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Russia vetoes United Nations proposal on MH17 tribunal

Russia vetoed a proposal from the UN that would set up an international criminal court to prosecute the people responsible for shooting down a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine last year.

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    Belgium Foreign Minister Benedicte speaks after Russia vetoed a draft resolution in the Security Council to create a tribunal to prosecute those found responsible for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, July 29, 2015 at U.N. headquarters.
    Bebeto Matthews/AP
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Russia on Wednesday vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would set up an international criminal court to prosecute those responsible for shooting down a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine a year ago.

The foreign ministers of the Netherlands, Australia and Ukraine attended a meeting over the downing that killed all 298 people on board Flight MH17. The countries are among the five nations investigating the incident, along with Malaysia and Belgium.

Ukraine and the West suspect the plane, traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was hit by a surface-to-air missile fired by Russian soldiers or Russia-backed separatist rebels on July 17, 2014. Russia denies that, and state media have alleged the plane was shot down by a Ukrainian missile or warplane.

"Russia has callously disregarded the public outcry in the grieving nations," U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said, adding that the United States was among the 18 countries that lost citizens in the disaster.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop of Australia, which lost 39 citizens, said, "The veto only compounds the atrocity." Three countries abstained from the vote: China, Angola and Venezuela, whose ambassador said victims' suffering shouldn't be used politically.

Wednesday's vote followed a last-minute effort to lobby Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has said setting up a tribunal would not make sense while the investigation continued.

The Dutch ambassador to the U.N., Karel van Oosterom, tweeted a statement saying Prime Minister Mark Rutte told Putin that "it was preferable to make a decision about the tribunal before the facts and charges have been established precisely in order to avoid politicizing the prosecution process."

But the Kremlin quoted Putin as saying a tribunal would be "inexpedient" because Russia still has "a lot of questions" about the investigation to which it had little access.

Russia had offered its own draft that demanded justice for those responsible for the crash without calling for a tribunal. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the council after the vote that such a tribunal risked not being impartial and being subject to media "propaganda," and he called past tribunals for the Rwanda genocide and the violence in the former Yugoslavia "expensive."

Ministers from the five investigating countries, along with allies in the 15-member council, later stressed that other legal options are available, but some acknowledged that a tribunal established by the council remains the best option. Some indicated they might pursue it again.

"We will very quickly agree on the next step," Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders told reporters. "I assure you we haven't lost time."

The foreign ministers also met Wednesday morning with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who called for justice and accountability.

A preliminary report released in the Netherlands last year said the plane had no technical problems in the seconds before it broke up in the sky after being struck by multiple objects — a conclusion that experts said likely pointed to a missile strike.

The investigation led by the Dutch Safety Board aims only to determine the crash cause, not to ascribe blame. The probe is being led by The Netherlands because 196 of the victims were Dutch.

A separate probe by the Dutch national prosecutor's office aims to establishing who was responsible. This investigation includes authorities from Ukraine, Malaysia and other countries whose nationals were among the victims, but Russia is not a participant.

One possibility that wasn't discussed Wednesday is the International Criminal Court, which takes on cases of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide in states that can't or won't take on the matter themselves.

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