Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17, One Year Later

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Local workers transport a piece of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 wreckage in Ukraine. Antonio Bronic/REUTERS

A year after Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was shot down over Ukraine, people are still awaiting an official answer to the question of who was responsible.

Friday marks the anniversary of the day the plane crashed en route from the Netherlands to Malaysia, killing 298 people. In Australia, lawmakers will unveil a plaque honoring the victims. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte will attend a private memorial in the town of Nieuwegein, and flags on government buildings in the Netherlands will be lowered to half-mast.

In Malaysia, a memorial service was held at Kuala Lumpur International Airport last Saturday. According to a report by the Australian news agency ABC, the families and friends of the Malaysian crash victims gathered at the service to remember the tragedy and express their demands for justice. In a speech, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told those in attendance that he expects a U.N. investigation to conclude by the end of the year.

"We call on all nations concerned to provide the fullest cooperation, so that we will be able to gather irrefutable evidence as to what happened and especially as to who will be responsible for this unforgivable incident," Najib said, according to a Reuters report.

RTR3Z3SK A Russian Emergencies Ministry member walks at the site of the Flight MH17 crash, in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. Maxim Zmeyev/REUTERS

The plane was shot down in the midst of fighting between the Ukrainian government and separatists supported by Russia. The context of the crash has led many to believe that Russia was involved, or at least complicit, in the attack. On Thursday, The Telegraph reported that the families of 18 victims have brought a $900 million lawsuit against Igor Girkin, the leader of the separatist forces, accusing him of engineering the attack.

The day after the incident, President Barack Obama said at a White House press conference that the plane was probably shot down by a surface-to-air missile and noted other incidences in which Russian-backed separatists had shot down aircraft. A year later, U.S. State Department officials have continued to reiterate a key aspect of their long-held position: that the missile certainly originated in separatist-controlled territory. If U.N. investigators provide conclusive evidence of this claim, it may go a long way in implicating pro-Russian forces.

On July 9, Russia blocked a U.N. resolution to establish an international tribunal in response to the findings of the Joint Investigation Team, a coalition of four affected nations: Australia, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Belgium and Ukraine.

RTR417AV (1) Forensic experts look at a makeshift marker denoting evidence during recovery work at the site of the Flight MH17 crash. Sergei Karpukhin/REUTERS

Russia has denied any role, but its explanations for what happened have been repeatedly debunked. In May, Newsweek reported that an independent Russian newspaper had discredited the Moscow-backed theory that a Ukrainian fighter jet shot down the plane. The same report stated that the missile was likely shot from a BUK-M1 system. Subsequent to these revelations, The New York Times reported that Russian officials were suggesting that the BUK missile in question, although of Russian make, was outdated and owned by the Ukrainians.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf suggested on July 2 that the Kremlin was flip-flopping on its version of events, according to the Times story. "First they said it wasn't a BUK missile. Now, suddenly, they're saying it is but it wasn't them," Harf said.

State-controlled media in Russia have buttressed the government's attempts to sway public opinion. A story published in Newsweek last month detailed Russia's propaganda efforts against volunteers at Bellingcat, an amateur intelligence group organized by Eliot Higgins. Higgins's group, along with several others, insists that Russian officials have covered up the true version of events while flooding the Internet with misinformation and harassing investigators.  

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