International

Putin cannot avoid me: Australia PM

SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Thursday warned Vladimir Putin he will not be able to avoid a “conversation” over the loss of Australian lives in the downing of Flight MH17 over Ukraine.

Last month Abbott vowed to “shirtfront” the Russian president at the G20 summit in Brisbane next week, although Moscow has yet to respond to his request for a bilateral meeting.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev responded to the rhetoric by saying Putin was a judo black-belt and that “serious politicians should chose their words carefully”.

Shirtfronting is an Australian Rules Football sporting term in which a player charges an opponent.

“He won’t be able to avoid the conversation, so one way or another we’re going to have the bilateral — whether it’s in the corridor or in a more formal setting,” Abbott told The Australian newspaper.

However, he said he did not want the G20 to be overshadowed by their rift, with government sources saying the pair could instead meet at the prior APEC summit in Beijing starting on Monday.

“What I won’t be doing is disrupting the sessions of the G20 with a private argument between Australia and Russia,” Abbott said.

“But I am seeking a bilateral with him at the earliest possible opportunity, which will be a chance to emphasise how important it is to Australia — and indeed to The Netherlands, Malaysia and all the other countries that had people on MH17 — that there be full co-operation with the investigation.

“And if criminal prosecutions loom, full co-operation with them.”

The Malaysian Airlines passenger jet was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July, killing all 298 people on board. Most of the dead were Dutch but 38 Australian citizens or residents also perished.

Australia — along with the United States — accuses Russian-backed rebels of shooting down the flight using a missile supplied by Moscow. Russia has repeatedly denied the claim and pointed the finger at Kiev.

– DUTCH PM IN AUSTRALIA –

Abbott’s comments came as Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte arrived in Australia — on a Malaysia Airlines plane — to discuss the MH17 tragedy and work on ways to bring those responsible to justice.

Investigations have been hampered by problems accessing the crash site as clashes continue nearby between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

But Rutte said a lull in fighting allowed a small team to reach the area last week and again this week and that more remains had been found.

“Luckily, conditions allowed a small team to visit the crash site and that will mean that we can again transfer to the Netherlands the found remains of victims following the usual ceremonial protocol that will take place on Saturday,” he said.

Rutte met Putin in Milan two weeks ago and said he made clear demands on unimpeded access.

“I used the opportunity again to tell him that I expect him to do everything he can to put pressure on the separatists to allow unhindered access to the crash site,” he said.

“To work with the Ukrainians to do what will be only natural and acceptable which is for Australia, Malaysia and the Netherlands and the other countries being involved, to bring back the remaining remains, the personal belongings and to do our investigation.”

An initial report issued in September by Dutch investigators found MH17 was hit by multiple “high-energy” objects, apparently backing up the missile theory. But the report did not apportion blame.-AFP

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