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MH17 crash site battle rages

Paul McGeough reports from Shakhtersk in eastern war-ravaged Ukraine, where fighting between government forces and pro-Russian rebels have blocked international access to the Malaysia Airlines crash site.

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An old story does the rounds in Australian diplomatic circles about the difficulty of dealing with Russia, a tale that must leave Tony Abbott wondering.

Moscow will bluntly reject any offer (“Nyet, nyet, nyet”), frustrating negotiators on the other side and leaving them desperate for any sign of progress.

Then the Russians will make a tiny concession - happy to see the other side to trumpet even the smallest gain as a massive win.

Abbott is clearly frustrated in his attempts to secure the crash site in eastern Ukraine.

He may yet succeed, and let’s hope so for the sake of relatives of the dead.

But the harsh reality of conflict has trumped compassion and sentiment. Abbott says he has no interest getting involved in eastern European politics. He has no choice.

It’s almost a fortnight since the attack on MH17 and the Ukraine government has clearly decided to seize the chance to crush the rebellion.

Russia is under immense international pressure over suspicion of involvement in the attack, and the rebels are reeling.

Ukraine is hardly acting in the spirit of the UN Security Council resolution championed by Australia, which demands “all military activities” cease around the crash site.

But Kiev has a war to win. From the Ukrainian perspective, the best way to control the site is to reclaim its territory.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin could yet clear the obstacles, but won’t because to do so will betray his control of the rebels.

Putin might be under pressure abroad but with plenty of influential friends at home, he has little to fear.

One popular Russian daily newspaper this week claimed the Kremlin was baffled by the “myth-based demands” on Putin.

“The West’s stance is perceived in the Kremlin as insane,” it declared.

Nyet, nyet, nyet.

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