MALAYSIA is determined to seek justice for the victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 which was tragically shot down on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 passengers and crew. Malaysia is resolute in the pursuit to prosecute those responsible for the act.
A missile exploded at the aircraft’s nose as it cruised at 33,000 feet and the explosion killed the pilots instantly and led to the rapid break-up of the Boeing 777. The wreckage and mangled bodies were scattered over a 52sq km area in the war-torn Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.
President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko said: “War has gone beyond the territory of Ukraine.” The tragedy essentially marked a turning point in the conflict between government forces and pro-Russian separatist rebels in which more than 6,500 were killed.
After four years of investigation, last week Dutch investigators announced that the Russian military’s 53rd Air Defence Missile Brigade was the outfit which shot down MH17. Based in Kursk, not far from the border with Ukraine, that brigade was known to have deployed subunits in eastern Ukraine in 2014.
Dutch nationals made up two-thirds of the dead, so the Netherlands took the lead in the investigation. The Dutch report concluded that the Boeing had been taken down by a surface-to-air missile of Russian origin, specifically the 9K37, called BUK (a beech tree in Russian).
Reportedly, the 9K37 (called SA-11 by the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, or Nato), is a self-propelled weapons system that provides air defence coverage to Russian ground forces. Kremlin had invaded Donetsk earlier that year, which explained why the BUK was in eastern Ukraine on that day.
The amateur investigators at Bellingcat confirmed, a senior Russian military intelligence (GRU) officer named Oleg Ivannikov, codenamed Orion, was the key person of interest in the shoot down. Bellingcat’s report was gained from sources in Russia. It is said that Ivannikov was a Russian spy.
Earlier this year, on March 19, it was reported that a Ukrainian pilot falsely accused by Russian media and officials of shooting down MH17 had taken his own life. The Telegraph had reported that Capt Vladyslav Voloshyn, an Su-25 attack jet pilot, shot himself at home in the southern Ukrainian city of Mykolaiv. The report also said the claims that Voloshyn had shot MH17 with his own aircraft was one of many alternative explanations by Kremlin and its sympathisers.
Nearly four years after the incident, the MH17 Joint Investigation Team (JIT) has underlined its previous position that Russia did it. Many had questioned the credibility of JIT, made up of investigators from Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Malaysia and Ukraine, but not Russia.
The presence of Ukrainian investigators instantly tainted JIT’s findings. It was believed that any evidence brought into the public eye by JIT had first been screened and okayed by “one of the suspects”. As such, none of the evidence, analysis or conclusions can be counted objective, fair or accurate.
In the early stages of an investigation, many aviation experts had asked why Malaysia was not part of the joint investigation team and why Ukraine was, when it was the suspect in this case. It was a Malaysian plane which was attacked and yet Malaysia was excluded. Analysts had said it was due to Malaysia’s reluctance to put the blame on the Russians or the Donetsk separatists, and Ukrainians, without irrefutable evidence.
As the international investigation drags on, families from several countries have started lawsuits against the airline on the grounds that, unlike some other carriers, it continued to operate flights over a conflict zone where rebels were known to be using anti-aircraft weapons. MH17 was on an approved international flight path, at the approved altitude and quoted European aviation authority Eurocontrol that 75 airlines had flown the same route two days before the disaster.
French public figure Nikola Mirkovic, head of the Ouest-Est (West-East) organisation engaged in humanitarian projects in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region, had said: “From the very beginning, one could see the desire of those investigators to blame Russia for shooting down MH17.” He said that “if there really is a desire to find the perpetrators, it is necessary to create an investigation team which will be beyond suspicion and which will be financed neither by NATO nor Russia”.
On the BUK issue, Mirkovic recalled that it is a Russian-made missile system so “it is quite possible that missiles launched by it were also made in Russia”. In this case, one should pay close attention to those who used this weapon rather than those who produced it, recalling that the BUK missile system was “used across the entire territory of the former Soviet Union”.
Establishing the truth on the MH17 downing is an important part of achieving justice for the victims and their families. And, establishing accountability is crucial in preventing a recurrence of such a tragic event.
The writer, a former lecturer of UiTM Shah Alam and International Islamic University Malaysia, Gombak, is a Fulbright scholar and Japan Institute of International Affairs fellow.