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Jul 21, 2014

MH17: now not the time for diplomatic nuance -- and G20 decisions can wait

Tony Abbott's strong response on the issue of culpability for MH17 was justified and appropriate.


The Abbott government’s foreign policy so far has not been characterised by subtlety. It has managed to offend Indonesia through its handling of the asylum seeker issue, exacerbated by revelations of Labor-era surveillance. Its tilt toward a closer relationship with Japan, reinforced by a close relationship between Tony Abbott and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, has infuriated the (perenially infuriated) Chinese. The Prime Minister’s effort to transform a climate denialist agreement with his Canadian counterpart Stephen Harper into a weird kind of Anglophone front against climate action was rapidly derailed by the Obama administration, the Cameron government and even the New Zealanders.

The lack of subtlety was on display again in response to the downing of the Malaysian aircraft over the Ukraine, with Abbott going hard early in attributing responsibility to Russian-backed rebels. This time, it was entirely justified: 37 Australians had been murdered, along with over 260 others, with little doubt as to who was responsible. There’s a time for diplomatic nuance, and this wasn’t it. Abbott was right to give vent to the widely shared fury and grief felt by Australians, and was justified as more evidence emerged pointing to the capacity of Russian-backed rebels to carry out the attack. Whether it was an accident — as the United States claimed the shooting down by the USS Vincennes of Iran Air Flight 655 in 1988, killing 290 people, was — or deliberate, of course remains unclear, while the culpability of Malaysia Airlines in using a route over a conflict zone is also to be determined. But Abbott’s tone was correct.

Today, the Prime Minister lowered the temperature somewhat after a phone call — the details of which remain unclear — with the Russian president overnight, saying Putin had “said all the right things” but must now be as good as his word. Abbott gave a (very good) press conference at 11.30 to stress his priority to obtain “justice for the dead and closure, as far as humanly possible, for the living”.  The issue of responsibility for the moment has been pushed to the background by the issues of independent access to the crash site — where, unverified reports claim, bodies have been looted, credit cards stolen and evidence removed — and repatriation of the bodies of our fellow citizens. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop pursues the diplomatic track of using our UN Security Council seat (that’s the seat the Coalition derided as a waste of money, but never mind) to put forward a resolution for an independent investigation.

With the site of the crash being trashed, if not deliberately then by the recovery process undertaken by locals, compared to a “garden clean-up” by Abbott — a description justified by footage from the scene — the priority must be to secure the repatriation of Australian bodies so their families and friends can begin the process of farewelling them.

A longer-term problem for Abbott, of course, is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attendance at the Brisbane G20 summit in mid-November. It’s not unreasonable to suggest most Australians now only want to see Putin on Australian soil if he’s being walked into a police station for questioning over the murder of 37 people. Abbott has so far tried to downplay the issue. There’ll be plenty of other tyrants and monsters attending — Barack Obama, for example, has killed hundreds of civilians, including many children, in drone strikes, despite knowing the grisly toll they inflict both in terms of civilian casualties and their counterproductive impact on targeted communities. But Putin now comes with the label of being the funder, supplier and supporter of the people who killed Australians. It’s a vexing issue for Abbott, but one that can wait.


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29 thoughts on “MH17: now not the time for diplomatic nuance — and G20 decisions can wait

  1. Venise Alstergren

    BERNARD KEANE: You have my sympathy for some of the negative comments being circulated about you. Hang in there.

  2. Peter Watson

    Hello Bernard, Abbott is certainly doing the right thing taking the hard line.
    Only a wimp would get on the phone to Putin, to try and arrange access to the rebel held area were the plane has come down.
    Only a wimp would ask the Ukraine forces to halt their offensive for a few days to allow access across the front line of the fighting.
    WMD Mk2 spiced, baked and ready to be served?

  3. Robert Barwick

    This argument is rubbish. Abbott’s responsibility is to get justice for the victims, by getting the truth. To rush to a judgement that depends not on evidence, but on the assumption that Russia and Putin are all bad, will achieve as much justice as a lynch mob. Abbott and Shorten are US lap dogs, and right know they are acting as proxies for the US, using the fact that there were 37 Australian victims compared to one American to take the lead on pushing the US propaganda line against Russia. If the argument is: Russia is responsible for the conflict in Ukraine, therefore Russia is responsible for the disaster, then the opposite is true: the US is responsible for the conflict in Ukraine, because it was the US which arranged the coup that overthrew Ukraine’s indisputably democratically-elected government, using some of the nastiest, most sinister neo-Nazi elements in Europe, which then imposed a regime that included bans on speaking Russian, which regime the ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine have refused to accept.

    I think Keane should duke it out with Rundle on this one.

  4. Catherine Scott

    I suppose someone else has already posted the bleeding obvious, which is after such a violent and appalling death it will be quite some time before bodies – or body parts – can be identified for return to loved ones. This will cause grief, anger and frustration but due process has to be followed. It isn’t going to be easy to figure out who is who after they fell 10kms in a burning plane. And just think for a moment of the fate of those sitting near where the missile hit.

    I watched an acquaintance suffer terribly over the prolonged wait for the return of remains of family members killed in an overseas air accident during which the plane caught fire. And closer to home it was a while before bodies of those killed in the Black Saturday bush fires were returned to loved ones, even where the person died in his own home and there was little realistic doubt whose body it was.

    Carrying on in an ill-informed way will only make things worse for those who are suffering.

    And then let’s move on to the behaviour of other members of the hounds of the press. Looting? That’s the one that journalists always cut straight to whenever any thing goes wrong. They probably have a key board short just so they can get that one in asap. Here’s something intelligent written on the media’s obsession with ‘looting’. http://governingthroughcrime.blogspot.com.au/search?q=looting

    But how about the bloke from Sky News who arguably performed a type of looting by rifling through a dead passenger’s belongings on camera. What a filthy piece of ratings boosting voyeurism and exploitation.

  5. Mendoza

    immediately accusing Russia of culpability is one of the more reckless acts committed by a no steering wheel government

  6. Lydia Gibala

    For once I’m proud of Tony Abbott. And referring to it as ‘the’ Ukraine suggests that it’s a region not a country and I think we’ve established that it is in fact a country. Review your style guide Crikey.

  7. Roger Clifton

    Really, Lydia? Does that mean that “the” United States is still a colony?

  8. MsCharli

    Abbott’s reaction is justified IF initial ideas about Russian supplied arms being used by separatists is true. But, we don’t know the facts and evidence yet. All Abbott has done by rushing to condemn Russia without all the facts is risk looking silly if that scenario turns out not to be true, and pissed off Putin.

  9. MarilynJS


    Personally I think Ron Paul is more correct, Abbott the moron has 153 hostages on the high seas who have no access to the outside world and are hidden from view in the name of disgusting politics.

    And Gazans are being slaughtered while he says nothing.

    I heard the stupid Michael Usher on 60 minutes last night virtually declare war on Russia for us without a trace of proof it was anything more than a hideous accident.

  10. MarilynJS

    I feel very sure Putin didn’t order the downing of the plane and I am certain without doubt that Howard, Bush and Blair ordered the invasion of Iraq and are responsible to this day for the massacres, rapes, tortures and 5 million orphans, 2 million widows, 8 million refugees and total destruction of the country. I am absolutely sure Bibi ordered the slaughter of Gazans but Putin has zero to gain by having one plane fall out of the sky.

    Let us not forget the whinging speculation that 2 Iranian refugees were demonised for just because they were Iranians on Flight 370

  11. Robert Barwick

    For both Russia’s perspective, and some other details about the tragedy, here are the 10 questions that Russian Deputy Defence Minister Anatoli Antonov posed on Rossiya-24 state TV on 19 July:

    1. The Ukrainian authorities instantaneously determined who was to blame in the tragedy. Of course, in their opinion, it is the militias. What is the basis of these conclusions?

    2. Can official Kiev give all details related to the use of Buk systems in the combat zone, and especially answer why these systems were deployed, given that the militias have no aircraft?

    3. What are the reasons for the inaction of the Ukrainian authorities on forming an international commission, and when will such a commission start to function? The international community wants to know.

    4. Are representatives of the Ukrainian Armed Forces prepared to submit to international experts documentation on the inventory of air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles installed on their anti-aircraft weapons? This is a very important questions, which will help us determine what systems were used against the Malaysian Boeing.

    5. Will air control data be provided to the international commission on the movements of Ukrainian Air Force planes on the day of the tragedy?

    6. Why did Ukrainian air controllers allow the plane to deviate to the north, in the direction of the so-called anti-terrorist operation being conducted by official Kiev against the population of southeastern Ukraine.

    7. Why was the air space above the combat zone not completely closed to civilian aviation, especially since the region in question lacked a continuous field of radar navigation means? [A reference to the fact that the modern communications systems of Donetsk airport have been knocked out during fighting.]

    8. Can official Kiev comment at this time on the report that appeared in social media, allegedly from a Spanish-national air traffic controller working in Ukraine, that the Boeing that was shot down was under escort by two Ukrainian military aircraft?

    9. Why has the SBU begun to work with the recordings of communications between air traffic control and the Boeing crew and with Ukrainian radar data, without the involvement of international representatives?

    10. In what way have the lessons of the previous, similar tragedy, the case of the Russian Tu-154 over the Black Sea, been taken into account? [This was the October 2001 crash of Tel Aviv-Novosibirsk flight of Sibir Airlines, which was downed by a Ukrainian missile during training, killing 78 people.] In that case, the Ukrainian leadership denied, until the last minute, any role of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in that tragedy—until we presented incontrovertible evidence and proved who was the real culprit in that tragedy.

  12. Catherine Scott

    And for those who prefer their opinions to be based on truth this is a cracking good read: http://consortiumnews.com/2014/07/17/the-human-price-of-neocon-havoc/

  13. Katya Slipetska

    Robert Barwick – unusual how I read the exact same post you put up on this site on the “For Mother Russia” facebook page. Are these your own thoughts or the russian propaganda machine hard at work?

  14. Robert Barwick

    Katya Slipetska: as I said, they are the questions from the Russian Ministry of Defence, so, no, they are not my own thoughts. You can call that the Russian propaganda machine; however, that doesn’t mean that what is coming from the American and Australian governments, and the Murdoch-dominated media, is not propaganda.

  15. Gerry Hatrick, OAP

    Why is the J. Bish being sent to the US though? Surely to the Netherlands or Russia would be better?

  16. Katya Slipetska

    Robert Barwick – I think I’ll take my chances with America and Australia and not with what the “russian military of defence” is saying.

  17. Rohan

    I’m behind Keane on this one.

    First time that Abbott’s personality and skills have proved appropriate for the situation.

  18. CML

    Robert Barwick @ #9. Very interesting, especially Q10. It seems the fac+sts in Kiev have form? Hardly propaganda, Katya, since the plane crash over the Black Sea would be well documented, including who was responsible for shooting it out of the sky. I suggest you read Q10 carefully.
    And Bernard – could you please give the ‘Abbott is wonderful’ crap a rest? It is ALL politics with our dear leader. He couldn’t give a stuff about the plane disaster victims, unless it will advantage him personally. You know, improve a few poll numbers here and there.
    Abbott has told too many lies, and tried to damage too many of the most vulnerable, to ever be believed about his sincerity on ANYTHING!!
    And Rohan – you must be blind, deaf and particularly dumb, if you really believe that. Leopards don’t change their spots!!!

  19. Robert Brown

    So where was the “leadership” when Australians were killed by US drone strikes?

  20. AR

    How is Abbott doing anything but repeating the meme as per the riding instructions he’s been given?

  21. Liamj

    Gerry Hatrick, OAP “Why is the J. Bish being sent to the US though? Surely to the Netherlands or Russia would be better?” Because current events have exceeded the cliche stock of that LNP-bot and new lines need to be installed by management. Customary transmission of updates via The UStralian has been compromised by hangovers from its prolonged festival of self-admiration.

  22. Ken Lambert


    “Barack Obama, for example, has killed hundreds of civilians, including many children, in drone strikes, despite knowing the grisly toll they inflict both in terms of civilian casualties and their counterproductive impact on targeted communities.”

    Bernard has called the first brown President of the USA a friggin war criminal!!

    Is he really? Trying reasonably in war to avoid civilian casualties is the test of legality – not whether they occur.

    Israel for all its detractors tries to avoid civilian casualties….phone them up for God’s sake and let them know to get out!!! Who does that around the world!!!

    Hamas does not….they fire rockets indiscrimately at Israeli civilian targets however ineffectively….they are committing the war crimes.

    The Russian backed rebels in the Ukraine have committed a reckless manslaughter….murder has to have proven intent. They would have had to have known MH17 was a civilian plane and fired at it with intent, to be guilty of murder – a war crime.

    I seriously doubt if these rebels knew anything other than a radar blip on a screen and assuming it was Ukranian; fired at it.

    Reckless manslaughter lacking intent to murder.

    This technicality, tragically does nothing to help the 298 who lost their lives or salve the grief of their loved ones, but might cool the passions of terrorist hunters.

  23. Iskandar

    You’re very polite Bernard, massaging Abbott’s ego in this way. What I saw on Insiders was an Abbott channelling the sclerotic rantings of John McCain, backed by me-too mediocrity Gerard Henderson to the point I could take no more and turned it off. At least Abbott did own up that he had indeed had a tete-a-tete at Normandy with US-installed puppet Poroshenko which MSM failed to report. Shortly afterwards a convenient 911-style atrocity occurs which benefits no one but the Poroshenko-US-NATO axis. Coincidence? I doubt it somehow.

    One hopes for an honest investigation of this awful event, but when an entire aircraft can disappear without a trace what hope is there that data pertaining to this one will not also conveniently disappear.


    Nationalism at its worst. Nobody says a word about the deaths in Afghanistan,Iraq and Palestine, Libya,Syria,Ukraine,Turkey,the Northern Territory, Western Australia. Shit happens?

  25. Professor Tournesol

    Publicly humiliating Putin never gets you what you want and he never forgets. Abbott does have a stronger hand at the moment with the G20 at the end of the year but I think that saying what he did publicly rather than privately is a high risk low reward strategy. The subtleties of this of course would escape Abbott. The problem isn’t with what he said, I agree with it, it was the way that he said it.

  26. CML

    @ Prof T. Abbott has absolutely NO say in who does, or does not, attend the G20. Australia is only the host country, and if it refuses to ‘host’ Putin, then the other countries may cancel the whole deal. Or take it elsewhere?
    Abbott is just talking a load of rubbish!

  27. mikehilliard

    Abbott’s job isn’t to give vent to community anger, what utter rubbish.

    Mind you, if I have ever seen a politician hell bent on fanning the flames it would be him.

  28. Ross Kapernick

    Abbott had a right as our Prime Minister to push for an enquiry and to put pressure on the present Gov. in Ukraine to bring about a ceasefire and allow International Investigators in to the site. It was not the rebels that stopped that. That was the responsibility of the Gov. in Ukraine. As most reliable and informed people know even the Russians don’t have much influence over the Rebels. That is simply Cold War type Propaganda put out by the USA and Britain to try and cover themselves against another mess they probably have created in Ukraine by trying to install a Pro West Government in a divided Ukraine. It has always been divided. I agree with the Russians. The only real answer was a Federal type system in Ukraine like that in Canada but as usual the USA and Britain had to have there way. I had expected Abbott to show a bit more balance and not act like a complete lackey of the USA. One of the reasons I voted for him. They have been caught lying and found to be completely wrong more or less ever since the Vietnam War. Don’t ask me to list them all. I am ashamed to call him Prime Minister of Australia now. With the release yesterday by the Russians of all the information they have most of which can be verified and there agreement to an International enquiry [something they obviously want]I feel there may be some very red faces in Australia, USA, Canada, Britain and Holland. At least the Germans and French have had the sense to stay calm about the entire Ukraine affair. Not that a two faced lying USA is all that popular in Germany at present. If Abbott is still Prime Minister when the next election comes around the Lib/Nationals will not get my vote. I expect my Prime Minister to show some balance in the international area. I am also disgusted with our media tonight on the entire matter. You would swear they all are part of the CIA. It is going to be interesting to see if the USA has any real facts now Russia has put up what it has most of which can be verified. Knowing the USA though they will continue with there Propaganda even if they have no facts to back up recent claims. Something that is going to lose them even more credibility around the world. They are still obviously living 50 years in the past. Is Abbott also?


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