Australian PM points finger at Russia over downed Malaysian plane

SYDNEY Fri Jul 18, 2014 12:42am EDT

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott blamed Russia on Friday over the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines passenger jetliner over eastern Ukraine that killed all 298 people on board.

Abbott appeared to go further than other Western leaders in apportioning blame over the crash, demanding that Moscow answer questions about the "Russian-backed rebels" that he said were behind the disaster.

He also said the Russian ambassador to Australia has been officially summoned to discuss the issue.

Australia is due to host Russian President Vladimir Putin and other world leaders at the G20 Leaders Summit in November. Asked if he would still welcome Putin if Russia was proved to be behind the accident, Abbott hinted there may be repercussions. "That's a fair question, let's just wait and see exactly what turns out to have happened here," Abbott said in an interview with Melbourne-based 3AW Radio.

In a somber speech before parliament, Abbott earlier said he was "filled with revulsion" and blamed anti-Kiev separatists for shooting down the plane, killing 27 Australian citizens on board.

"This is a grim day for our country and it's a grim day for our world. Malaysian airlines MH17 has been shot down over the eastern Ukraine, it seems by Russian-backed rebels," he said.

Ukrainian authorities have accused "terrorists" - militants fighting to unite eastern Ukraine with Russia - of shooting down the Boeing 777-200. The rebels denied responsibility. Putin blamed Kiev for renewing its offensive against rebels two weeks ago after a ceasefire failed to hold. The Kremlin leader called the crash a "tragedy" but did not say who brought the Malaysian plane down.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said the downing of the airliner apparently was "not an accident" and that it was "blown out of the sky".

Abbott and his government lashed out at Russia directly, however, saying it was no accident that rebels armed with Russian-made military hardware capable of shooting down passenger jets would use them for that purpose.

“This is no light thing; this is not something that can just be dismissed as a tragic accident when you have Russian proxies using Russian-supplied equipment to do terrible things," Abbott told 3AW Radio.

Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten echoed Abbott's strong language towards Moscow, signaling a growing belief among Australian leaders that the blame lay outside Ukraine.

“The missile that brought down MH17 and the missiles that have claimed numerous other Ukrainian aircraft could not possibly be made by the people who have possibly fired them," Shorten told parliament.

"These separatist terrorists are obtaining these instruments of murder from elsewhere,” he said.

(The story is refiled to fix typographical error in reporting credit)

(Additional reporting by Jane Wardell in SYDNEY; Editing by Paul Tait)