Today is the third day on which the court discussed the case file. On 9 June 2021 it began discussing the third question: Did the accused play a role in the downing of MH17 on 17 July 2014? This part was concluded today and the hearing has been adjourned until Thursday 17 June 2021 at 10:00 a.m. CET.
Today the court again emphasized that the fact that the court is discussing the case file does not mean that the court agrees with the findings and the conclusions it contains. The view of the court will only be given in the final judgement that will be rendered at the end of these proceedings.
What are the charges against the accused?
The court first referred to the concrete accusations made by the Public Prosecution Service against the accused. These are that they expressed the need for and requested an air defence system with a crew; they indicated a suitable launching site for the BUK-TELAR; and they arranged for transport and guarding of the BUK-TELAR. Each of the accused apparently played a different role in this. This is included in the indictment.
The court gave a brief sketch of the accused.
The first accused, a Russian citizen, previously fought for the Russian armed forces in various wars. He eventually went to the city of Slavyansk in East Ukraine and finally on 16 May 2014 he was appointed Minister of Defence and Supreme Commander of the people’s army of the Donetsk People’s Republic. Various aliases and telephone numbers have been linked to this accused in the case file.
The second accused has the Russian nationality. The investigation has also linked various nicknames and telephone numbers to him. In an interview he introduced himself with the title of deputy army commander. He is subordinate to the previous accused, reported to him, and set up an intelligence and reconnaissance service.
The third accused is having himself represented by counsel and stated in a video message that he is a specialist in the area of tactical military intelligence and that he served in the Soviet and Russian army until August 2008. Various telephone numbers and nicknames are attributed to him in the case file. He joined the people’s militia of the Donetsk People’s Republic and became (deputy) head of the intelligence unit. He reported to the two above-mentioned accused.
Finally the fourth accused. He has the Ukrainian nationality. In the case file he has various nicknames and various telephone numbers are linked to him. In an interview he said that he is not a professional soldier but had a technical engineering training. He carried out combat actions in various places and it can apparently be inferred from intercepted telephone conversations that he was under the command of the second accused.
The conflict situation
The court then focused on the conflict situation in East Ukraine at the time of the MH17 planecrash. Fierce fighting was taking place and the separatists were suffering increasingly high losses due to Ukrainian aerial bombing. To counter these attacks by aircraft flying at high altitudes the separatists had weapon systems that could only reach an altitude of approximately 3500 meters. Intercepted telephone conversations between various persons lead to the inference in the file that the separatists were suffering severely from bombing on their positions in and around Amvrosiivka, Stepanivka, Marinovka, Dmitrovka and Tarany, and around the hills of Saur-Mogila, and that their only hope was Russia. “I wish they give us surface to air system…” and “We have nothing to shoot with. Where is the support for us?”
The third accused apparently informed the second accused about the situation. Tanks would not be a solution but long-range artillery and a sound air defence system would be. Apparently the second accused said in an intercepted telephone conversation in relation to an anticipated attack by the Ukrainian army, “If I manage to get a BUK in the morning to send there that will be fine, but if I don’t it’ll really be shit, I reckon.”
The route apparently taken by the BUK-TELAR before and after 17 July 2014
According to the JIT, during the night of 16 to 17 July 2014 actual transport of a BUK-TELAR that was delivered by the Russian Federation to the border with East Ukraine began. The JIT mapped the first part of the route of this BUK-TELAR to Donetsk on the basis of visual material, the content of telephone conversations, transmission mast data, witness statements, expert reports and on the basis of sources such as Facebook and Twitter. A number of these sources were mentioned and shown by the court. The second part of the route, from Donetsk via Makeevka to Snizhne and on to Pervomaiskyi was also mapped by the JIT in this way. The court also discussed comments made by the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation on the authenticity of various images. As a result of these comments the JIT and the Public Prosecution Service had further investigation done and came to the conclusion that there was no reason to assume that the images had been manipulated.
The fourth accused’s telephone transmission mast data led to the inference in the file that he, together one other person, was present during the transport of the BUK-TELAR to the agricultural field near Pervomaiskiy on 17 July 2014. Apparently mast data also show that the first and second accused were near Donetsk at that moment. On the basis of mast data the JIT assumes that the third accused was not present at the suspected launching site.
The court spoke about the messages included in the file after flight MH17 was downed. At first people spoke about downing a Sushka (a Ukrainian fighter jet), later about a passenger plane, and even later about a fighter jet that had fired at a Boeing, and had then itself been downed by separatists.
On the basis of intercepted telephone conversations, transmission mast data, witness statements, information on social media, and video material the JIT assumes that after the downing of flight MH17 the BUK-TELAR was moved to Snizhne and from there – finally – to Russia. The court mentioned various telephone conversations apparently between the accused about this and played them in court.
The role of the accused persons
During the hearing the court mentioned a number of telephone conversations ascribed to the four accused and played them during the hearing. They concern the role of the four accused in the events relating to the transport of the BUK-TELAR, the downing of flight MH17, and their mutual relationships. To put it briefly here, in relation to the four accused the court also referred to their statements, and remarks in various media and on video. All the accused deny involvement in the crash of flight MH17, the use of a BUK missile system by separatists and the presence of a BUK missile system in the conflict zone of East Ukraine.
Further course of the proceedings
Instructions for further investigation into various areas still have to be executed by the investigating judge. The court will come back to this later in these proceedings.
At the end of today’s hearing the court gave a brief summary of the preceding days. The material discussed is what is relevant for the court in order to answer the charges in the indictment and is substantiated by nearly 1,100 footnotes with references in the case file.
Next week the prosecution will speak and will treat aspects of the case file. Time has been reserved in September for the relatives to exercise their right to address the court. The prosecution may be able to give its closing speech in November. After this, in the next block of hearings, the defence will plead its case.