Malaysia Airlines flight 17

Russia can't wash its hands of blame for MH17 crash, Tony Abbott says

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 July, 2014, 6:36am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 July, 2014, 6:36am

Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday said Russia could not "wash its hands of responsibility" for the Malaysia Airlines crash in Ukraine as flags flew at half mast to honour the Australians killed.

The airliner carrying 298 people, including 28 Australians, came down over rebel-held eastern Ukraine on Thursday, with United States officials saying it appeared to have been shot down by a surface-to-air missile.

Abbott said on Friday the disaster was a crime, not an accident, and slammed Russia's initial response as "deeply unsatisfactory" after calling in Moscow's ambassador.

He defended his comments about suspected Russian involvement yesterday as "very much in line" with a statement by US President Barack Obama.

Abbott said all the evidence at hand suggested the aircraft was shot down from territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists, most likely with weaponry supplied by the Russians.

"Australia takes a very dim view of countries that facilitate the killing of Australians, as you'd expect," he said, adding that he had spoken to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko but not Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

"The idea that Russia can wash its hands of responsibility because this happened in Ukrainian airspace just does not stand serious scrutiny. We all know what's happening in the Ukraine," Abbott said.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that her Russian counterparts had refused to speak with her over the crash, something she said was "extraordinary".

Bishop said she initially tried to touch base with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, but was told he was on holiday.

"I then asked to speak to a deputy or a vice minister but I've now been told that I won't be able to speak to anybody in the ministry of foreign affairs in Moscow," she said.

Members of the UN Security Council on Friday demanded a full, independent investigation into the crash and Bishop urged Russia to back a swift probe.

"We need an immediate, urgent, international investigation," she said.

Bishop was leaving for New York yesterday to champion Australia's campaign at the UN for a comprehensive international probe with access to the site, debris, black box and any possible witnesses.

Abbott ordered flags flown at half-mast across the country in tribute to those who died, as family and friends of the Australian victims struggled to come to terms with the tragedy.