Statement | The MH17 verdict now takes us to the Kremlin

One hundred months after the downing of flight MH17, there is now clarity. The truth is the truth and a lie is a lie. The plane was shot down from Russian-controlled territory by a Buk missile belonging to the 53rd anti-aircraft brigade from Kursk. Getting to Ukraine, placing the weapon and bringing it back in a hurry was organized by two Russians and a Ukrainian. They were sentenced to life imprisonment for that by the court in The Hague.

But they were not the only culprits, the judge emphasized. Shooting down required a multi-man launch crew to begin with. And many others were involved in the illegal entry of personnel and equipment. This in turn required approval from political leaders.

The judge has made it very clear where to look for the others. He used a legal goat path for this. This was the possible appeal that the perpetrators could make to contested immunity. In a war, soldiers are allowed to shoot at planes – sometimes. But not in this case. Both Russia and the fighters themselves denied that they belong to Russia’s regular armed forces, so a claim of immunity did not hold.

Although Russia was not indicted here, it was nevertheless singled out as the main responsible party. We must be grateful to the judge for that. After all, there are still many questions, many perpetrators and accomplices. What is the identity of the others involved? Who formed the crew? And the central question: why did they shoot at an airliner? The four suspects seemed surprised by the news that civilians had been hit. Also the crew? And why this airliner, and not one of the many others that flew that day? We now know where to look for the answers: in the Kremlin. This whole issue has been reduced from the criminal to the political realm.

Mysterious ‘Separatists’

There is the site of Russia on one side. All their lies have now been debunked. It was not a Ukrainian Buk, nor a Ukrainian fighter. There was no bomb on board and we weren’t looking at a covert CIA operation. The judge explained that the evidence presented by Russia has absolutely been taken into account; however, it was not verifiable, improbable, or outright falsified. Nor were Ukrainian “separatists” who shot down MH17. They were Russians. Russia must be held accountable for this, much more forcefully than before. Apart from the ongoing trial at the European Court of Human Rights, this is emphatically a political matter.

On the other hand, the conclusion that the Russian Federation is responsible also has consequences for us, the West. Like Russia, we also hid behind mysterious ‘separatists’ as perpetrators. With this myth dispelled, we have lost the excuse for not responding for eight years to nearly 300 gruesome murders, 196 of which were of our citizens.

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That we are having a hard time with this new reality became clear the day after the verdict. Australia went ahead and immediately asked Russia to hand over the perpetrators. Holland summoned only the Russian ambassador, and still no firm language was spoken; according to the press release, the ambassador was “made aware of the verdict and that the three convicts are in Russia.” But all the other culprits are there too. However, there was no direct demand for accountability for their crime and a requirement for full disclosure. We have found a comfortable place over the eight years while relatives yearned for clarity and firm action.


Could it have been different in 2014? Was this royal but long legal road necessary? Probably. Holland was largely alone. No country wanted a fight with Russia. Malaysia’s response – none – spoke volumes. Building international support was a prerequisite for any success in establishing truth, accountability and satisfaction. The Netherlands has done the same, and the government has managed to create and maintain international solidarity against the rocks (even if it remained only words). No expense was spared in conducting an investigation and litigation. All this time, Russia remained unaffected, to the displeasure of many relatives. But there was no other way.

Now it must be different.

The ‘separatists’ invented by Russia was a very comfortable lip to continue denying for eight years that Russia was at fault. As long as MH17 was under investigation, as long as the trial dragged on, and as long as there was no verdict, no one needed to bear the consequences of this barbaric crime. Not convicted is not guilty right? Of course it did, but trade continued undisturbed, with the exponent of further increasing dependence on Russian gas, even after 2014. Although we should have understood that it was this very dependence that prevented us from doing what we needed to do.

Russia did not just become an unreliable partner on February 24, 2022

The ease with which we have always pretended nothing was wrong is stinging. The government has been committed all along, but also very cautious. Business simply shrugged its shoulders and expanded its interests there. The ostentatious withdrawal of companies from Russia earlier this year came a little late, to say the least. The suddenly lost capital was now much larger than in 2014. Russia did not become an unreliable partner on February 24, 2022.

On July 17, 2014, the whole world looked the beast in the mouth. Russia had definitively abandoned the international legal order and confirmed this with a series of distasteful lies. It disregarded human rights and the law of war; it raised the middle finger to everyone. Everyone knew that. And yet for eight years we happily looked the other way. It also says something about us.

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