By Anton Troianovski / The Washington Post
MOSCOW — The Dutch-led investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine in 2014 named four suspects on Wednesday — three Russian nationals and a Ukrainian.
The suspects included Igor Girkin, also known as Igor Strelkov, who was a leader of Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine at the time of the crash, which killed 298 people. Another suspect, Sergey Dubinskiy, was an employee of Russia’s GRU intelligence agency, Dutch chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said.
The four suspects are charged with causing the crash of the passenger plane and murdering the 298 passengers and crew aboard.
“Their acts on and around July 2014 have led to the shooting of Flight MH17. Even though they have not pushed the button themselves, there is suspicion that they have closely cooperated” in obtaining the missile launcher that shot down the jet, he said.
Battles began in 2014 between Ukraine’s forces and pro-Moscow separatists in the east of the country. Ukrainian officials and Western allies say fighters and supplies crossed the border from Russia to aid the pro-Moscow militias.
Westerbeke acknowledged that it was conflict situation but that didn’t mean the men were less culpable for their involvement in the tragedy.
“The possibility exists the suspects wanted to shoot a military airplane instead of a passenger flight. Even if that was the original plan, we still hold them responsible for the downing MH17,” he said.
The prosecutor said that the Dutch authorities would formally ask Russia to issue a summons to those suspects, including Girkin, some of whom are believed to be in Russia.
But it did not appear likely that Russia would cooperate. The Kremlin has denied any Russian involvement in the downing of the jet, and it has often criticized the Dutch-led investigation.
Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, and Ukraine, are also part of the investigation. MH17 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, and 196 of the victims were Dutch. The downing of the jet – some analysts have speculated that separatists were aiming for a Ukrainian military aircraft – proved to be a turning point in the conflict in Ukraine, rallying Western public opinion against Russia.
Girkin is a former colonel of the FSB, Russia’s domestic intelligence service, the Joint Investigative Team said. Another Russian suspect named Wednesday, Oleg Pulatov, was a former GRU Special Forces soldier. The fourth suspect, Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, was described as having no military background but having led a separatist combat unit in eastern Ukraine.
“I’m not giving any comments. I can only say that the militia didn’t shoot the Boeing down,” Girkin told Russia’s Interfax news agency on Wednesday.
Dubinskiy has no ties to the military or to the Malaysia Airlines jet, his representative told Interfax.
“He’s not going to go to any court, he’s not going to testify because there’s nothing to testify about. He isn’t going to the West, either,” the representative said, according to Interfax.
Westerbeke said that Dutch authorities wouldn’t send formal extradition requests, since both Russia and Ukraine bar the extradition of their citizens. He said the trial would start at 10 a.m. on March 9, 2020, whether or not the four suspects show up.
“We expressly appeal for the suspects to note down the time and date and report in to be present during their criminal trial, or to contact us beforehand,” he said.