Former prime minister Tony Abbott has called on Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to accept responsibility for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
It comes after two Russian men and a Ukrainian separatist were convicted of murder in absentia on Thursday after a Dutch court found they orchestrated the shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines flight which killed all on board including 38 Australians in 2014.
Each man was sentenced to life in prison and were ordered to pay almost $25 million in damages to the families for their involvement in the destroying plane.
In welcoming the decision, Mr Abbott declared the real perpetrator of the atrocity is Putin.
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“As a result of the verdict, they’re now international fugitives if they ever leave the sanctuary that the Russian dictator is currently providing them,” he told Sky News Australia.
“While it was mid-level people who were on trial in the Netherlands, the real perpetrator of this atrocity is of course Vladimir Putin.
“Russian missile batteries don’t cross borders by accident, it only happens if the Russian leader provides that authorization.”
As prime minister at the time, Mr Abbott famously vowed to “shirtfront” Russian President Vladimir Putin at a G20 Summit following the downing of the plane.
“As I said to him in the celebrated shirtfront discussion not long after the atrocity, he really does have to accept responsibility, apologise, pay reparations to the families,” Mr Abbott said.
“But, as is well known, instead of accepting any responsibility back then and subsequently he went in to a long rant about Ukrainian provocateurs and the Ukrainian government being fascists and about Ukraine really being part of Russia and not an independent country.
“So what we really saw back then was that 38 Australians were the early victims of Putin’s first invasion of Ukraine.
“And what we are seeing now is a continuation of that process where he is trying to finally exterminate Ukraine as a free and independent country.”
Russia still refuses to take responsibility for the attack and has dismissed the case, while none of the three men – including the military leader of the Donetsk Peoples’ Republic Igor Girkin – are expected to face any jail time.
Reflecting on the confrontation in 2014 at the G20 in Brisbane, Mr Abbott said Putin knew exactly what had happened.
“This is someone who, whenever and wherever he can, ruthlessly pursues his goal of trying to recreate greater Russia – the Russia of Peter the Great,” he continued.
“If that means invading other countries, if that means murdering his opponents at home or abroad, he will do it.”
Julie Bishop, who was the foreign minister at the time of the explosion, told Sky News Australia on Friday there was still a “long way to go” to ensure the criminals face the consequences of their “heinous crime”.
“We must continue to maintain the pressure on Russia to hand over these citizens who have been found guilty,” she told AM Agenda host Laura Jayes.
“Russia cannot continue to hide behind lies and obfuscation, they’ve obstructed this investigation every step of the way and it’s time for Russia to be held to account.”