21 November 2022
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
From the very beginning of the trial in The Hague in the case of the shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines’ Boeing over Ukraine it was clear that the verdict would be of a primarily symbolic nature. Those charged throughout evaded appearing in court and, what’s more, they have evaded serving their sentences. The court’s main purpose – the punishment of criminals and exoneration of the innocent – could not be fully served. In addition, the court’s verdict, handed down in the absence of the defendants, loses some of its authority.
Nevertheless , none of this means that the trial failed or was not necessary in the first place. The evidence gathered by the international investigation team, and the entire judicial investigation, has presented the public with a clear picture of what happened. It is hardly likely anyone now has any doubts about it. It seems all the ‘I’s have been dotted. Or almost all.
The names of those who gave the orders to transfer the S-300 anti-aircraft missile system to the occupied territory of Ukraine did not figure in the verdict. These people are probably sitting in Moscow where they occupy high positions. Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Leonid Kharchenko, who were sentenced to life imprisonment in The Hague, also remain in Russia or on territory under Russia’s control. All of them have been given safe haven in Russia, at least for as long as the authoritarian political regime here remains in place. Now they are in no danger of being extradited to face Dutch justice, and not only because they carried out military tasks for the Russian government.
Besides the Kremlin’s own interest in protecting those who executed its orders, the killers are protected by the Russian Constitution. Article 61 of the Constitution prohibits the extradition of Russian citizens to another country. This is an echo of feudal law that has reappeared in today’s Russia: only the sovereign, as represented by the state, may execute or pardon its subjects. No one else dares encroach on its own serfs, that is, on the property of the rightful owner. This is the perverse logic of Russia’s constitutional law.
Normal legal relations oblige the guilty party to face criminal responsibility at the place where the crime was committed. Where you did it, that’s where you answer for it! If different jurisdictions, or even different legal systems, are involved, but the act committed is considered criminal in both countries, then it is in the court of the country of the injured party that the person is tried. Or better still, before an international court.
The Kremlin has repeatedly sheltered its criminals from justice. Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun, who were charged in Britain with the murder of Aleksandr Litvinenko, who had emigrated to England, escaped to Moscow. Aleksandr Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov, who tried to poison former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal in England, are also safely under the protection of the Russian state. There are many such examples.
Simultaneously with its refusal to extradite its criminals to other states, the Kremlin insists on the extradition of its perpetrators arrested or convicted in other countries. Anatoly Yablochkov and Vasily Pugachev, members of the Russian security services sentenced to life imprisonment in Qatar for killing the former President of Ichkeria Zelimkhan Yandarbiev and two of his bodyguards, were taken to Moscow as part of an agreement to transfer the convicts to serve their sentences in Russia. At Vnukovo airport they were greeted with military honours – and after that no one ever saw them again.
It is difficult at the moment to say what fate awaits Girkin, Dubinsky and Kharchenko, who have the blood of 298 people on their hands. Times change, and sometimes so unexpectedly and rapidly that it is not easy for well-known people to lose themselves in the crowd. And they should never forget that the verdict has already been handed down.
Translated by Simon Cosgrove