Russia says ‘nyet’ at UN to MH-17 downing tribunal

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By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — In a callous but not unexpected move to block an international inquiry on the fate of Malaysian flight #17 which was shot down over Ukraine just a year ago, Russia has vetoed a resolution which would have set up a tribunal to investigate the disaster which killed 298 civilians.

The Malaysian civilian airliner, a Boeing 777, was shot down by a Russian supplied BUK missile allegedly fired by Russian-backed separatists fighting the Ukraine government.

Moscow blames the Ukrainians for the disaster.

Dutch investigators at the site where the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed. / Reuters
Dutch investigators at the site where the downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed. / Reuters

Eleven of the Security Council’ s fifteen members backed the draft resolution which would have set up a international tribunal to investigate the tragedy.

Besides Russia’s veto, China, Angola and Venezuela predictably abstained on the vote.

U.S./UN Ambassador Samantha Power stated bluntly, “Russia has callously disregarded the public outcry in the grieving nations.”

The flight which originated in Amsterdam, was en route in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; a majority of the people killed were Australian or from the Netherlands. Last year following the tragedy, the UN Security Council approved a resolution condemning the incident and demanding that those responsible be brought to justice.

The Malaysian sponsored draft resolution, co-sponsored by Australia, Germany, the Netherlands among others included a proposed statute for a “International Criminal Tribunal for Malaysian Airlines Fight MH 17.”

Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders stated, “our purpose remains to create a timely, depoliticized and credible mechanism to ensure that the perpetrators face justice and are held to account.” He expressed his “deep disappointment” over the Russian veto to stop the process.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop delivered a searing rebuke to Russia, “In a world with an increasing number of violent terrorist groups and other non-state actors…it is inconceivable that the Security Council would now walk away from holding to account those who brought down a commercial airplane.” She added, “The veto only compounds the atrocity. Excuses and obfuscation by the Russian Federation should be treated with the utmost distain.” Thirty nine-Australians were killed in the crash.

The MH 17 airliner was flying at 33,000 feet over a rebel held region of eastern Ukraine where both Russian backed separatists and Ukraine government troops were involved in heavy fighting.

Why Moscow-supported separatists would even have access to or for that matter know how to operate a high altitude surface to air missile is a question.

Equally, in the midst of a bitter ground battle, why would either side decide to randomly fire upon a civilian airliner passing six miles above? Though Moscow has accused the Ukrainians, most evidence points to the missile being fired by the rebels.

So here’s the point. If Moscow is so convinced the Ukraine government forces committed the atrocity, why not then allow an impartial inquiry to gather evidence and try to prove the case? Russian delegate Vitaly Churkin, in a lengthy rebuttal, asserted, “What are the grounds to be assured of the impartiality of such an investigation?” He countered, what he called “aggressive propaganda in the media.”

But by blocking such an impartial investigation the finger of guilt, by default, points to Moscow. Still Russia would rather face a lingering media presumption of guilt rather than an internationally established verdict of guilt.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully stated that while the Council had pressed for a consensus resolution he lamented that this is not a case “which can be seen in shades of grey; either we follow a path of accountability or there is impunity. ”

Germany’s delegate Harald Braun put the matter in perspective, “Today this Council has utterly failed the victims, the families and the friends of the 283 passengers and 15 crew members killed, among them 4 German citizens, in the downing of MH 17. But this does not mean that the perpetrators can triumph and hope for impunity. We the grieving nations, will not rest until they are held accountable.”

Ambassador Power warned, “The United States believes firmly that those who carried out this unspeakable crime cannot remain unnamed and unpunished…there cannot and will not be impunity.”

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin added rhetorically; “There can be no reason to oppose this unless you are a perpetrator yourself.”

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014).

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