MH17: Bellingcat podcast exploring crashed passenger jet
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On Thursday, a Dutch court will give its long-awaited verdict on the case of Malaysia Airlines flight 17, shot down over eastern Ukraine in July 2014, killing all 298 people on board.
The flight – headed to Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport – flew over Ukraine not long after Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his forces in to annex Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk.
Fighting between the two countries was taking place on the ground and in the air, leading to Ukraine closing the airspace below 32,000 feet.
Flying at 33,000 feet, the Boeing 777 lost contact at 1:20pm GMT. The Dutch Safety Board, US and German intelligence concluded that the plane was shot down by pro-Russian separatists. The Russian government has always denied any involvement.
Now, after eight long years, the trial in Amsterdam will offer a verdict on whether three Russians and one Ukrainian are responsible for mass murder, bringing some closure to the bereaved families of those killed in the incident.
Those on trial – who include Igor Girkin, who prosecutors day is a former FSB colonel – all refused to appear in court and were tried in absentia. Whatever the outcome on Thursday, it is thought unlikely that any of the accused will serve jail time, but the investigation has provided some incontestible evidence for the history books.
But already, a number of experts have concluded that Russia was ultimately responsible for the MH17 attack. This includes Florence De Changy, who wrote the book, The Disappearing Act: The Impossible Case of MH370.
In fact, she suggests in the book that Putin himself could have been responsible, shooting down the plane to achieve two things – to get “revenge” on the US and improve his relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Why would China and Russia want revenge against the US? According to De Change, it was because the two countries believed Washington was responsible for the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
The plane lost contact and crashed at an unknown location in June 2014, and what happened to it remains a mystery. All 239 people on board, including 153 Chinese citizens, were presumed dead. Theories surrounding what happened blame Russia, others blame the US, and others have suggested faults with the plane could have caused the incident.
De Changy even cites a source who alleges that Putin told Xi: “What happened [with MH370] is not acceptable. Leave it to me”.
She added that shooting down MH17 would have given Putin an opportunity to send a message to the US: “You mess with us, and we’ll mess with you.”
Speaking to the Sun, she explained: “What is obvious is that the likelihood of this double accident is basically beyond statistics.
To have two planes of the same model and the same company destroyed in four months should not be treated as just bad luck.”
She added: “I noticed that Xi and Putin were getting closer than ever during that period of time and they happened to have been physically together in Brazil when MH17 was downed. The day before, they talked of taking their relationship to a new ‘higher level’ and Putin mentions ‘striking the iron while it’s hot’.
“I also discussed this [theory] with people in that world [intelligence services] and to my great surprise, the more informed and high ranking they were, the less shocked they seemed about this hypothesis. In fact, one told me, the more outrageous the more likely it is to be true, in this kind of operation.”
Similar claims were made by author Jeff Wise in his 2015 book The Plane That Wasn’t There. He argued that Russia could have downed both MH17 and MH370 in 2014 to tell the West: “You can hurt us with sanctions, but don’t sleep too soundly at night.”
Prior to this week’s trial verdict, another expert has also pinned responsibility for MH17 on Russia. Eliot Higgins, founder of the investigative journalism group Bellingcat, told the BBC that anyone who denies Russia’s involvement is “ridiculous”.
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He said: “I think at this point, and especially with a guilty verdict, anyone who would claim that Russia wasn’t involved with this shootdown is really a ridiculous person”.
Mr Higgins also says that the events in 2014 are linked to the invasion of Ukraine which was launched earlier this year. He argues that a tougher response against Putin could have stopped the war from happening.
He continued: “People were just turning a blind eye to it, policymakers just weren’t comfortable with calling out Russia in a way they really should have done. And they didn’t react in the way that could have prevented the invasion in 2022.
“I think there should have been more military support for Ukraine, there should have been more sanctions, there should have been a stronger response than we saw at the time. There could have been preventative measures that would have saved a lot of lives.”
This is also a view shared by the victims’ families. Silene Fredriksz, whose son died aboard the MH17 flight along with his girlfriend. She said the world needs to wake up to the threat of Putin.
She added: “Putin has never been stopped, and still has not been stopped. And he will not stop until he is stopped. I hope the world wakes up now, because we knew it already eight years ago.”
The Disappearing Act: The Impossible Case of MH370 by Florence De Changy, published by Mudlark, is available here.
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