The trial in absentia of three Russians and a Ukrainian charged with multiple counts of murder over the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014 resumed briefly at The Hague on March 23 amid coronavirus restrictions.
The Dutch judges in the trial read out several preliminary decisions before ruling to adjourn the case until June 8 in order to give the defense lawyers of one of the accused more time to prepare their case.
The courtroom was almost empty during the 45-minute session, which was livestreamed on the Internet due to restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.
Flight MH17 was shot down July 17, 2014, by a Russian-made Buk missile fired from territory in eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists.
The civilian passenger plane was on a flight from Amsterdam to Malaysia when it was shot down.
All 298 passengers and crew were killed.
The victims included 193 Dutch citizens as well as 43 Malaysians and 38 Australians.
The four accused — Russian citizens Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky, and Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko — remain at large despite the issuance of international warrants for their arrests.
Only Pulatov has appointed defense lawyers to represent him at the trial in the Netherlands.
When the trial opened on March 9, it was attended by lawyers, judges, family members of victims, and journalists.
But the number of prosecutors, lawyers, and other staff on March 23 was reduced over the coronavirus pandemic. Family and media were not allowed to attend the trial in person, and judges sat separated from one another by empty seats.
Prosecutors say the four men helped to arrange the supply of the Russian missile system used to shoot down MH17.
Girkin, a former colonel in Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), was the top military commander of a separatist group in eastern Ukraine while Ukrainian Kharchenko was in charge of a combat unit in the region, according to the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT).
Dubinsky and Pulatov were connected with Russia’s Military Intelligence Service (GRU), the investigators concluded.
Despite evidence that Russia’s military was directly involved in shooting down of Flight MH17, the Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement.
The Kremlin also denies providing any military or financial support to Ukraine’s pro-Russia separatists, despite evidence assembled by the JIT and the Bellingcat open-source investigative group.