Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland says Canada supports the indictment by Dutch prosecutors of three Russians and one Ukrainian in connection with the 2014 downing of a Malaysian passenger jet over eastern Ukraine despite opposition from Malaysia’s prime minister, who has dismissed the charges as politically motivated.
Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was brought down by an anti-aircraft missile on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew on board.
On Wednesday, the international team of investigators announced that Russian citizens Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov from Russia, and Ukrainian national Leonid Kharchenko will face murder charges at a trial in the Netherlands expected to start next spring.
The Dutch-led international team said Girkin was a former colonel in Russia’s federal security service FSB, serving as minister of defence of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) in the summer of 2014.
It said Dubinsky was head of the military intelligence agency of DNR, while Pulatov was head of a second department of the DNR military intelligence agency. Ukrainian national Kharchenko was head of a reconnaissance battalion for the second department, it said.
“Canada condemns this horrific act, which claimed the lives of 298 crew and passengers, including one Canadian,” Freeland said in a statement.
“We support the efforts of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), an independent and impartial criminal investigation led by the Netherlands, Australia, Belgium, Malaysia and Ukraine, and have complete confidence in the Dutch criminal justice system.”
Over 190 victims were Dutch, with the crew predominantly Malaysian. Victims also were from about 10 other countries.
The debris from the passenger jet landed in an area held by Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk region, sparking speculation right from the start that the jet was shot down by a Russian Buk-M surface-to-air missile.
Prosecutors allege the missile system that brought down the plane came from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade, based in the western Russian city of Kursk.
However, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Thursday rejected the implication that Russia may have been involved in the downing of the airliner.
Mohamad said he doesn’t think the findings of the international investigative team are “true at all” as it was based on hearsay.
“We are very unhappy because from the very beginning, it became a political issue on how to accuse Russia of the wrongdoing,” he told reporters. “Even before they examine [the debris], they already say Russia. So it is very difficult for us to accept that.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that it regretted the findings and called murder charges against Russian suspects groundless.
“Once again, absolutely groundless accusations are being made against the Russian side, aimed at discrediting the Russian Federation in the eyes of the international community,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said on its website.
With files from The Associated Press and Reuters