Russia has again been accused of deliberately thwarting efforts to investigate the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 to disguise its own culpability, after blocking a United Nations resolution that would have established a tribunal to prosecute those responsible.
Despite the insistence of its permanent representative to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, that Moscow wanted a “rapid determination of guilt”, the Russian Federation on Thursday wielded its veto power, ratcheting up tensions over the disaster in eastern Ukraine last year which claimed 298 lives.
While it had been expected that Russia – one of five permanent Security Council members with veto power – would not support the resolution, the outcome of the vote at the United Nations in New York prompted an immediate and stinging rebuke from a host of countries whose citizens were on the ill-fated flight.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who had spent the previous 24 hours at the UN headquarters in a bid to shore up support for the resolution, said it was “inconceivable that the Security Council would now walk away from holding to account those who brought down a commercial aeroplane”.
“The veto only compounds the atrocity. Only one hand was raised in opposition, but a veto should never be allowed to deny justice,” Ms Bishop said.
“The recital of discredited contentions and the anticipated excuses and obfuscation by the Russian Federation should be treated with the utmost disdain.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott described Russia’s response as “outrageous”.
“Its actions reinforce concerns Russia is protecting the perpetrators and continuing to assault the sovereignty of Ukraine,” Mr Abbott said.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin went even further.
“There can be no reason to oppose this unless you are a perpetrator yourself,” Mr Klimkin said.
Ms Bishop later said the joint investigation team would now move forward with an “alternative prosecution mechanism”.
Russia has denied any involvement in the shooting down of the airliner, despite reports a Dutch-led investigation to be released in October will support claims Russian-backed separatists were responsible.
The Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down on July 17 last year, an hour into its flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Thirty-nine Australian citizens and residents were among those killed.
Mr Churkin on Thursday questioned the impartiality of and motives behind the proposed tribunal, suggesting the outcome of its investigation would be a fait accompli.
He said Russian investigators had been denied equal access to the crash site and criticized what he said would have been criminal prosecution carried out “in a closed fashion.”
The United States seized on the development, with its ambassador to the UN Samantha Power saying Russia and President Vladimir Putin were using an entrusted position as a permanent member of the Council “to frustrate international peace and security”.
“Russia has callously disregarded the public outcry in the grieving nations,” Ms Power said.
“There cannot and will not be impunity for those who downed a civilian airliner with 298 people aboard.”
The draft resolution, sponsored by Malaysia, Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ukraine, was supported by 11 of 15 Security Council member-countries while Angola, China and Venezuela abstained.
Speaking at a joint media conference after the session adjourned, Dutch Foreign Minister Albert Koenders said the veto would not weaken their resolve to bring the perpetrators to justice.
“I find it incomprehensible that a member of the Security Council obstructs justice in a tragedy that has affected so many innocent lives,” Mr Koenders said.