MH17 crash trial: Russia intimidates witnesses in attempt to disrupt court hearing in the Hague

Russia is trying to find and intimidate witnesses in the case of the crash of Malaysian Boeing in the Donbas, the hearings of which began in The Hague, reports Novaya Gazeta with reference to a statement by Dutch State Prosecutor Thijs Berger.

"The use of special services to try to reveal the identity of witnesses is a real scenario. Their agents have the ability to intercept messages and track people's movements," Berger said, adding that there were attempts by "GRU agents" to hack into the court system in the Netherlands during the investigation.

"There are clear indications that Russian special services are actively trying to interfere with efforts to establish the truth about the crash of flight MH17," the prosecutor said.

Berger also said that one of the defendants in the case, who testified about the launch of the Buk missile, which shot down the Malaysian Boeing, had already complained that armed men had come to his house several times and now he is forced into hiding.

Another witness, according to Berger, "investigated the circumstances of the tragedy while in Russia" and his computer was seized, and the FSB put him on a wanted list. A third witness said he also feared problems from the Ukrainian authorities but gave no details.

Earlier, the personal information of 13 witnesses was classified because of "the real threat to their safety". The Prosecutor noted that the witnesses' identity could be exposed when they were questioned by defendants' lawyers. "We need to find a way to allow the defense to use the right to examine witnesses without putting them in danger," Berger said.

On July 17, 2014, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down near the city of Shakhtarsk in Ukraine’s Donetsk region. All crew members and passengers were killed, a total of 298 people, including 80 children.

At a press conference in The Hague in May 2018, nearly four years later, the JIT presented fragments of the missile used to shoot down the plane. The Buk system from which the missile was fired belonged to the 53rd anti-air missile brigade of the Russian Armed Forces, which is based in Kursk.

In June 2019, the JIT released the names of four suspects in the MH17 case: The three Russian citizens Sergey “Gloomy” Dubinsky, Oleg “Caliph” Pulatov and Igor “Strelkov” Girkin, and the Ukrainian citizen Leonid “Mole” Kharchenko. Former DPR militant Vladimir Tsemakh was later also declared a suspect, but Ukraine handed him over to Russia as part of a prisoner exchange.

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) announced that the defendants are suspected of committing “a terrorist act which lead to human deaths”.

After five years of investigation, the JIT has established the exact time and route taken by the Buk anti-air missile system from Russia to Ukraine and back, the time and place where the fatal missile was fired, and obtained information about more than 150 people who were involved in the transportation of the Buk.

  MH17, Russia, Donbas, Ukraine