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The Hague (AFP) – Dutch prosecutors this week will lay out their sentencing requests for four men tried in absentia for the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in war-torn Ukraine in 2014.

Prosecutors will also formally present the indictment during a three-day hearing starting Monday, accusing the men of the murder of 298 people aboard the Boeing 777.

The four suspects – Russian nationals Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian citizen Leonid Kharchenko – all refused to attend the trial in the Netherlands.

The verdict of the High Security Court, near Amsterdam Airport Schiphol where MH17 took off from its cursed flight to Kuala Lumpur, is not expected until the end of 2022 at the earliest.

“The maximum penalty is life imprisonment,” a court spokesperson told AFP.

The hearings come as new tensions soar over Ukraine, with the West accusing Moscow of planning an invasion.

International investigators say the MH17 was shot down by a BUK missile originating from a Russian military base as it flew over part of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Moscow separatists on July 17, 2014.

The bodies of the victims, some of whom were still strapped to their seats, were strewn across fields of sunflowers along with the white, red and blue wreckage of the plane.

Girkin, 49, also known by his pseudonym “Strelkov”, is the most prominent suspect – a former Russian spy and pageant fan who helped start the war in Ukraine.

Dubinsky, 57, who has also been linked to Russian intelligence, is said to have been the separatists’ military intelligence chief.

Pulatov, 53, was a former Russian special forces soldier and one of Dubinsky’s deputies.

Kharchenko, 48, is said to have led a separatist unit in eastern Ukraine.

“Corrupt” Russia

Pulatov is the only suspect to be represented by lawyers.

The court spokesman said prosecutors would spend Monday and Tuesday explaining the evidence, including the wiretapping and wiretapping, the circumstances surrounding the missile and the defendants themselves.

The sentencing request is expected to follow on Wednesday and will include a “detailed justification for the requested sentence,” the spokesperson said.

Prosecutors said at the start of the trial in March 2020 that should the court hand down a sentence “we will do everything in our power to ensure its execution, whether in the Netherlands or elsewhere”.

The trial heard harrowing testimony from relatives earlier this year, who spoke of the heartbreak over the loss of children, parents and siblings, and called on “corrupt” Russia to deliver justice.

Kiev has been fighting a pro-Moscow insurgency in two breakaway regions bordering Russia since 2014, when the Kremlin annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

Western countries have imposed tough sanctions on Russia amid international outrage over the downing of flight MH17.

Russia recently massed troops near Ukraine’s borders and the West accused it for weeks of planning an invasion, warning Moscow of massive sanctions if it launched an attack.

Moscow denies these claims, with President Vladimir Putin seeking talks with his US counterpart Joe Biden and securing security guarantees to withdraw his troops.

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