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Dutch PM urges MH17 focus on Ukraine visit

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has urged dialogue to defuse a crisis with Russia during a trip to Kyiv in which he also reaffirmed his resolve to secure justice for families of the victims of an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Rutte is the latest leader – following in the tracks of the UK and Polish prime ministers – to visit Kyiv in a show of solidarity after Russia massed tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s borders.

The Ukraine crisis is closely watched in the Netherlands, where Dutch prosecutors have sought the convictions of four men charged with murder over the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

The prosecutors say the defendants, who are all at large, helped supply a missile system that Russian-backed separatists battling Ukraine’s forces used to fire a rocket at the plane.

All 298 people on board – mostly Dutch citizens along with 38 from Australia – were killed.

“The Netherlands’ priorities are establishing the truth (of what happened), achieving justice, and holding those responsible to account,” Rutte told reporters, speaking alongside Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“It’s not an easy process but giving up is not an option for both of us,” he said.

The Dutch government holds Russia responsible in the case.

Russia denies any involvement.

Commenting on the current crisis, Rutte said: “President Zelenskiy and I, we agreed that every effort must now be made to de-escalate the dangerous situation in which we find ourselves.”

“And I believe, we believe that the only route to a solution is through de-escalation, diplomacy and dialogue.”

Further Russian aggression against Ukraine will trigger a “robust” package of sanctions, Rutte said, adding that the Netherlands, a NATO member, had offered assistance to Ukraine to fend off cyber attacks.

Zelenskiy said the two countries had agreed a joint program to build 48 hospitals and rehabilitation centres for Ukrainian armed forces and veterans.

In the MH17 case, a verdict in the murder trial of three Russians and a Ukrainian citizen is expected this year.

A Dutch-led team of international investigators concluded in 2019 that the missile launcher used to hit the passenger plane had come from a Russian army base located near the border with Ukraine.

More than 14,000 people have been killed in the conflict in eastern Ukraine since it erupted in 2014, Ukraine says.

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