Australia slams Russia's veto of MH17 tribunal as outrageous

Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin votes to veto on a draft resolution for establishing a tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the MH17 flight at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on July 29, 2015.
Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin votes to veto on a draft resolution for establishing a tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the MH17 flight at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on July 29, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNE (AFP) - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Thursday that Russia's "outrageous" veto of a UN resolution to establish a special tribunal to try those who shot down flight Malaysian Airlines (MAS) MH17 over Ukraine reinforced concerns that Moscow was protecting the perpetrators.

Eleven of the 15 members of the Security Council voted in favour late Wednesday of the resolution, drafted by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine.

But Russia exercised its veto while Angola, China and Venezuela abstained.

All 298 passengers and crew on board the Boeing 777 were killed when the MAS plane was blown out of the sky over Ukraine during a routine flight between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur on July 17 last year.

The majority of those who died were Dutch, but 38 were Australian citizens and residents, and Canberra has been vocal in its desire to find those who committed the atrocity.

"Russia's veto of the United Nations Security Council resolution to establish a tribunal to prosecute those responsible for the MH17 atrocity is outrageous," Abbott said in a statement.

"By its actions, Russia has shown complete disregard for the families' right to know who was responsible and to see these criminals face justice."

Countries including Australia, Britain, France and the US accuse pro-Russian separatist rebels of shooting down the Boeing 777 with a Buk surface-to-air missile supplied by Russia.

Moscow denies involvement and blames the Ukrainian military.

Abbott, who once famously vowed to "shirtfront" - an Australian Rules football term in which a player charges an opponent - Russian President Vladimir Putin over the plane's downing, said Moscow's veto was telling.

"Russia had an opportunity to join the international community in this effort," he said.

"Its actions reinforce concerns that Russia is protecting the perpetrators and continuing to assault the sovereignty of Ukraine.

"Australia will continue its work with our partners to see justice done."

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who attended the Council vote in person, delivered a stinging rebuke on Russia during the meeting.

"The veto only compounds the atrocity," she said. "Excuses and obfuscation by the Russian Federation should be treated with the utmost disdain."

In defending the veto, Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Russian investigators had been denied equal access to the crash site and criticised what he said would have been criminal prosecution carried out "in a closed fashion".