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Dutch MPs demand investigation into Ukraine’s role in MH17 crash

Ukraine will cooperate in an investigation that should answer why Ukrainian airspace was not closed during the downing of flight MH17 on July 17, 2014. Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said he received this commitment from Ukrainian President Zelenski.

Published: October 14, 2019, 11:34 am

    The House of Representatives forced the Cabinet to launch an investigation at the beginning of the month into why Ukraine did not close its airspace. Blok said that such an investigation would be “particularly difficult” because cooperation is required from other countries involved.

    The Tweede Kamer – the lower house of Dutch parliament – demanded a further investigation into the role Ukraine played in the MH17 disaster after a motion filed by CDA and SP received the support of all parties that attended a debate on the matter, Dutch state broadcaster NOS reported.

    According to CDA parliamentarian Chris van Dam, this investigation must be launched as soon as possible. “Memories are fading, data is being lost”, he explained, arguing that this is important for the victims’ surviving relatives. “It’s about insight for the bereaved, knowing if something could have been prevented, understanding what had happened.”

    Foreign Affairs Minister Blok has been reluctant about such an investigation. “We don’t see any reason for it legally”, he told the Kamer during the debate. An investigation will not be easy, because it will also need Russian cooperation, he countered. “It is also about their airspace.”

    In the end however, Blok was forced to admit that an inventory of the possibilities of a fact finding investigation could not be ruled out.

    In 2015 the Dutch Safety Board ruled that Ukraine should have closed the airspace above the conflict zone in the east of the country. If that had happened, flight MH17 would have taken another route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and would not have been shot down, saving the lives of the 298 passengers – mostly Dutch citizens – on board.

    Sadly so far the Dutch government has taken no steps against Ukraine. Due to US pressure, the government considers it important to maintain good relations with the country.

    The Russian government has been demanding for years that Ukrainian decision-making on airspace closure be investigated. “It is highly questionable why that is not part of the Joint Investigation Team investigation,” Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said recently.

    The Kamer also discussed Ukraine transferring an important witness in the MH17 investigation, Vladimir Tsemach, to Russia in the context of a prisoners exchange last month. The Kamer heard that Blok never discussed the matter with his Russian counterpart, and the exchange likely means that Tsemach will never appear in court.

    The Kamer pressured the government to take this up with Russia at the highest level, because only the Russian envoy in the Netherlands was called on by Blok’s ministry.

    Blok did not contact Moscow, nor speak to his Russian counterpart at the annual UN meeting in New York recently. During the debate, Blok argued that he was waiting for the “right moment” for such a meeting. Such a meeting will be held in consultation with the Public Prosecution Service and the Joint Investigation Team.

    The Ukrainian Foreign Minister however had promised a meeting between President Zelenski and Prime Minister Rutte at the UN summit in New York at the end of September, but Zelenski did not show up. “Organizational problems on our part,” Minister Pristajko later apologized.

    “We are asking the relevant authorities for permission to investigate, but that is in no way related to ongoing legal proceedings,” Blok pointed out after meeting with Vadim Pristajko, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister. Earlier during his visit to Kiev, Blok had spoken with President Zelenski.

    By providing cooperation, Ukraine will have to disclose the decision-making to the national aviation authorities prior to the MH17 crash. The Dutch Safety Board concluded earlier that the Ukrainian authorities should have closed the airspace above the east of the country, where a few months before the downing of MH17 an armed struggle was launched by the Ukrainian army against pro-Russian separatists in the Donbass. In the area on July 17, 2014 only a flight ban for civil aircraft up to 9 500 meters applied.

    Previously the VVD Minister of Security and Justice, Ard van der Steur, was still telling the media that the Netherlands “cooperates well” with Ukraine on the MH17 file, even though Kiev had refused to release primary radar images.

    Pieter Omtzigt, member of the Christian Democratic Appeal, for example, wanted to know how it was possible for Ukraine to first claim that they cannot provide primary radar images because their civil radar systems were “out for maintenance” on that fatal July 17, 2014, but that story then changed later on in the narrative with them claiming that their systems were “destroyed”.

    Anyone with common sense questioned the role and attitude of Kiev, except Prime Minister Rutte, Dutch political blog GeenStijl noted.

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