MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday calls for a U.N. tribunal to be set up to prosecute suspects in the downing of a Malaysian airliner in a rebel-held part of Ukraine were counterproductive and premature.
Putin made his comments in a phone call with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte before Friday's first anniversary of the incident in which all 298 aboard were killed, many of them Dutch.
Rutte has said a U.N. tribunal would give "the best guarantee of cooperation from all countries" in seeking justice for the families of the victims. Russia disputes accusations that pro-Russian separatists fighting government forces in east Ukraine shot it down.
The Kremlin said in a statement that Putin "explained Russia's position regarding the premature and counterproductive initiatives of several countries, including the Netherlands, on the establishment of an international tribunal."
It said he had underlined that any decisions and investigations must be thorough, objective and independent, and criticized what the statement described as politicized media coverage offering various versions of what had happened.
Russia, which denies involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, has dismissed the theory widely supported abroad that the pro-Russian separatists hit the plane with a Russian-supplied BUK missile. Russian officials have suggested Ukrainian forces shot it down, a charge denied by Kiev.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the United States would influence the results of the investigation.
"It seems (the tribunal) should punish those who Washington has decided are guilty," he was quoted as saying by news agency Interfax.
Oleg Storchevoy, deputy head of Russia's federal air transport agency Rosaviatsiya, said the hypothesis that a BUK missile was used to shoot down the airliner was just one possible theory
"It is also necessary to consider all the facts which support the theory that an air-to-air missile was used to destroy the aircraft," he said.
The Netherlands is leading the criminal investigation, which is also assisted by Belgium, Australia and Ukraine. A final report on the cause of the crash is due to be released in October by the Dutch Safety Board.
Reporting by Polina Devitt and Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Timothy Heritage and Jack Stubbs; Editing by Ralph Boulton