After today's events, there is a lot of speculation that Flight MH17 was brought down by surface to air weapons.

Witnesses appear to have heard the loud explosions before the flight crashed, and whilst obviously unfounded for the time being, reports claim that the only parties who would have been in a position to facilitate this would be Separatist forces: whom it's almost unanimously agreed are being supplied with equipment by the Russian state.

It's most likely that, if it was shot down, it was shot down by mistake: however, how culpable will the Russian state be if this is revealed to be the case? Would they be held accountable for this act, and would they have committed a war crime?

Is their rhetoric and political distancing from separatists enough to legally grant immunity, or will their supplying the weapons used implicate them directly in a 'terrorist' act?

  • Many countries around the world use American and Russian weapons. The Presidents of US and Russia don't approve each and every weapon deployment. For example, ISIS terrorists carry many American weapons, should we blame Obama? The only way to blame Russia directly is if the Russian Government and/or Putin directly approved of such weapons to be sent.
    – maverick
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 4:30
  • 4
    The more evidence that comes out the more it seems that it was not the russian backed separatists but rather the russian army themselves that shot down the airliner... And still there will be no serious repercussions. Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 13:23
  • @Movos, well compartmentalization infers differently: otherwise no head of state is culpable for the effects of their decisions. They are entirely complicit in the process, which is why we hold them accountable. The statement you make is quite redundant here. Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 20:38

4 Answers 4


The Russian state is unlikely to carry any legal responsibility for this. There will probably be diplomatic repercussions, but that is purely speculation at this point. There are two reasons for this:

Firstly, it would be very hard to prove that the plane was shot down with Russian hardware. The Buk system has been around since the 1970s, and is fielded by many armies around the world including Ukraine. There is simply no practical way to ascertain which exact launcher was used. The system could have been, for example, captured by the separatists from the Ukrainian army.

Secondly, this is not the first time that a passenger airliner is mistakenly shot down. Iran Air 655, for example, was shot down by the USA in 1988. Although there was a financial settlement, the United States has never admitted to the "mistake", and never formally apologized. This precedent would probably carry over to flight MH17. Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran_Air_655.

  • 4
    IA655 was not shot down by mistake. It was shot down in response to its appearance of an attempt to use it as a weapon against US forces. That has always been the position of the US. Wether or not that explanation is valid or not it was not a mistake. It was a decision that may or may not have been a poor one. Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 14:03
  • So there is a precident for this then? Fascinating. Could you possibly provide further details, including anything that might be pertinent to this case?+1 Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 14:07
  • 7
    @Chad I read some wikipedia "According to the United States Government, the crew incorrectly identified the Iranian Airbus A300 as an attacking F-14 Tomcat fighter " - that sounds like a mistake to me.
    – MrFox
    Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 14:12
  • 2
    @John Smith Optional there is another precedent, the Siberia Airlines Flight 1812 in 2001 who travelled from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk. It was shot down by the Ukrainian military during a training.
    – Anixx
    Commented Jul 21, 2014 at 3:52
  • 2
    The second paragraph has since been proven wrong. The Joint Investigation Team has established were the BUk missile was shot from, and which roads the launcher followed from and to Russia before and after the shooting. om.nl/onderwerpen/mh17-crash/@96068/jit-flight-mh17-shot
    – Evargalo
    Commented May 3, 2018 at 9:04


On November 17, 2022, a Dutch court found three men guilty of the murder of 298 people on board flight MH17, which was shot down by a Russian surface-to-air missile when it was flying over eastern Ukraine in 2014. Two are Russian nationals, while one is a Ukrainian national, and all received sentences of life imprisonment. None appeared in the court (sources: The Guardian, The New York Times).

The court concluded that MH17 was shot down by a Russian-made BUK missile from an agricultural field in eastern Ukraine, citing extensive evidence that did not leave “any possibility for reasonable doubt whatsoever”. The court also found that Russia had overall control of the separatist forces in eastern Ukraine at the time when the plane was shot down. The BUK was smuggled across the border from Russia to Ukraine and transported to Donetsk.

The Netherlands and Australia said already in 2018 that Russia is responsible for the disaster. The Kremlin has always denied any involvement and generated a series of counter-explanations, including the possibility that the C.I.A. had crashed a planeload of bodies into eastern Ukraine to frame Moscow.

  • Are these people actually serving their sentences?
    – ikrase
    Commented Nov 20, 2022 at 1:34

How accountable?

Nohow. It isn't news for anyone in the world. Everyone knew it, everyone knows it.

Anyway, that SA-11 Gadfly drived back to Russia few days ago.


It is impossible to proove it, but everyone understands that it is true.

Right after the shot terrorists started proudly writing that they wave shooted Ukrainian AN-26. That, after some time they understood that it was not AN-26. They were trying to find weapon between bodies. And then they finally understood what they did.


There has been a ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on a similar case which suggests that Russia cannot be held accountable for war crimes, even if it is proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Russian financing, organising, training, supplying and equipping of the rebels played a decisive role in the conflict and that the rebels commited many war crimes.

However, later judgements by the Yugoslavia Tribunal and the International Criminal Court suggests that Rusia may be held responsible to some degree for war crimes committed by rebels it supports. But in that case you would first have to prove that war crimes were actually committed by the rebels, accidentally shooting down a civilian planes has never before been considered to be a war crime.


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .