BRISBANE: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday 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.
“What I’m seeking is a proper bilateral at the earliest opportunity.”
However, Abbott 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 Australians 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.
Abbott’s comments came as Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte arrived in Australia — reportedly 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.
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.