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Russia Wants UN Supervision Of MH17 Investigation

  • RFE/RL

Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin speaks during a UN Security Council meeting following a vote to approve a resolution at UN headquarters in New York on July 20.

Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin speaks during a UN Security Council meeting following a vote to approve a resolution at UN headquarters in New York on July 20.

Russia wants the United Nations to play a greater role in supervising an investigation into what caused the downing of the MH17 passenger plane in eastern Ukraine.

In a proposal that emerged at the United Nations on July 20, Russia not only rejects a leading proposal backed by the West to create a UN tribunal to prosecute those who shot down the plane, it is questioning the impartiality of an investigation being conducted by the Netherlands and four other countries into the incident.

Russia's move comes after a leaked draft of the investigators' report showed they are leaning toward blaming the crash on Russian-backed separatists who allegedly shot the plane down with a Russian-made missile over eastern Ukraine.

Russia and the separatists have rejected those allegations, and insist that the plane was shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet. All 298 passengers and crew on board were killed.

The Russian UN proposal, which was discussed by the UN Security Council on July 20, asks UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to report to the council within two weeks on "the steps that would enhance the role of the United Nations in support of the investigation."

Calling for those who shot down the plane to be brought to justice, the proposal calls for the appointment of a UN special envoy on the incident, although it stops short of creating a tribunal.

"The establishment of the true causes of this aerial incident is critical for bringing those responsible to justice," the draft proposal states, and suggests that the International Civil Aviation Organization "could play a more active and appropriate role in this investigation."

The proposal expresses concern that the ongoing safety investigation led by the Dutch has been delayed and "does not ensure due transparency in its organization and work methods, which may have a negative impact on its outcome."

The proposal would require the investigating countries to "keep the council fully and regularly informed on the progress" of the investigation. And it called for "just and equal access" to the materials of the investigation "by all interested states."

Those provisions drew sharp objections from the countries conducting the investigation -- Malaysia, Australia, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Ukraine.

In a joint statement, they said the criminal investigation must remain confidential so that any future prosecutions are not jeopardized. They said the investigation was being carried out in line with the highest international standards.

In view of the disagreement over the conduct of the investigation, Russia has maintained that deciding what to do with the findings by setting up a UN tribunal would be "premature."

Russia also contends that it is not in the Security Council's charter or mission to get involved in assigning blame for airline disasters. That task has generally been left to the airline safety regulators and judiciary of individual countries.

But the states pushing for a tribunal maintain that the Security Council should get involved because of the growing number of "nonstate actors" like the pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine who have access to weapons and can shoot down airplanes without the direct sponsorship of any government.

"It is important for the Security Council to take clear and decisive action against those responsible for the downing of MH17 to send a clear message to the growing number of nonstate actors with the ability to target civilian aircraft that such attacks will not be tolerated," the statement said.

Russia's UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, who went through the text with the Security Council behind closed doors, said afterward: "We had a good conversation... We'll continue discussing if the Security Council can continue playing a useful role in this whole matter."

With reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP