesday’s tweets, the foreign ministry complained that Russia has “faced groundless allegations” by Netherlands and Australia, which have “even demanded that our country negotiate on ‘reparations’ to the tragedy’s victims.”

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joined his G7 colleagues in a joint statement reiterating that they find the investigators’ findings on Russia’s role “compelling, significant and deeply disturbing.”

They expressed support for the Netherlands and Australia “as they call on Russia to account for its role in this incident and to cooperate fully with the process to establish the truth and achieve justice for the victims of MH17 and their next of kin.”

The G7 foreign ministers also drew attention to a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted four days after the crash, which called for those found to be responsible “be held to account and that all states cooperate fully with efforts to establish accountability.”

While that resolution passed unanimously, a year later Russia used its veto to kill a follow-up resolution that would have created a tribunal to prosecute and punish those found to be responsible. (China, Venezuela and Angola abstained.)

Last year the Dutch government announced that JIT partner countries would prosecute any suspects who are identified, in Dutch courts under Dutch law.

Amateur video captured the fireball of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 moments after it crashed in an eastern Ukraine field. (Photo: Screen capture)

Apart from the Dutch and Australian victims, others killed included 43 Malaysians, 12 Indonesians, 10 Britons, and citizens of Belgium, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the Philippines. A 19-year-old American-Dutch dual national was among the dead.

There was no statement from the State Department on Tuesday marking the anniversary, although on the day the JIT announced its latest finding in May spokeswoman Heather Nauert does not mince her words, voicing support for the process and saying, “it is time for Russia to cease its lies and account for its role in the shoot down.”

On Capitol Hill, the U.S. Helsinki Commission – a human rights- and democracy-focused body comprising nine senators and nine members of the House – said on Twitter that Russian President Vladimir “Putin’s continued denial of responsibility for this disaster in the face of damning evidence compounds this monumental crime.”

In London, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in a statement cited the JIT finding and said, “This is another example of the Russian Federation’s disregard for human life and the rules based international system and Russia must answer for its actions.”

“There is enough evidence on who is behind this barbaric crime,” tweeted Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius. “It is clear who is vetoing truth. Perpetrators must face justice, those backing them – too.”

AndersFogh Rasmussen, a former Danish prime minister and NATO secretary-general, said in a tweet marking the anniversary, “To this day there is no sign of acceptance or remorse by Moscow – one of many reasons our relations with Russia degraded.”

The U.S. and European Union downgraded ties with Moscow and imposed sanctions in response to its military intervention in Ukraine, which included backing for pro-Russian separatists who continue to hold territory in the east, and the annexation of Crimea, following a referendum not recognized by most of the international community.

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