Dutch prosecutors said they are charging four pro-Russian separatist commanders for their role in the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014, announcing that the trial would begin in March 2020.
Interested in Airlines?Add Airlines as an interest to stay up to date on the latest Airlines news, video, and analysis from ABC News.
Three of the men charged were Russian citizens, and Dutch police said they believed one of the commanders may have been an active member of Russia's military intelligence service at the time of the shooting down in July 2014. The other man was Ukrainian.
The head of the Dutch national police and prosecution service at a press conference Wednesday said they were charging Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Leonid Kharchenko as responsible for acquiring the anti-aircraft missile from Russia that was used to bring down the airliner. The men will be charged with criminal responsibility for the shooting down as well as with the murder of the 298 passengers, the officials said.
"In Dutch law, if they play an organizing role they are just as liable as those who committed the crime," Wilbert Paulissen, the head of the Dutch National Police said at a press conference Wednesday.
The Dutch officials said international arrest warrants have been issued for the men and that they believed Girkin, Dubinsky and Pulatov are all currently located in Russia while Kharchenko is in rebel-held eastern Ukraine. The investigators said they had requested Russian and Ukrainian authorities deliver court summons to the men in Russia, but said they would not be requesting extradition because Russia and Ukraine's constitutions prohibit it.
Russia has refused to cooperate with the investigation previously and has rejected allegations that the rebels or Russian-linked personnel were involved, meaning it is unlikely it will make the men available for the court.
The Dutch officials said the court proceeding against the men will be begin at 10 a.m. on March 9, 2020, in The Hague, regardless of whether the men appeared, meaning they would be tried in absentia.
The charges were brought on the recommendation of the Joint Investigative Team (JIT), a Dutch-led international commission also involving Australia, Malaysia, Belgium and Ukraine, the countries that, along with Holland, lost the most citizens.
The JIT last year found that the Buk M98 missile that was used had allegedly come from Russia's 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade based in Kursk and had crossed into Ukraine in the days ahead of the shooting down.
On Wednesday, the Dutch investigators claimed the men had "formed a chain" linking the separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine with Russia's military, which allowed them to obtain the missile for their troops who were fighting Ukrainian government troops at the time.
The JIT investigators said they suspected that Dubinsky may have been an active member of Russia's military intelligence, the GRU, at the time of the shooting down and called on Russia to answer whether that was the case. Fred Westerbeke, the Netherland's chief prosecutor, said the JIT had been asking Russia to answer that question for a year but had received no answer. "These are simple questions," he said.
Russia has for years vehemently denied any involvement in the shooting down, while putting forward its own multiple theories of what happened, some of which have been repeatedly debunked by the Dutch-led investigators.
The investigators Wednesday said they also had grounds to believe the crew of the Russian Buk missile had also included Russian service men and called for witnesses to come forward to assist in establishing if that was the case.
Igor Girkin, known by the nom-de-guerre "Strelkov," is the former top military commander for the separatists in 2014 and a former colonel in Russia's FSB domestic intelligence service. Pulatov was identified by the JIT as also being a former member of the GRU's special forces.
Russia has previously claimed that the present and former members of its military found operating in Ukraine were there as volunteers.