SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Monday that he would use an upcoming G20 leaders summit to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin over the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 and the “murder” of Australian citizens.
Allegations that the jetliner was downed by pro-Russian separatists armed with surface-to-air missiles provided by the Kremlin sparked calls in Australia to bar Putin from the meeting of world leaders in Brisbane next month.
Abbott, who has been amongst the most strident critics of Russia’s handling of the affair, said on Sunday that it was not within Australia’s power to ban a G20 member from attending, but promised to give Putin a stern talking to.
“Look, I’m going to shirtfront Mr Putin – you bet I am,” Abbott told reporters, using an Australian Rules Football term meaning to hit someone front on and knock them to the ground.
“I’m going to be saying to Mr Putin, Australians were murdered and they were murdered by Russian-backed rebels using Russian supplied equipment,” he said.
The Boeing 777 was shot down in July in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers and crew on board. Twenty-eight Australians were killed.
Abbott has struck perhaps the toughest line of any Western leader against the Russian-backed rebels in Ukraine, accused by Western countries and intelligence agencies of shooting down the jetliner with a sophisticated anti-aircraft missile.
He said that an “industrial-scale” cover up was under way at the crash site before international investigators were allowed access by the rebels, and spoke openly about his desire to block Putin from attending the summit next month.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday he was furious that Dutch investigators had been unable to finish work in the area due to ongoing fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces.
Reporting by Matt Siegel