Australia rules out new sanctions
Australia's prime minister has said he will not consider stepping up sanctions against Russia while his government is focused on retrieving victims from the wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines airliner disaster in Ukraine.
Tony Abbott has held several telephone conversations with Vladimir Putin in the past two weeks and has credited the Russian president with co-operating with international efforts to retrieve the remains of 298 people killed when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile probably fired by pro-Russian rebels who then controlled the crash site.
Mr Abbott said today he was not considering following the United States and European Union by increasing sanctions aimed at pressuring Mr Putin into ending his country's support for separatists in east Ukraine.
"We already have some sanctions on Russia. I'm not saying that we might not at some point in the future move further. But at the moment, our focus is not on sanctions; our focus is on bringing home our dead as quickly as we humanly can," he said.
Australia lost 28 citizens in the July 17 disaster and sponsored a United Nations Security Council resolution which passed, with Russian support. The resolution demands the separatists allow the dead to be retrieved and international investigators free access to the crash site.
But a resurgence in fighting between the separatists and Ukraine troops in recent days has prevented Dutch and Australian police from searching the site for human remains and evidence.
Spurred to action by the downing of the airliner, the European Union yesterday approved dramatically tougher economic sanctions against Russia, including an arms embargo and restrictions on state-owned banks. President Barack Obama followed with an expansion of US penalties targeting key sectors of the Russian economy.
Mr Obama and US allies also warned that Russia was building up troops and weaponry along its border with Ukraine.
Australia introduced financial sanctions and travel bans on June 19, targeting 50 people and 11 entities complicit in the Russian threat to Ukraine sovereignty.
Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten gave rare, unqualified support to Mr Abbott's stance on Russia.
"Our priority should be the recovery of the remains and also the safety of our police personnel in eastern Ukraine," he said.
"That is the only game in town for Australia right now."