LONDON - For the first time since Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down in July 2014, prosecutors have announced charges against suspects in the case.

Three Russians and a Ukrainian have been charged with bringing a missile into the area in eastern Ukraine and with murdering 298 passengers and crew. The passenger flight was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down over conflict-hit Ukraine. A court case will begin in the Netherlands on 9 March 2020.

International arrest warrants have been issued for the four men.

What we know about flight MH17

The Dutch-led joint investigation team (JIT) named the men as Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov from Russia, as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko.

The JIT, which is seeking to try the suspects under Dutch law, had previously said it had a “long list” of persons of interest and appealed again for witnesses as the investigation continues.

Who are the suspects?

The most prominent of the four is Igor Girkin (also known as Strelkov), who prosecutors say is a former colonel in Russia’s FSB intelligence service. He was given the minister of defence title in the rebel-held eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk.

He is believed to be the highest military officer in the area who was in direct contact with the Russian Federation. In a statement Mr Girkin said: “I can only say that militia did not shoot down the Boeing.”

An investigator inspects the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17

“These suspects are seen to have played an important role in the death of 298 innocent civilians”, said Dutch Chief Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke.

“Although they did not push the button themselves, we suspect them of close co-operation to get the [missile launcher] where it was, with the aim to shoot down an airplane.”

Investigators, he added, had “evidence showing that Russia provided the missile launcher”.

Dead remembered amid tears and sunflowers

The investigative website Bellingcat has named 12 people it accuses of being involved in transporting the missile used to down MH17, including the four charged by the JIT.

What is known about flight MH17?

The passenger jet left Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport at 10:15 GMT on 17 July 2014 and was due to arrive at Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia the following day. A few hours after take-off, the plane lost contact with air traffic control about 50km (30 miles) from the Russia-Ukraine border.

At the time, an armed conflict was raging on the ground in eastern Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces, and several government military aircraft had been downed in the previous weeks, while air strikes were carried out on rebel-held areas.