The search for the truth about the MH17 disaster

PARIS – Investigators on Wednesday suspended their eight-year probe into the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine in 2014, while saying they believed Russian President Vladimir Putin played a key role.

Here is a timeline of the main developments in the case:

July 2014: crash, first accusations

On July 17, 2014, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashes in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region where pro-Russian separatist rebels are battling government forces.

Dutch nationals account for two-thirds of the 298 passengers and crew, along with about 30 Australians and 30 Malaysians.

Suspicion quickly falls on the pro-Russian rebels.

2014/2015: Russian-made missile suspected

The Dutch Safety Board (OVV) is charged with looking into the cause of the disaster.

In a first report in September 2014, it says the plane broke apart in mid-air after being hit by numerous “high-energy” objects.

In July 2015, Russia vetoes a UN Security Council resolution on establishing a special tribunal to prosecute those responsible.

Sept. 2016: ‘irrefutable’ evidence

Dutch-led investigators say they have “irrefutable evidence” that the plane was downed by a BUK missile, which was transported from Russia to separatist-controlled eastern Ukraine. They do not say who fired it.

May 2018: Russia accused directly

Investigators say that the missile originated in a Russian military brigade based in Kursk.

They identify two key suspects after obtaining wire-tapped conversations before and after the plane was shot down.

Russia says no anti-aircraft missile crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border.

June 2019: four charged

In June 2019, international investigators charge four people with murder — Russian nationals Sergei Dubinsky, Igor Girkin and Oleg Pulatov and Ukraine’s Leonid Kharchenko. 

All four suspects are senior figures in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine.

Prosecutors say the four, who remain at large, brought the BUK missile system from Russia into eastern Ukraine and positioned it on the launch site but did not themselves press the button.

Sept 2019: Key witness handed to Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ignores objections from the Netherlands in handing over Vladimir Tsemakh, a separatist fighter described by the Dutch as a key witness, to Russia as part of a major prisoner swap.

March 2020: trial starts

The two-and-a-half-year trial of the four suspects begins in absentia on March 2020 in a high-security court in the Netherlands. 

Dutch prosecutors accuse Moscow of casting a “dark shadow” over the proceeding by trying to track down witnesses and hack Dutch and Malaysian authorities.

They say the missile was most likely intended to strike a Ukrainian war plane and call for the four to be sentenced to life in prison.

While the trial is still ongoing Russia invades Ukraine.

November 2022: three convictions

The court on November 17, 2022 convicts Girkin, Dubinsky and Kharchenko in absentia of murder and intentionally causing an aircraft to crash and sentences them to life in prison.

Pulatov is acquitted.

February 2023: probe suspended

Investigators say they are halting the probe, saying there is not enough evidence to prosecute more suspects.

They say there are “strong indications” Putin approved the supply of the missile that downed the plane, but that there is no realistic prospect of prosecuting him. –AFP