MH17: Russia furious at 'unacceptable' Tony Abbott comments
Moscow has voiced anger over being blamed by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott for the downing of a Malaysia passenger jet over eastern Ukraine that killed all 298 people on board, calling his comments "unacceptable".
"Without bothering himself about evidence and operating only on speculation, Mr T. Abbott assigned guilt," the foreign ministry said in a statement. "Abbott's statements are unacceptable."
On Friday, Australia issued a blunt ultimatum to Moscow and was reconsidering Vladimir Putin's attendance at the G20 in November as the world reeled from the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, killing 298 people - 28 of them Australians.
Declaring the tragedy was not an accident, Abbott said Russia now faced a crucial test of its international citizenship, as he called on the international community to take the strongest possible action to ensure such an "appalling crime" can never be repeated.
The forceful comments came after Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop emerged from a meeting with Russia's ambassador to Australia Vladimir Morozov, to reveal Moscow had denied the involvement of pro-Russian rebels and attempted to lay the blame at Ukraine's feet.
Overnight, a US official in Washington said a preliminary US intelligence assessment indicated that MH17 was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile fired by pro-Russian separatists.
With the weight of the events clearly visible on his face, Abbott said he was angry at the loss of innocent Australian lives and was deeply unsatisfied at Russia's denials of any culpability.
He said he took the dimmest possible view of countries that facilitated the killing of Australian citizens - a reference to the use of a sophisticated Russian-supplied surface-to-air missile system to shoot the airliner from the sky at its cruising altitude of 33,000 feet.
Confirming a total death toll of 298, Abbott listed the nationalities as "Netherlands 155, Malaysia 43, Indonesia 12, United Kingdom 9, Germany 4, Belgium 4, Philippines 3, Canada 1." There are still 41 whose nationalities remain unconfirmed.
"The advice I have is that the final number of Australians aboard is 28," he said.
Of those, seven were from Queensland, 10 from Victoria, seven from Western Australia, three from New South Wales and one from the Northern Territory.
He said a national day of mourning has been agreed to with a date to be fixed and announced that he and Governor-General Peter Cosgrove would attend church services on Saturday and Sunday.
Earlier, Abbott had convened a snap meeting of the National Security Committee in Canberra after news broke that a Boeing 777 flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur had been shot down over east Ukraine.
It will also use its membership of the UN Security Council to push for absolute unfettered access to the crash site, the black box, and any witnesses, in a move already provoking Russian resistance.
The atrocity has sparked questions over why the Malaysian carrier was still using a flight path over the Ukrainian war zone, when other airlines, including Qantas, had changed their flight paths in recent months due to an increase in the intensity of fighting in the area.
But it has also brought harsh criticism of Russia's sponsorship of the bloody Ukrainian civil war. It has been widely speculated that Russian-backed rebels used a Russian-supplied missile to bring down the aircraft.
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, one of at least three world leaders with whom Mr Abbott spoke on Friday, said his country was devastated.
"The whole of the Netherlands is in mourning ... this beautiful summer day has ended in the blackest possible way," he said.
Ukraine's Petro Poroshenko, whose country is being ripped apart by the Russian-backed rebels, described it bluntly as "a terrorist attack".
"I want to draw your attention to the fact the we call it neither accident nor catastrophe."
Shortly after the National Security Committee meeting, an ashen-faced Abbott made a sombre but determined statement to the federal Parliament vowing to pursue those responsible and advising that Australia would use its membership of the United Nations Security Council - of which the Russian Federation is a permanent member - to secure full co-operation from the Russian government and rebels controlling the crash site.
"Australia will be working at the United Nations Security Council for a binding resolution calling for a full and impartial investigation with full access to the site, with full access to the debris, with full access to the black box and with full access to all individuals who might be in a position to shed light on this terrible event," Abbott said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten mirrored the comments pledging unconditional support for the government in whatever action it decides to take up to and including the option of revoking Putin's invitation to the G20 in Brisbane in November.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a full and independent investigation into the atrocity as other world leaders also expressed profound sorrow for countries who lost nationals and used tough language to condemn the Russian-backed insurgency.
The West's response depends on whether Russia continues to deny the involvement of its secessionist supporters and obstructs the pursuit of justice.
One senior source said if that were to happen, things could get "messy" and the West would likely have to pursue significantly tighter sanctions aimed at Putin.
Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said direct military action was unlikely, though the West could look at providing military equipment to the Ukrainians.
"It's a serious geopolitical issue. It lifts Russia back to being the bad boy threat of the Soviet days," he said.
"[But] neither NATO nor the US has an appetite to do anything on the ground. It would be a combination of tougher sanctions and more open support of Ukrainians, for example, providing them with their own military hardware."
One example might be to provide the Ukrainians with Patriot anti-missile batteries, as the the Ukrainian air force does not have strong self-defence capabilities.
The sophistication of the missile system that shot down the plane pointed to the possibility that Moscow was supplying the secessionists, he said, which also raised the question of whether tighter arms controls were needed.
And in the longer term, the West might have to look at more robust warning and alert rules for international aviation, given the Malaysia Airlines flight had passed through risky air space.
Abbott said the perpetrators had to be brought to justice for the families and the world.
"Madam Speaker, we owe it to the dead and their families, we owe it to the peace and stability of the wider world to establish the facts and we will do all we humanly can to bring that about," he told Parliament.
He also left little doubt as to the message he wanted understood in Moscow.
"Let me conclude with this, the bullying of small countries by big ones, the trampling of justice and decency in the pursuit of national aggrandisement and reckless indifference to human life should have no place in our world."
Bishop called in Russia's ambassador talks in Sydney, emerging afterwards to reveal that Moscow denied that pro-Russian separatists were culpable.
Asked if she was satisfied with Russia's explanation that it had occurred in Ukrainian territory, Bishop was blunt.
"I understand it came down in the eastern Ukraine, which is a separatist-held region, pro-Russian separatist area," she said.
"What we are calling for and what we intend to establish through the UN Security Council is an investigation that would get to the bottom of who was responsible for this unspeakable crime, and that they be brought to account and we seek the support and full cooperation of Russia, Ukraine, the international community."
Fairfax Australia/James Massola/Reuters