Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur went down in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, at the height of the civil war between Kiev and Donbass militias. All 298 people aboard the Boeing 777 jumbo jet were killed. In the years since, Kiev and the militias have blamed each other for the tragedy.
The Flight Safety Foundation, an independent US-based non-profit, has begun an investigation into why Kiev did not close the airspace over the war zone in eastern Ukraine where MH17 was destroyed in July 2014.
"The inquiry has started, and is carried out by a third party, the Flight Safety Foundation. The inquiry will look at the closure of the airspace above eastern Ukraine and regions surrounding the conflict area (including the territory of the Russian Federation)," the ministry said.
Friday marks the sixth anniversary of the deadly aerial incident, which has since become the source of competing back-and-forth claims about who is responsible for the disaster. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte sent out a video message to the relatives of the victims, 193 of whom were Dutch nationals, where he emphasized the importance of honouring their memory.
"Unfortunately, the event was organized differently this year because of the coronavirus. But I am convinced that this does not lessen the sense of connection. And it makes the one minute of silence only more powerful," Rutte said.
MH17: Tragedy Turned Into Political Scandal
In addition to being one of the deadliest air disasters in history, the MH17 incident has become a major political scandal. Immediately after the crash, Kiev accused Donbass militias of shooting the plane down, with the pro-independence militia fighters insisting that they did not have the advanced air defence systems to down an airliner flying at over 21,000 feet, and blaming Kiev for the disaster.
Shortly thereafter, without presenting any evidence, the US and its European allies accused Russia of responsibility for the tragedy through Moscow's alleged support for the militias, and used the claims as a pretext to introduce new sanctions against Moscow. Russian officials denied the allegations.
An investigation conducted by a joint investigative team led by the Dutch prosecutor general alleged that flight MH17 was shot down by a Russian-made Buk anti-aircraft missile which had been transferred to the eastern Ukrainian militias. Russia was not allowed to take part in the investigation, and refused to recognize its conclusions. At the same time, Moscow has accused investigators of dismissing all evidence and expert assessments which ran counter to a predetermined conclusion of alleged Russian involvement, while ruling out possible Ukrainian military involvement. As their evidence, the joint investigative team investigators cited "classified information" allegedly provided by Dutch and US authorities which could not be revealed to the public.
Russia subsequently carried out its own investigation, including studies of forensic evidence, the declassification of previously secret information about advanced military hardware, and a complex experiment by defence concern Almaz-Antey, makers of the Buk type air defence missile, which concluded that flight MH17 was shot down by an older variant of the missile built in 1986 and belonging to Ukraine. Russia fully retired its stocks of Soviet-era Buks in the 2000s as part of a large-scale modernization of its military.
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad has similarly questioned the investigators' allegations, accusing them of "trying to pin" the blame on Russia instead of engaging in a "neutral kind of examination," and complaining that Malaysia itself has not been allowed to examine the plane's black box. The ex-prime minister also pointed out that the Buk missile said to have been used to shoot down the plane could have been fired by Ukraine's army, and said that "strong evidence" would be needed before conclusions in such a serious case could be made.
Late last month, Dutch prosecutors moved to postpone further MH17-related hearings in a trial against three Russians and one Ukrainian charged in absentia with operating the Buk, from this autumn until February-March 2021 at the request of the attorneys and representatives of the victims. The trial, which began in March, was resumed in June after a hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Russia itself is not a party to those proceedings.
In a related development, last week, Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok announced that Amsterdam would be filing a lawsuit against Russia with the European Court of Human Rights over the MH17 disaster, and would be sending an official note on the matter to the United Nations Security Council. Russia's ministry of justice urged the Court to "evaluate its applicability" with the participation of all parties implicated, and reiterated that Moscow firmly rejects accusations of playing any role in the plane's destruction.