Dutch, Australia say Russia responsible for downing MH17

The Hague (AFP) –


The Netherlands and Australia Friday accused Moscow of being behind the 2014 shooting down of flight MH17 over war-torn eastern Ukraine with the loss of 298 lives, in a move which may trigger legal action.

The move came a day after international investigators concluded that the Russian-made BUK missile which smashed into the Boeing 777 in mid-air on July 17, 2014 came from a Russian military brigade in Kursk.

The two countries "hold Russia responsible for its part in the downing" of the Malaysia Airlines flight, the Dutch government said in a statement on Friday.

They may now move towards submitting the complex dossier to an international judge or organisation, it added.

All 298 people on board the flight en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur were killed when the missile slammed into the plane as it flew over territory held by pro-Russian rebels.

Most of the dead were Dutch, but there were 17 nationalities including Australians on board.

"The downing of flight MH17 caused unimaginable suffering," said Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok a day after the latest findings from the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT).

"On the basis of the JIT's conclusions, the Netherlands and Australia are now convinced that Russia is responsible for the deployment of the BUK installation that was used to down MH17," he added.

"The government is now taking the next step by formally holding Russia accountable."

State liability was invoked in cases where nations violate international law, the government said, warning it was a "complex legal process".

"This is the legal avenue that the Netherlands and Australia have now chosen to pursue," the statement added.

Moscow has vehemently rejected Thursday's accusations, saying no such weapon ever crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border. It has long placed the blame for the disaster on Kiev.

The Russian foreign ministry denounced what it called an attempt to "discredit Russia in the eyes of the international community".

But investigators, who painstaking recreated the BUK missile system's route from Kursk across the border into rebel-held eastern Ukraine using videos and photos, stood by their findings.

The team "has come to the conclusion that the BUK-TELAR that shot down MH17 came from 53rd Anti-aircraft Missile Brigade based in Kursk in Russia," top Dutch investigator Wilbert Paulissen said.

"The 53rd Brigade forms part of the Russian armed forces," he told reporters Thursday.

- 'Tremendous suffering, damage' -

Investigation officials have not yet said who actually fired the missile, stressing that the probe continues.

But they have appealed for further information, especially from those who know people among the 53rd Brigade, as they seek to bring criminal charges against those who ordered the plane to be shot down.

"Holding Russia accountable for its part in the downing of flight MH17 on the basis of international law is a course of action that is separate from the criminal investigation and any prosecution and trial," the Dutch government stressed.

It urged "Russia to enter into talks aimed at finding a solution that would do justice to the tremendous suffering and damage caused by the downing of MH17."

Russian President Vladimir Putin late Thursday repeated calls that Moscow should be included in the investigation team.

"The Ukrainians are taking part, even though they violated international rules by not closing their air space above an area where fighting was going on," Putin said.

But he added Moscow would "analyse" the JIT's findings and "formulate our response."