Russia has vetoed a United Nations resolution to create an international tribunal to prosecute those who shot down the Malaysian airliner MH17 over eastern Ukraine in 2014.
The lone “no” vote cast on Wednesday by Vitaly Churkin, Russian ambassador to the UN, effectively blocked the resolution. Russia is one of the five permanent UN Security Council members with veto powers.
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Eleven of the 15 members of the council voted in favour of the resolution, which had been drafted by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands, and Ukraine.
China, Venezuela and Angola abstained.
In his statement following the vote, Churkin accused other countries of politicising the vote, and accused Ukraine of blocking Moscow from being involved in the investigation.
Just an hour before the Malaysia-backed resolution was put to a vote, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he opposed the plan.
Ukraine and many Western countries had accused pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine of shooting down the plane with a Russian-made missile, charges Moscow denies.
All 298 people on board, the majority of them Dutch, were killed and the Netherlands is leading an international investigation into the incident.
“The Russian president confirmed the unchanging position that it is inexpedient to create such a judicial body,” the Kremlin said in a statement following a phone call between Putin and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
‘No to impunity’
The Dutch, along with Malaysia, Australia and most Western countries, are pushing for the tribunal, which they say would have the authority to investigate impartially and demand the extradition of suspects, whichever country might be harbouring them.
Dutch Foreign Minister Albert Koenders said that he found it “incomprehensible” that a member of the Security Council would “obstruct justice” by blocking the tribunal.
“Russia has proved unwilling to jump over its own shadow,” he said, during a press conference with other foreign ministers.
In his statement before the vote, Dato Sri Liow Tiong Lai, Malaysia’s transportation minister, said the UN owes it to the families and loved ones of the victims to go after those who carried out the attack.
“We want to ensure that the arms of justice will reach them and there will be no impunity,” he said.
Russia has said setting up a tribunal before investigations are complete would risk further politicising the incident. Putin also regretted that Russia’s own draft resolution, which demands justice for the victims but does not establish a tribunal, did not win the UN Security Council’s backing.
The Netherlands said in a statement that it believed a tribunal would be the best way of achieving impartial justice.
The downing of the plane triggered a new round of Western economic sanctions against Russia over the conflict in Ukraine, and deepened the worst standoff between Moscow and the West since the Cold War ended.
More than 6,500 people have been killed in more than 15 months of fighting in east Ukraine between the rebels and forces loyal to Kiev.