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Russia Just Vetoed a UN Resolution to Bring the People Who Downed MH17 to Justice

Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to establish a tribunal with powers to prosecute those responsible for the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine last year.

by Samuel Oakford
Jul 29 2015, 7:45pm

Photo by Alexander Ermochenko/EPA

Russia has vetoed an United Nations Security Council resolution that aimed to establish an international tribunal with powers to prosecute those responsible for the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine last year.

Eleven Council members, including permanent members United Kingdom, France, and the United States, voted in favor of the resolution on Wednesday. Russia was the sole vote against the text, while three countries — China, Angola and Venezuela — abstained.

Russian officials, including President Vladimir Putin and UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin, had made clear in recent days their opposition to the measure, which was drafted by the five countries — Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine — that make up the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) tasked with establishing accountability for the crash. Malaysia, the sole Council member among the JIT, introduced the text earlier this month.

On July 21, four days after the crash in Ukraine's Donetsk region, the Security Council passed resolution 2166, which called for "efforts to establish a full, thorough and independent investigation into the incident." It also called for "all States and actors in the region to cooperate fully in relation to the international investigation of the incident."

In September, the Council was brief on the findings of a Dutch Safety Board investigation, which determined the plane was impacted "by a large number of high-energy objects from outside the aircraft." Western governments and Kiev believe the flight, which was travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it crashed on July 17, was downed either by separatist rebels or Russian troops armed with a surface-to-air missile.

Related: Video Shows Separatists Arriving at MH17 Crash Scene

The Dutch team is expected to furnish a full report of its investigation sometime in October, and Council diplomats said they aimed to establish a tribunal before then. Russia, which was accused of providing the type of "Buk" missile that Western countries and Ukraine believe brought down the flight, has maintained such a tribunal is a politicized step and unnecessary. Moscow has denied any involvement in the downing of the flight.

Following Wednesday's vote, Churkin called into question the impartiality of the JIT, and pointed to public statements from its members that implicated Russia in the tragedy.

"What are the grounds to be assured of the impartiality of such an investigation?" Churkin asked, adding that his veto "has nothing to do with promoting impunity."

Western leaders reached out to Russian officials in recent days to urge passage of the text. The office of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Wednesday that he spoke with Putin prior to the vote.

"In the frank and detailed conversation, Rutte called urgently on the Russian president to make a trial possible for those behind MH17 with a UN tribunal," Mr. Rutte's office said in a statement. Of the 298 passengers who perished last July, 196 were Dutch.

Related: In Photos: MH17 Plane Wreckage Displayed for Relatives of Victims

Shortly before the vote, a Russian diplomat told VICE News their position hadn't changed despite the pressure applied in recent days. The diplomat added that, because the US opposes investigative bodies that could implicate Americans, the tribunal would establish a double standard.

On July 20, Russian officials presented an alternative resolution that did not include an international tribunal. JIT countries and Western Council Members brushed off the Russian text and pushed ahead with a vote on the original resolution.

"By vetoing this resolution, Russia has tried to deny justice," US ambassador Samantha Power told the Council on Wednesday following Churkin's remarks. "Russia has callously disregarded the public outcry in the grieving nations."

The veto was Russia's second this month. On July 8, they prevented passage of a resolution recognizing the 1995 Srebrenica massacre as a genocide.

Follow Samuel Oakford on Twitter: @samueloakford

Watch exclusive footage of the MH17 aftermath from a VICE News Russian Roulette dispatch: