Editorial: MH17- stop asking and start doing

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Response over tragic flight a failure of leadership.

A pro-Russian fighter guards the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine. Photo / AP
A pro-Russian fighter guards the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine. Photo / AP
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Four days after Malaysia Airlines' Flight 17 was shot down, the families of the 298 people on board can only wonder what is happening to the remains of their loved ones. Some are reported to have been bagged and loaded into refrigerated rail wagons but their destination is unclear. Other remains are still lying in the summer heat. This is a disgrace to international leadership.

The Russian-backed rebels of Eastern Ukraine, who probably fired the missile and control the area where the debris came down, remain in unchallenged command of the wreckage and the recovery of bodies. They appear to be as ill-suited to this role as they were to be handling surface-to-air missiles. If Russia was responsible for providing their deadly equipment, President Putin ought to have taken charge of the aftermath.

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Even if Russia was not to blame, Mr Putin should have supplied the necessary leadership. Russia was quick enough to assert hegemony over Ukraine when the latter looked toward the protection of Nato recently, as it was when it invaded Georgia in similar circumstances, and more recently Crimea. If the region is Russia's rightful sphere of influence, as Mr Putin's actions imply, then the world has a right to look to Russia to ensure the dead and the debris of MH17 were treated with due respect and proper procedures.

The horror at what had happened ought to have superseded antagonism between the governments of Russia and Ukraine. Mr Putin ought to have made an immediate approach to Kiev and initiated joint steps to secure the area for the recovery of human remains. But the best his Government could do was to issue a supposedly helpless appeal to both sides of the Ukrainian conflict, urging them to "do everything possible to enable access for international experts to the plane crash area in order to take action necessary for the investigation".

After four days, his failure to ensure this can be done puts the onus on other world leaders. The United States needs to do better than President Obama's immediate response, blaming Russia for arming the rebels.

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While undoubtedly true, his statement antagonised the Russians who blame the US for the February uprising in Ukraine that started the unrest in its eastern region.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel achieved more with Mr Putin, getting him to agree that diplomats from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe should have access to the site. The OSCE team is there, closely watched by armed separatists. It can only observe the handling of the bodies and report that the work is slow and disorganised. This must be agonising for the victims' families.

Holland, Malaysia and Australia have lost the most citizens. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was reported to have had an "extremely intense" telephone conversation with Mr Putin yesterday. He gave the Russian President "one last chance to show he means to help".

Malaysia has also asked for access to retrieve human remains. Its Transport Minister, Liow Tiong Lai, has complained that the integrity of the site has been compromised, and there are indications that vital evidence has not been preserved. He has asked for immediate access for Malaysia's team at the site to retrieve human remains.

It is time to stop asking. Russia is doing next to nothing. The site of the disaster is in Ukraine territory. With Ukraine's undoubted blessing, western powers should help Ukraine secure the site, retrieve all remains and enforce international aviation inspection procedures. The families of the victims deserve nothing less.

- NZ Herald

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