Russia’s representative on the United Nations Security Council has carried out the country’s pledge to veto proposals to establish an international criminal tribunal over the loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
Three of the 15 members – China, Venezuela and Angola – abstained from the vote on the draft resolution, presented by Malaysia’s transport ministry on 29 July. Eleven members supported the proposal.
Russia’s Vitaly Churkin pointed out to the Security Council that tribunals had not been demanded for the accidental destruction of a Russian Sibir Tupolev Tu-154, shot down by Ukrainian forces in October 2001, or the similar loss of an Iran Air Airbus A300, shot down by a US warship in July 1988.
Churkin insisted that the UN – in a resolution adopted last year – had not considered the crash of MH17 to be a threat to international peace, and claimed that the Council had not supported such tribunals in cases, such as piracy, when international security was threatened.
Russia’s government had supported an independent investigation and provided radar information and other data to the Dutch investigators heading the MH17 inquiry, he added.
But Churkin complained that Russian specialists had not been given equal access to information. He also claimed the criminal investigation was being carried out in a “closed” manner, and queried whether the inquiry could be impartial.
Russian president Vladimir Putin had previously advised Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, during a telephone call, about the “immutability” of the Russian position regarding the tribunal.
Malaysian transport minister Liow Tiong Lai told the Council that it ought to demonstrate a willingness to pursue accountability, and that failure would place other air travellers at risk.
US representative Samantha Power said that Russia had “callously disregarded the public outcry” over the destruction of the Boeing 777 and its 298 occupants, while her counterpart from Lithuania, Dainius Baublys, insisted that the Russian side had acted to sow disinformation since the loss.
Chinese delegate Liu Jieyi explained the country’s decision to abstain by stating that, although China supported a thorough investigation, a divided Council would have impeded the cause.
Venezuela abstained over concerns that political elements would affect the investigation while Angola’s representative claimed the proposal was premature.
The UN’s summary of the meeting adds that UK member Matthew Rycroft said he was “disappointed and frustrated” by the veto, but insisted that it would not hinder the investigation.
Dutch foreign affairs minister Bert Koenders described the Russian decision as “incomprehensible”, adding that the Netherlands had “listened carefully” to Russian concerns and that it had “made the case for a prosecution mechanism that transcends politics”.
Ukraine’s minister for foreign affairs, Pavlo Klimkin, said that the Russian veto needed to be seen in the context of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and stated: “There is no reasons to oppose [a tribunal] unless you are one of the perpetrators.”