Sunday 19 November 2017

'The Russians should know the eyes of the world are on them' - Britain and Germany lead call for tougher sanctions on Russia

A woman looks at debris from Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 which landed in a field of sunflowers on July 19, 2014 in Rassipnoye, Ukraine
A woman looks at debris from Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 which landed in a field of sunflowers on July 19, 2014 in Rassipnoye, Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin was accused of "obfuscation and obstruction" over the investigation into the apparent shooting down of flight MH17 by Moscow-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, as the UK stepped up calls for tougher sanctions.

In a sign of a hardening attitude, David Cameron said Europe and the West must "fundamentally change our approach" unless the Russian president alters course.

UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said Mr Putin could "snap his fingers" and allow a proper investigation to take place at the crash site, but that had not been done.

The comments came as Ukraine's emergency services said separatist rebels had taken all the 196 bodies recovered from the Malaysia Airlines crash site to an unknown location.

Mr Hammond told BBC1's Andrew Marr Show: "The eyes of the world are on Vladimir Putin and what we are seeing from the Russians is obfuscation and obstruction at the moment.

"The Russians will have probably more information about this incident than anyone. They are very close by, this is only a few miles from the Russian border, they have got lots of military planes in the area, they are saying nothing.

"What we need is full Russian co-operation. Any evidence they control needs to be turned over to the international investigators. They must use their influence to allow international access to the site, and to secure the evidence and to secure respect for the bodies and the possessions of the victims."

He added: "There is one party in the world who clearly has the ability to snap his fingers and it would be done, and that's Vladimir Putin and for all the fine words we are hearing from Moscow it hasn't happened."

Mr Hammond, who has chaired a series of meetings with Whitehall officials including representatives of the intelligence agencies, said the evidence available about those who were behind the atrocity was not yet strong enough to stand up in court but it would "lead the reasonable person to the unavoidable conclusion that this was a missile fired from rebel-held territory, almost certainly a missile supplied by the Russians".

The US and EU had ratcheted up sanctions against Russia shortly before the aircraft was brought down with the loss of 298 lives, including 10 from the UK, but Mr Cameron and Mr Hammond indicated that an even tougher regime might be required.

Experts from the Metropolitan Police are due to arrive in Ukraine today to assist in the grim task of recovering, identifying and repatriating the bodies of those killed.

A team of six investigators from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch is already in the country, working with international counterparts on the next steps in the effort to establish what happened to MH17.

Tougher European Union sanctions against Russia will be discussed by foreign ministers on Tuesday unless Mr Putin's administration has "radically changed its position", Mr Hammond said.

Germany has resisted more a punitive regime against Moscow, but Mr Cameron discussed the crisis with Angela Merkel today and Mr Hammond is also due to hold talks with his counterpart.

"Russia likes to paint this as a battle between Russia and the West, Russia and the EU," the Foreign Secretary said.

"Now the entire international community is ranged against Russia.

"We have been very forward-leaning in the argument around sanctions against Russia for its illegal annexation of Crimea, for its destabilisation of Ukraine.

"Some of our European allies have been less enthusiastic.

"I hope that the shock of this incident will see them now more engaged, more willing to take the actions which are necessary to bring home to the Russians that when you do this kind of thing it has consequences and they are lasting consequences."

He said the Russians had blocked UN Security Council efforts led by the UK and Australia to secure a resolution around access to the crash site and a proper investigation.

Following talks with the German chancellor, Mr Cameron said Mr Putin "must do more" to allow investigators to visit the crash site, adding that Mrs Merkel shared his concern about the limited access.

In a strongly-worded article in The Sunday Times, he stressed the need for the remains of the victims to be treated with "proper dignity and respect".

He said: "We must establish the full facts of what happened. But the growing weight of evidence points to a clear conclusion: that MH17 was blown out of the sky by a surface-to-air missile fired from a rebel-held area.

"If it is the case, then we must be clear what it means: this is a direct result of Russia destabilising a sovereign state, violating its territorial integrity, backing thuggish militias, and training and arming them.

"We must turn this moment of outrage into a moment of action."

He added: If President Putin does not change his approach on Ukraine, then Europe and the West must fundamentally change our approach to Russia.

"This is not about military action, plainly. But it is time to make our power, influence and resources count.

"Our economies are strong, and growing in strength. And yet we sometimes behave as if we need Russia more than Russia needs us and the access we provide to European markets, European capital, our knowledge and technological expertise.

"We don't seek a relationship of confrontation with Russia. But we must not shrink from standing up for the principles that govern conduct between independent nations in Europe, and which ultimately keep the peace on our continent."

If Russia did not "use this moment to find a path out of this festering, dangerous crisis" then "we must respond robustly", Mr Cameron said.

Mr Hammond, who was defence secretary until last week's Cabinet reshuffle, said the UK would continue to provide "technical support and advice" to Ukraine's military.

"I think you can assume that Western countries including Britain will want to provide the legitimate government of Ukraine with all the support that we properly can without becoming involved ourselves directly militarily in what's going on," he said.

Mr Hammond's replacement at the Ministry of Defence, Michael Fallon, also condemned the actions of Mr Putin, saying Russia needs to "get out of east Ukraine".

He told the Mail on Sunday: "If Russia is the principal culprit, we can take further action against them and make it clear this kind of sponsored war is completely unacceptable.

"It is sponsored terrorism as far as people of east Ukraine are concerned. We don't know if somebody said, 'let's bring down a civil airliner, wherever it's from', - but we need to find out."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the tragedy was "made all the more harrowing for all the families because they don't think their loved ones, their bodies, are being treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve".

Mr Clegg, whose mother is Dutch, told Channel 4's Sunday Brunch: "It's harrowing enough for families here but in Holland it's a national trauma because of the number of people lost there."

He said the only good thing that could come out of the disaster was "if we get really tough with the Russians, with Putin - he is the only individual that can change this".

Mr Clegg added: "I just think we have got to change gear and say 'enough is enough, you have got to pull back, you have got to stop supporting these people' because we can't carry on like this."

Speaking on Murnaghan on Sky News, Mr Hammond said Russia risks becoming a "pariah state" if it does not behave properly.

He said: "The Russians should know the eyes of the world are on them.

"How they behave over this incident will determine how the world views Russia in the coming months and years.

"And I think this is a decision point for Russia. Russia likes to paint this as a dispute between it and the EU or it and the West.

"This is about Russia and the entire international community and Russia risks becoming a pariah state if it does not behave properly."

He added the UK and Australia are working together in New York to bring forward a UN Security Council resolution tomorrow.

Press Association

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