THE HAGUE, Netherlands- A day after international prosecutors said they had unequivocal evidence of Russian involvement in the downing of a Malaysian passenger jet over Ukraine nearly four years ago, the Netherlands and Australia on Friday announced they were holding Moscow legally responsible for its role in the missile attack.
The move puts further strain on already tense relations between Russia and the West and opens a new legal front in the long-running process of apportioning blame for the July 17, 2014, missile strike that blew Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 out of the sky and killed all 298 people on board.
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“State responsibility comes into play when states fail to uphold provisions of international law and that’s clearly the case,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters in The Hague.
On Thursday, a Dutch-led international team of investigators said they had strong evidence that the Buk missile system that brought down the Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur flight came from a Russia-based military unit, the 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade based in the Russian city of Kursk. It was the most explicit link yet published by the investigators between Moscow and the downing of the flight known as MH17.
Rutte demanded that Moscow fully cooperate with the criminal probe.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop called for international support for the Dutch-Australian legal initiative.
“If military weapons can be deployed and then used to bring down civilian aircraft in what was essentially a war zone, then international security is at risk and we call on all countries to inform the Russian Federation that its conduct is unacceptable,” she said.
The two nations quickly got support from allies including the United States, Britain and the European Union.
“It is time for Russia to acknowledge its role in the shooting down of MH17 and to cease its callous disinformation campaign,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson called Russia’s involvement “an egregious example of the Kremlin’s disregard for innocent life” and called on Moscow to cooperate fully with the investigation.
Russia denies involvement in the downing of the Malaysian Boeing 777 that was flying 33,000 feet (about 10,000 meters) over war-ravaged eastern Ukraine when it was torn apart by a Buk missile fired from territory controlled by pro-Russian rebels.