Flight MH17 verdict: Who are the four men on trial?

Three Russians and a Ukrainian have not been arrested, and are unlikely to serve any prison sentence if convicted

Chief Prosecutor with the National Prosecutor's Office of the Netherlands Fred Westerbeke delivers a speech during a press conference of the Joint Investigation Team on June 19, 2019 in Nieuwegein, on the ongoing investigation of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash in 2014, next to the pictures of (from LtoR) Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, former FSB colonel Igor Girkin (Strelkov), Sergei Dubinsky employed by Russia's GRU military intelligence agency and former soldier of the Spetznaz GRU Oleg Pulatov. The Dutch-led probe said it was going to prosecute Russian nationals Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, adding they would be placed on national and international wanted lists, over the downing of the Malaysia Airlines plane in July, 2014 when it was shot out of the sky by a BUK missile. / AFP / JOHN THYS
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A former Russian spy and historical re-enactment fan is among four men accused of downing Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in 2014.

A Dutch court is set to deliver verdicts on Thursday in the trial of three Russians and a Ukrainian rebel accused of playing a role in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine.

A total of 298 people were killed when a missile hit the Boeing 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

The four suspects are still at large as they have not been arrested, and are unlikely to serve any prison sentence if they are convicted.

But who are they?

Igor Girkin

The most high-profile suspect is Igor Girkin, 51, a former spy and historical re-enactment fan also known by his pseudonym "Strelkov".

Dutch prosecutors say Mr Girkin is a former colonel in the FSB, the Russian Federal Security Service. He is known to have had fighting experience in Chechnya and the former Yugoslavia.

Mr Girkin claims to have started the war in eastern Ukraine and was the minister of defence and commander of the pro-Moscow self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic.

"As the highest military officer he maintained contact with the Russian Federation" in obtaining the missile that shot down MH17, prosecutors said.

He has repeatedly denied the rebels were behind the attack.

In 2014, Mr Girkin ruled the then-rebel stronghold of Sloviansk with an iron fist, with executions for petty theft reportedly carried out under his rule.

But he was squeezed out of the separatist leadership later that year under mysterious circumstances and returned to Russia, where he lost all influence and reportedly had financial difficulties.

Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, he has criticised retreats by Russian troops and predicted the need to mobilise when Moscow was denying this was necessary.

In early September, he forecast in a video that "the war will continue until complete defeat of Russia" and has been very critical of military chiefs, who he said were "not the sharpest tools".

Strelkov's Telegram channel on October 15 posted a picture of him in a camouflage jacket with his arm around his wife, who wrote in the caption: "All is well, he will soon get in touch."

He then wrote that he has been serving since October 14 "in the active army". His Telegram channel, which has more than 700,000 followers, says he is serving in a volunteer unit and is advertising for more recruits.

Sergei Dubinsky

Sergei Dubinsky, 60, call-sign "Khmury" (Gloomy), is a former officer in the GRU, the Russian military intelligence service, Dutch prosecutors say.

At the time of the MH17 crash, Dubinsky was allegedly serving as the military intelligence chief of the separatists in eastern Ukraine and was one of Mr Girkin's deputies.

He is alleged to have played a key role in obtaining the missile and returning its launch system to Russia. "He also maintained regular contact with officials in Russia," prosecutors said.

Mr Dubinsky reportedly met Mr Girkin when he fought in the First Chechen War in the mid-1990s. He is also a veteran of the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan.

Oleg Pulatov

The only one of the suspects to have legal representation at the trial, Oleg Pulatov, 56, is a former officer in the Russian Spetznaz special forces.

Nicknamed "Gyurza" (viper), he was one of Mr Dubinsky's deputies at the heart of the separatist military leadership in 2014 and deputy head of the DPR's intelligence service, prosecutors say.

He allegedly helped transport the BUK system to Ukraine and, after the downing of the plane, helped ensure the safety of the area where the MH17 debris fell.

In a video statement to the court in June Mr Pulatov said he had "nothing to do with the disaster".

Leonid Kharchenko

The only Ukrainian on trial, Leonid Kharchenko, nicknamed "Krot" (Mole), was also linked to the separatist leadership.

Mr Kharchenko commanded a combat unit in the Donetsk region in July 2014 and took his orders directly from Dubinsky, Dutch prosecutors said.

The trial heard that he had personally helped escort the missile after it entered Ukraine, and then returned the launch system to Russia after MH17 was shot down.

In an interview published in 2015 by a separatist news agency, he branded Kyiv a "fascist regime" built on a "Nazi" ideology.

Updated: November 17, 2022, 10:24 AM
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