SYDNEY — Australia on Thursday pledged to hold Russia accountable for shooting down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, after a team of international investigators halted its probe into the disaster.
The team said there were “strong indications” Russian President Vladimir Putin personally approved supplying the missile system that eventually downed the flight — but halted the investigation because there was no “conclusive evidence”.
The Boeing 777 was shot down over Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 passengers on board, including 196 Dutch, 43 Malaysians and 38 Australian residents.
Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus on Thursday said Russia had repeatedly tried to thwart the investigation, making it “impossible” to collect proof.
“Russia’s illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine and its lack of cooperation with the investigation have rendered ongoing investigative efforts and the collection of evidence impossible at this time,” they said in a joint statement.
They added that Australia would “hold Russia to account for its role in the downing of the civilian aircraft”.
Australia and the Netherlands have an ongoing case against Russia with the International Civil Aviation Organization, a United Nations agency with limited enforcement powers.
A Dutch court in November last year convicted three men in absentia for their role in the MH17 catastrophe.
The trio — Russians Igor Girkin and Sergei Dubinsky and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko — remain at large and are unlikely to ever serve their life sentences.
Russia has denied any involvement and dismissed last year’s court verdict as “scandalous” and politically motivated.
Families of the victims said they were disappointed by the decision to halt the investigation.
“We had hoped for more — but we didn’t count on it,” said Piet Ploeg, chairman of the MH17 foundation, who lost his brother, sister-in-law and nephew on MH17. — AFP