KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Russia will cooperate with the investigation into the downing of a Malaysian airliner a week ago and is satisfied that the Netherlands, rather than Ukraine, is leading the effort, the country’s ambassador to Malaysia said on Thursday.
Liudmila Vorobyeva also rejected suggestions that the pro-Russian separatists blamed by Western governments for shooting down Flight MH17 possessed a Russian-made anti-aircraft missile, and said the rebels lacked the training to use such a system.
Nearly 300 people, 193 of them Dutch citizens, were killed when the Malaysia Airlines plane en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was brought down in eastern Ukraine, where separatists are battling government forces, on July 17.
The norm under rules set down by the United Nation’s civil aviation body (ICAO) is that an air investigation is led by the state in whose territory the plane crash, but Russia had said that Ukraine should not take charge because the rebels who control the crash site did not trust the authorities in Kiev.
“We want an international investigation led by ICAO. Any country part of ICAO may take part. Netherlands has the right to lead this,” the ambassador told Reuters in an interview in Kuala Lumpur. “We are members of ICAO, we will cooperate with the investigation.”
Vorobyeva said Russian experts were already participating in the investigation, although she did not say what role they were playing.
“As soon as experts from ICAO and international experts have a part, we think it could lead to authentic results and the truth will come out,” she said.
Russia has not been asked to act as an intermediary with the rebels, who the United States and Ukraine’s pro-Western government says are armed by Moscow, Vorobyeva said.
“We haven’t been asked to do that and for the time being there’s no need for an intermediary, because, as we know, the rebels have cooperated with the experts,” she said. “We have to see how the situation develops, its hard to have any forecast now.”
Western governments have threatened Russia with broader sanctions for what they say is its backing of the militia and called on Moscow to do more to stop the fighting.
A powerful rebel leader told Reuters on Wednesday that separatists did possess the BUK missile system that Washington says was probably used to shoot down MH17, and that it could have originated in Russia.
“I don’t know the reason why he gave such a statement,” said Vorobyeva. “It was clearly stated by our ministry of defense that we never provided any BUK air defense systems to the so-called pro-Russian rebels. We are pretty sure they don’t have this kind of system.”
The first bodies of victims began arriving in the Netherlands on Wednesday, after several days of delay in recovering remains that drew angry complaints that the separatists were hindering access to the crash site.
The plane’s black boxes, which hold vital clues to exactly what brought it down, were handed over to Malaysian authorities after four days, following an agreement with the rebels brokered by the Malaysian government.
“The rebels were accused of not handing over the black boxes. The reason was not because they wanted to hide anything, but they were not trusting of the Ukrainian side,” said Vorobyeva. “On the contrary, they trusted Malaysians.”
Editing By Alex Richardson