Australia, Netherlands slam Russia withdrawal from MH17 talks

Since 2018, the three countries have held discussions aimed at uncovering the cause of the MH17 disaster. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia on Friday (Oct 16) joined the Netherlands in slamming Russia's decision to withdraw from consultations over its involvement in the 2014 downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine, which killed 298 people, mostly Dutch and Australian citizens.

Since 2018, the three countries have held discussions aimed at uncovering the cause of the disaster, in which a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was hit by a Soviet-designed missile, killing all on board.

Thirty-eight Australians and 196 Dutch citizens were among the passengers on the plane when it was shot down over eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region, where pro-Russian separatist rebels were battling Ukraine forces.

Both the Netherlands and Australia have previously said they hold Russia responsible for shooting down the plane. Moscow has always forcefully denied it was involved and blamed Ukraine.

Russia said on Thursday it would withdraw from the talks, complaining of "vicious" attempts to pin blame on Moscow, including a case brought by the Netherlands against Russia at the European Court of Human Rights over the downing.

Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Friday she was "deeply disappointed" by the decision.

"We urge Russia to return immediately to the talks," she said in a statement, adding Australia was "committed to pursuing truth, justice and accountability for the 298 victims of MH17 and their loved ones".

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he was disappointed and surprised by Moscow's move, adding that it was "especially painful" for the victims' families.

Foreign Minister Stef Blok told Dutch lawmakers he had summoned the Russian ambassador following the announcement, but added that he was committed to continuing negotiations.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kouleba said in a statement that Russia's withdrawal "speaks volumes about its fear of the truth about what happened on July 17, 2014, in the skies over Donbass".

Russia will "continue its cooperation" with The Hague in the inquiry, but "in a different format", it added.

In March, Dutch courts began hearing a case against four suspects, three of them Russian and one Ukrainian, accused of having caused the crash.

Prosecutors say all four were linked to pro-Russian separatists on whose territory the plane's wreckage fell near the start of Ukraine's bitter civil war.

They argue the men were instrumental in bringing the BUK missile system to Ukraine from its original base in Russia - even if they did not pull the trigger.

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