The Hague District Court has found three of the four defendants guilty of their involvement in the downing of Flight MH17 over the Donetsk region in 2014. Leonid Kharchenko, Sergey Dubinsky and Igor Girkin were found guilty. Oleg Pulatov was acquitted. All four were tried in absentia.
According to the court verdict, Leonid Kharchenko was instructed to move the Buk-M1 surface-to-air missile system (SAM), from which flight MH17 was later shot down, to a launch point near the village of Pervomaiske. After completing the task, he reported to Dubinsky, and then also reported on the redeployment of the Buk after the shooting.
Sergei Dubinsky was responsible for organizing the transportation of the Buk. The court has called him an accomplice to the crime, and considered his actions essential in the commission of the crime.
Igor Girkin (Strelkov) was responsible for the use of weapons in the so-called “DPR,” occupying the highest position in the self-proclaimed republic. He often consulted with Moscow; the delivery of the Buk-M1 to the “DPR” had no other purpose. It was Girkin who was responsible for shooting down aircraft over the “DPR.” He acted with the intent to use the equipment in combat, to kill people and cause material damage, including the targeting and destruction of planes.
Oleg Pulatov, a former lieutenant colonel in the Russian Army Airborne Troops reserve, was acquitted by the court. Pulatov was a unit commander in the “DPR” and knew that the missile would be fired, but the court could not establish that he had anything to do with the launch. Pulatov was not near the launch site. He met with Kharchenko, who transported the Buk, near the “Furshet” supermarket in Snezhne. Following the meeting, Kharchenko continued to carry out Dubinsky's orders, although Pulatov did not stop him in doing so.
The court notes that those who commanded the Buk had to ensure that it did not hit anything other than the target, according to the requirements of international humanitarian law. The Buk cannot be fired accidentally – the SAM system is prepared according to a certain procedure, meaning that the missile was launched deliberately. The court believes that the launch was intentional, but those who ordered the firing of the missile thought they were targeting a military aircraft – that is, they consider their launch to have been a mistake. The defendants had no combatant status – even though they acted by mistake, they were committing a crime, as they had no right to perform such actions.
Today’s verdicts have concluded the proceedings against four defendants in the MH17 case, while the trials of others suspects, including other Russian nationals, are pending.
A joint investigation by Bellingcat and The Insider identified the key suspects in this case, who when by the call signs “Orion” and “Dolphin.” “Dolphin” turned out to be Colonel General Nikolay Fedorovich Tkachev, the chief inspector of the Central Military District of Russia.
“Orion” was revealed to be acting Russian Military Intelligence (GRU) General Oleg Vladimirovich Ivannikov, also known as former Defense Minister of South Ossetia Andrei Laptev. He led the actions of Russian troops in Ukraine and commanded the Wagner Private Military Company (PMC).