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David Riley

First Secretary Europe and Eurasia

Part of Shoulder to Shoulder

13th October 2015 Washington DC, USA

MH17 – the slow path towards truth and justice

The Dutch Safety Board MH17 crash report

There are moments, images in life that will stay with you forever. Some are good:  for me, the obvious ones – the first glimpse of my children and my wedding day. Too often, though, those moments, those memories are painful and tragic: smoke billowing from the Twin Towers, set against the bluest of New York skies; the wreckage of a London bus in Tavistock Square, after the 7/7 bombings.

23 July 2014 is another day that will last long in my memories. The first 40 coffins carrying the victims of the downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 arrived at Eindhoven Airport in the Netherlands. 40 hearses sat silently on the tarmac, facing each other in two lines – silence that was broken only by the crushing cries from the crowd and by a lone Dutch airman playing the Last Post. Finally, the convoy of hearses snaked away, seemingly as far as the eyes could see, its 40 innocent passengers continuing their long journey home.

The Dutch aviation authority published today its report in to the shooting down of Flight MH17 over Eastern Ukraine. All 298 passengers on board lost their lives that day. The report concludes:

“The in-flight disintegration of the aeroplane…was the result of the detonation of a warhead. The detonation occurred above the left hand side of the cockpit. The weapon used was a 9N314M model warhead carried on the 9M38- series of missiles, as installed on the Buk surface-to-air missile system”. 

This report does not make a judgement on culpability. It was never intended to. That will be for the Joint Investigative team to determine, coordinated by the Dutch Public Prosecutor’s office. The report does detail calculations on the area from which the missile was launched, which we believe to be in separatist held territory on the day in question. The report therefore confirms much of what the British Government has understood to date, based on the evidence available to us – that MH17 was brought down by a surface-to-air missile, fired from within separatist controlled territory and likely provided by Russia.

The report’s authors acted with professionalism, integrity and independence. The report itself is a step in the right direction. We hope it provides some of the answers needed by the friends and families of those who died. But that is unlikely to be sufficient for them. Nor should it be. They should know who was responsible. They should know that justice will be delivered.

Yet, every step of the way, Russia has obfuscated, distracted and delayed. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting down of MH17, Russia refused to use its influence over the separatists it has backed, politically and militarily, to allow access to the crash site, to hand over the black boxes to investigators and to treat those who died with the respect they so deserved.  Instead, Russia and its proxies sought to dilute and deflect international attention by variously suggesting that the Ukrainian air force shot down MH17, that a missile was fired from within Ukrainian controlled territory or, extraordinarily, that the CIA might somehow have been involved.

Shamefully, on 29 July, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution which would have established a tribunal to pursue an international criminal investigation into the downing of MH17. This was unjustifiable. The resolution wasn’t about politics. It was about securing justice and accountability for 298 innocent victims and their families.

Adding salt to the wound, Russia has also embarked on a new information war aimed at discrediting the Dutch Safety Board report. The Kremlin and its preferred vehicle for disinformation, Russia Today have sought to cast doubt about the evidence and investigation. Almaz-Antey, the Russian Government-controlled arms company that produces the Buk missile system, held its own press conference today, complete with dramatic music and videos, claiming Ukraine was responsible.

Russia’s actions and allegations continue to defy logic. Rather than allow the families and friends of those 298 who died to reflect on the few answers available to them, Russia has instead sullied their memories with spin and propaganda.

Those images from Eindhoven will stay with me forever. But that is nothing compared to the pain suffered by those who lost loved ones on MH17. We can only hope that, in time, the pain will ease, that memories of good times will overcome the memories of those tragic days in June 2014. Truth and justice will ease that journey. We will not allow one country to stand in the way. We will not let up on our efforts to ensure that those responsible for this terrible tragedy are brought to account.