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Netherlands, Australia Hold Russia 'Liable' For Downing MH17 Over Ukraine

Investigators Say Missile From Russian Unit Downed MH17
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The Dutch government says the Netherlands and Australia will hold Russia legally responsible for shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) over eastern Ukraine in 2014.

"The government is now taking the next step by formally holding Russia accountable," Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said on May 25, a day after a Dutch-led international criminal investigation said it concluded the Buk missile that shot down the plane was fired by Russia's 53rd Antiaircraft Missile Brigade.

Following the announcement by the Joint Investigative Team (JIT), comprising authorities from Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands, and Ukraine, Russia reiterated it had nothing to do with the downing of the plane.

Also on May 25, Bellingcat, a British-based team of open-source researchers investigating the crash, publicly named an officer from Russia's GRU military intelligence agency -- Oleg Ivannikov -- in connection with the downing of MH17.

Bellingcat said it had "identified conclusively" that 50-year-old Ivannikov was in charge of military operations in eastern Ukraine when MH17 was shot down over separatist-controlled territory, killing all 298 people on board.

"Ivannikov also supervised the procurement and transport of weapons across the Russia-Ukraine border," said the Bellingcat investigation, conducted jointly with the independent Russian website The Insider. "He held these functions at the time of the downing of MH17" on July 17, 2014.

Bellingcat said Ivannikov held the post during an "undercover deployment" to eastern Ukraine that began during the first half of 2014, and that he "coordinated and supervised the military activities of Russian militants, pro-Russian separatists," and contingents from a "private army" known as the Wagner (Vagner) Group.

Russia denies deploying troops to eastern Ukraine or interfering in Ukraine's internal affairs, despite compelling evidence that Moscow has provided military, economic, and political support to pro-Russia separatists fighting against Ukrainian government forces.

Russia and pro-Russia separatists deny shooting down MH17 and have offered several other theories to explain the tragedy, all of which have been rejected by investigators.

However, Blok said that on the basis of the JIT's conclusions, the Netherlands and Australia "are now convinced that Russia is responsible for the deployment of the Buk installation that was used to down MH17."

The Dutch government said in a statement that holding a nation-state responsible for a breach of international law would involve "a complex legal process."

Blok called on Russia to "accept its responsibility and cooperate fully with the process to establish the truth and achieve justice for the victims of flight MH17 and their next of kin."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia had not been a fully fledged participant in JIT’s investigation and could not therefore trust its findings.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and the BBC