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article imageEU leaders to add to pressure on Russia over MH17

By Damon WAKE (AFP)     Jun 20, 2019 in World

EU leaders will heap fresh international pressure on Russia on Thursday over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 by demanding Moscow cooperate with a Dutch probe that led to charges against four men.

The Kremlin will also be served with a tough warning over its move to make it easier for Ukrainians living in breakaway regions of their country's east to obtain a Russian passport.

International investigators on Wednesday charged three Russians and a Ukrainian with murder over the 2014 catastrophe, in which 298 people were killed, with the trial in the Netherlands set to start in March next year.

EU government leaders at a summit in Brussels will welcome the criminal charges over the downing of the plane, which was hit by a missile over part of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian rebels while flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

"The European Council reiterates its full support for all efforts to establish truth, justice and accountability for the victims and their next of kin," the leaders will say, according to a draft of formal summit conclusions seen by AFP.

"(The Council) calls on Russia to cooperate fully with the ongoing investigation, and expresses its full confidence in the independence and professionalism of the legal procedures that lie ahead."

The call comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted Moscow must ensure those charged over the incident face justice.

- Sanctions extended -

The Dutch-led inquiry team on Wednesday said international arrest warrants had been issued for Russian nationals Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, all of whom are suspected of roles in the separatist self-declared Donetsk People's Republic.

The suspects are likely to be tried in absentia since neither Russia nor Ukraine extradites their nationals, and the Kremlin has denounced the "absolutely unfounded accusations" against the men, all of whom have military and intelligence links.

Prosecutors say the four were to be held responsible for bringing the BUK surface-to-air missile system that shot the plane down from Russia into eastern Ukraine "even though they have not pushed the button themselves".

Ties between the EU and Russia plunged into the deep freeze over the war in eastern Ukraine -- which rumbles on with a death toll of some 13,000 -- and the downing of the MH17.

Leaders used the summit to extend by another year tough sanctions imposed over Russia's 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.

The measures prohibit certain exports and imports from Crimea, and ban EU-based companies from investment and tourism services in the strategic Black Sea peninsula.

The summit will also voice the "utmost concern" over Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to fast-track Russian citizenship for Ukrainians living in areas controlled by Kremlin-backed rebels and warn the EU may not recognise their travel documents.

"The European Council will continue to monitor the situation in eastern Ukraine and stands ready to consider further options, including non-recognition of Russian passports issued in contradiction to the Minsk agreements," the summit conclusions say.

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