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World & Nation

Russia uses U.N. veto power to scuttle tribunal for MH-17 downing

MH-17 Ukraine crash site

Pro-Russia separatists near the eastern Ukraine village of Grabovo look through the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 shortly after the Boeing 777 was downed en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014.

(Dmitry Lovetsky / Associated Press)

Russia on Wednesday used its veto power in the U.N. Security Council to scuttle an international tribunal to identify and punish those responsible for the downing of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet over Ukraine a year ago in which all 298 on board were killed.

The Russian veto was invoked to quash the effort to hold the culprits accountable in spite of an ardent campaign by countries that lost citizens in the July 17, 2014, destruction of Malaysia Flight 17 as it passed over war-torn eastern Ukraine.

Preliminary reports from the Dutch-led investigation of the disaster have pointed to a missile fired from Russia-backed rebel territory as the likely cause of the plane’s explosion at 33,000 feet while en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

A final analysis of the disaster is expected in October, and sources involved in the investigation have indicated that the sophisticated ground-to-air missile launching system probably came from Russia and was fired by Russian forces or allied separatist fighters they trained.

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Leaders of the Netherlands, Malaysia, Australia, Belgium and Ukraine had been lobbying Russian President Vladimir Putin to refrain from using Russia’s veto power.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, whose country lost 196 citizens in the MH-17 crash, made an urgent appeal to Putin on Wednesday not to thwart the effort to bring those responsible for the deaths to account.

Putin signaled his opposition to the proposed U.N. tribunal last week, when he deemed the notion of a legal forum “premature,” as the international investigation’s conclusions have yet to be made public.

“It was preferable to make a decision about the tribunal before the facts and charges have been established precisely in order to avoid politicizing the prosecution process,” Rutte told the Kremlin leader, according to a report via Twitter by the Dutch ambassador to the United Nations, Karel van Oosterom.

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The foreign ministers of the Netherlands, Australia and Ukraine met earlier Wednesday with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who had also urged Security Council backing for the tribunal.

But Russia, as one of the five permanent Security Council members, along with the United States, Britain, France and China, was able to thwart the independent inquiry by wielding its veto in the 15-member U.N. council that is the sole element of the world body with enforcement powers.

Three other Security Council members -- China, Venezuela and Angola, all ideological allies of Russia -- abstained from the vote.

Russia’s U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said after the vote that Moscow was concerned that the tribunal wouldn’t be impartial and that it would be influenced by “propaganda." 

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, noting that the United States was among the 18 countries that lost citizens in the disaster, accused Russia of having “callously disregarded the public outcry in the grieving nations.”

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