MH17 Ukraine disaster: Putin says UN tribunal premature

Plane crash site taken on 17 July 2014 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Debris from the plane was scattered for miles around eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin has rejected calls for the establishment of a UN tribunal to prosecute suspects in the MH17 air disaster over Ukraine.

Mr Putin made the remarks ahead of the first anniversary of the crash, which killed 298 people, on Friday.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said a tribunal would help secure justice, but Mr Putin said it would be "premature".

Meanwhile, 17 families have filed a $900m (£576m) lawsuit against a Russian former rebel.

A writ filed in Chicago in the United States on Wednesday claimed that Igor Strelkov, a Russian also known as Igor Girkin, was acting with the "actual or apparent" authority of President Putin's government when the Malaysia Airlines jet was shot down over eastern Ukraine.

The court papers say: "Flight 17 flew over the airspace of the area in which the aforesaid rebel army was waging its war activities and the rebel army under the command responsibility of defendant Girkin shot down the subject Boeing 777-200 aircraft."

'Not about money'

The airliner was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it crashed on 17 July 2014.

Western nations believe there is growing evidence that the plane was hit by a Russian-supplied missile fired by pro-Russian rebels in the area. However, Russia blames Ukrainian government forces.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Relatives have been campaigning for justice for their loved ones

MH17: What do we know?

Sunflower mementoes for the families

Mr Strelkov's wife, who also acts as his spokeswoman, said he would not comment on the lawsuit. "What does he have to do with this anyway," she said on Russian radio.

The former rebel spearheaded the insurgency until last August and is now based in Russia.

The families bringing the case hail from Britain, South Africa, the Netherlands, Malaysia and Indonesia, according to their lawyer Floyd Wisner.

Mr Wisner told the BBC the case was not about "making money" and was instead aimed at keeping up the pressure on international governments.

"The families deserve answers," he added. "This is a search for information and we believe [Mr] Girkin has information."

He is using the US Torture Victim Protection Act to bring the case, which covers extrajudicial killings and can be used by foreign nationals.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Pro-Russian rebels were first on the scene after the crash

The Netherlands is leading the criminal investigation into the disaster and is being assisted by Belgium, Australia and Ukraine.

A final report on the cause of the crash by the Dutch Safety Board is due to be released in October.

Mr Rutte said a UN tribunal would give "the best guarantee of co-operation from all countries" in trying to secure justice.

The Kremlin said in a statement that Mr Putin had "explained Russia's position regarding the premature and counter-productive initiatives of several countries, including the Netherlands, on the establishment of an international tribunal".

It also criticised what it said was politicised media coverage of the disaster.