After 67 days of hearings, spread over the course of more than two years, the preliminary phase of the trial on the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 which took place in 2014 over the skies of the Donbass region, in eastern Ukraine, was concluded. cost the lives of all 298 people on board. The trial took place in the Netherlands because the Boeing 777 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, and most of the victims were Dutch. “I am innocent. I have nothing to do with the disaster of July 17, 2014,” he said in a video message. Oleg Poulatov, 53, a former member of the Russian special forces among the four suspects in the shooting. The judges have postponed the case and the verdict is expected later this year.
According to prosecutors, Pulatov was the deputy intelligence chief of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine when Flight MH17 was shot down that day by a missile fired from a Buk launcher. In May 2018, an international team of investigators concluded that the Buk missile launcher used to shoot down the plane belonged to Russia’s 53rd Anti-aircraft Missile Brigade.
The evidence collected would therefore demonstrate the involvement of the 53-year-old; of two other Russians, Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy; and the Ukrainian separatist, Leonid Kharchenko, in the launch of the missile from the Donetsk territory. The launcher had been transported to Ukraine from a Russian military base and then returned to Russia. But Moscow denies any involvement in the downing of the Boeing 777.
For Pulatov, this evidence is not convincing, in some places even unreliable, and based on “insufficient conjectures to support a sentence”. “I hope and expect a just and legally founded sentence,” he told the judges of the court in the secure complex near Schiphol Airport. “Please acquit me.” The deputy head of the secret services is the only one to have spoken during these years, albeit via video messages because, together with the other three suspects, he did not turn himself in to the court to face the trial. While Gurkin, Dubinsky and Khartchenko have refused to appear in person and are being tried in absentia, Pulatov has legal representation.
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Pulatov’s lawyers accused prosecutors of having “tunnel vision” because they focused only on their theory, not giving the defendant a fair trial. If he is convicted of charges that include involvement in the murder of 298 passengers and crew members, Pulatov faces a life sentence, although it remains unlikely that he will be able to serve a prison sentence because Russia would not extradite him.
“The prosecution was unable to prove from the wiretaps, images and witness statements that it was the missile that shot down MH17,” said Poulatov’s lawyer, Sabine ten Doesschate, asking for his acquittal. “And even if a missile was launched, we can’t prove it was the one that hit MH17,” she added.
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