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14 Mar, 2022 12:30

Russia hit with compensation claim over MH17

Australia and the Netherlands have launched legal proceedings at the global aviation watchdog over the flight downed in 2014
Russia hit with compensation claim over MH17

Australia and the Netherlands have asked the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to force Russia to pay compensation for the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, the countries announced on Monday.

ICAO is a UN agency tasked with organizing safe civil air traffic around the world. Canberra and Amsterdam want it to punish Russia for the deadly incident in July 2014, in which an airliner flying over Ukrainian territory was shot down, killing almost 300 people on board. The two nations hold Russia accountable for the tragedy and want the UN body to confirm their position.

“We want it to be internationally recognized and established that Russia is responsible for the disaster with flight MH17,” Dutch Minister of Infrastructure Mark Harbers told journalists.

“The Russian Federation’s refusal to take responsibility for its role in the downing of flight MH17 is unacceptable and the Australian government has always said that it will not exclude any legal options in our pursuit of justice,” Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said.

The two nations claim Russia supplied a crewed Buk anti-aircraft missile system to Ukrainian rebels in eastern Ukraine, who were fighting a war against government forces at the time. Their working theory is that the airliner, which was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was mistaken for a Ukrainian military aircraft before being shot down.

A murder trial is currently underway in the Netherlands, where four suspects are facing life sentences for their alleged roles in the incident. They are Russian nationals Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky, and Oleg Pulatov, as well as Ukrainian national Leonid Kharchenko, all of whom were rebel commanders and are tried in absentia. A verdict in the case is expected later this year.

Russia has long denied any involvement in the incident and has accused the Dutch-led international investigation of political bias. Moscow claims the probe ignored evidence contradicting their working theory and failed to pressure Ukraine into providing additional data, instead allowing it to be one of the investigators.

Kiev, Moscow argued, is at least partially responsible for the tragedy since it allowed the civilian aircraft to fly through a war zone despite losing several military planes in the days prior. It also suggested that the Ukrainian military could have shot down the airliner.

Amid the squabble, in 2020, Moscow refused to keep cooperating with the investigation. Australian and Dutch authorities said pressure applied through ICAO was meant to bring Russia back in and accept culpability for the deaths. Payne told reporters his government may “consider” withdrawing its complaint, if Russia abides by its demands.

Otherwise, the ICAO could impose all sorts of punishments against Russia, including suspending its voting rights in the organization, Australian Attorney General Michaelia Cash, who spoke alongside Payne, said.

The Dutch government said its complaint was not filed in response to Russia’s ongoing military incursion in Ukraine, but Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said the hostilities “underscore the vital importance” of holding Russia accountable for the MH17 downing.