MH17 investigators being 'hampered'
Some investigators at the scene of the MH17 plane wreckage in Ukraine say their work is not going smoothly.PT0M0S 620 349
Prime Minister Tony Abbott's plan to deploy armed police to the MH17 crash site risks increasing tension in the Ukrainian territory held by Russian-backed rebels, according to international political analysts.
Mr Abbott yesterday announced 190 Australian Federal Police, as well as an unknown number of Australian Defence Force soldiers, would help recover bodies and evidence from flight MH17, which crashed on July 17 killing 298 passengers and crew. Some of the force would be armed, Mr Abbott has said.
Analysts say armed Australian police could inflame tensions in Ukraine. Photo: Reuters
"They must be nuts," Joerg Forbrig, a senior program officer for central and eastern Europe at the Berlin bureau of the German Marshall Fund of the US think tank, said. "It's a very dangerous proposal and will be seen as a provocation by the separatists and the Russians."
Ukrainians' desire for closer links with Europe, the US and their allies has long been a source of tension with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who intervened in Ukraine after the pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych stepped down in February fueling the five-month long insurgency.
The US says a surface-to-air missile fired from territory held by the rebels shot down the plane, while stopping short of alleging direct Russian involvement. Putin's artillery is firing on Ukrainian military positions from inside Russia, a US State Department spokeswoman said this week.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott and AFP Commissioner Tony Negus brief the media on the MH17 mission. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
The Netherlands will decide this weekend whether to send an unarmed police mission to help secure the crash site, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told parliament on Friday.
"Of course, I myself have moments when I think: send in the marines," Rutte told parliament in The Hague. "But we have to weigh the geopolitical ramifications that would have. This is not an area where this would remain without consequences. So we have to build coalitions with all players involved very carefully."
The Netherlands is sending a separate mission of 40 unarmed military police to the site to help complete the forensic work and gather evidence, Rutte said this week. The United Kingdon has sent one forensics specialist to Kiev and nine British scientists are working in the Netherlands to help identify bodies and secure evidence.
Malaysia, Germany and Britain are the other three nations that are expected to contribute to the security force, Fairfax Media was told on Friday.
A spokesman for the UK Foreign Office said Britain would "offer logistical support and is keeping in close contact with the Australians and Dutch over how it can assist, though it won't be putting be sending police or technicians to Ukraine".
"We believe a UK. armed presence in eastern Ukraine would not be appropriate," the Foreign Office said in a statement. "The UK stands ready to provide constructive support to the mission."
There were 194 Dutch nationals and 27 Australian citizens on MH17.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko this week signed an accord under which the Netherlands will lead the international probe into the crash. A separate agreement was signed yesterday for an "Australian mission of civil police" to help protect the mission. There was no mention from either Poroshenko or the Foreign Ministry on whether the Australians would be armed.
The agreement needs to pass the Ukrainian parliament before the Australian force can be deployed.
Dmitry Gau, the spokesman for rebels, wouldn't immediately comment on the Australian plans to carry firearms.
The director of the European Centre for International Political Economy in Brussels, Fredrik Erixon, warned against sending armed teams into eastern Ukraine to search for victims.
"There's nothing normal in east Ukraine right now," Erixon said. "Small events can trigger very large reactions from the rebels and the Russian government."
Karl-Heinz Kamp, the academic director at the German government's Federal Academy for Security Policy in Berlin, said the Australian military is experienced and wouldn't take risks, especially in a situation "where some of the rebels are drunk."
"The only way the Australians are going to send armed officers into rebel territory is if there's some kind of backroom deal," Kamp said. "It's totally far-fetched but if it's true, maybe the Russians are under such pressure to do something they told the rebels 'you have to accept this.'"
Spokesmen at Russia's defense and foreign ministries weren't available for comment.