Prime Minister Tony Abbott has acknowledged that 50 Australian police officers who have flown to London ahead of a mission to secure the MH17 crash site may face ''difficulty'' as armed pro-Russian militiamen maintain their grip on the war-torn area.
Abbott offers police for MH17 site
The Prime Minister confirms the pre-deployment of 50 AFP officers to help ensure a thorough investigation is carried out at the crash site.
Mr Abbott said on Thursday that he had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the plan the previous evening - considered a key step in getting security forces on the ground to protect the investigation scene and complete the recovery of victims' bodies.
About 50 Australian Federal Police were due to arrive in London on Thursday evening, Australian time, before a possible security mission to the crash site alongside counterparts from the Netherlands and other countries that lost citizens in the crash.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has arrived in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev to negotiate an agreement with the government there as well as the Dutch government for the international police force to be deployed. It is understood the option of having a limited number of Australian Defence Force personnel to back up the AFP officers is still being actively explored.
Mr Abbott said the Russian leader was continuing to say ''all the right things'' about the need for international police to secure the site so a ''thorough, impartial international investigation … can go ahead''. ''The difficulty at the moment is that the site is controlled by armed men with a vested interest in the outcome of any investigation,'' Mr Abbott said.
''We all know that the Russians do have some influence over at least some of the elements that are operating against the Ukrainian government in eastern Ukraine.
''President Putin gave an assurance that he wanted to see the families of the victims satisfied. He wanted to see, as a father himself, grieving families given closure and as I say, so far he's been as good as his word.''
Mr Abbott said the exact circumstances of any Australian police deployment were ''yet to be determined''.
However, it appeared that Australia was working to negotiate terms with Kiev, Moscow and also the self-declared government in Donetsk, so that it would be safe enough to deploy officers. Mr Abbott has also spoken with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who welcomed the announcement about the 50 AFP officers.
Some 200 Australian officials are on the ground in Ukraine, including victim identification specialists from the AFP, Foreign Affairs officials and crash investigators.
Former Defence chief Angus Houston was due to visit the crash site on Thursday along with two other Australian officials.On Thursday, an Australian forensics expert began work at the crash site, alongside a small team of Malaysians who arrived the day before.
The government is also looking at whether an additional UN resolution is needed on top of the one passed earlier this week calling for an impartial investigation.
Lowy Institute military fellow James Brown said it was ''the right call'' to send police rather than soldiers. But Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said it would be hard to deploy police alone without military backup.
''Police operate in dangerous environments but they don't go to military conflict zones. They may carry a side arm … but they don't necessarily have the wherewithal to defend themselves against military forces ,'' he said.