Penny Wong has accused the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, of “harbouring murderers”, warning that the world will not forget a court verdict that Russia and two of its nationals were responsible for the downing of MH17.
The Australian foreign minister made the remarks on Friday after a Dutch court found Russians Igor Girkin and Sergey Dubinskiy and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko guilty of bringing down the plane and the murder of everyone onboard.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by a Russian surface-to-air missile when it was flying over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing 298 people, among them 38 Australians.
On Friday Wong said the court verdict had delivered “the truth”.
“I want to say first to all of the families and friends that we know that you suffered an unfathomable grief. We know you’ve waited a long time for justice,” Wong told Radio National.
“These verdicts matter because they confirm the truth: that these men were responsible for downing a civilian aircraft and it also confirms the involvement of the Russian Federation … [that the] separatists had direction from Russia; Russia supplied training, weapons and money.
“So whilst I know that very little can lessen the grief when you lose a loved one in such horrific circumstances, it is important for the truth to [come] out – and it has.”
On the question of whether Russia might ever hand the men over, Wong said: “We would say to Russia, the world knows that you’re harbouring murderers and that says something about you, Mr Putin.”
Wong said the world knows the three men “murdered 298 people” and they will “remain on the Interpol list and nothing will ever remove that sentence, which stands as an indictment on them and those that supported and funded them”.
The foreign minister said Australia will continue to put pressure on Russia and work with the international community to “hold Russia to account for all of its actions”.
“Obviously we would wish the world to be different from that which it is – but look at the response to [the invasion of] Ukraine … and the pressure Russia has felt – that is important.
“We want Russia to act differently, but until it does, what we have to do is maintain that collective response to Russia’s abrogation of international law.”
Julie Bishop, Australia’s foreign minister at the time of MH17’s downing, told Sky News after the guilty verdict that Russia “must admit responsibility for this heinous crime”.
“Russia cannot continue to hide behind lies and obfuscation – they’ve obstructed this investigation at every step of the way,” she said.
Bishop said it was now clear that Russia “had already invaded Ukraine in 2014 – it just lied about it”, but the findings about the shooting down of MH17 “laid bare that lie”.
“They weren’t Ukrainian farmers who were able to deploy surface-to-air missile and shoot down commercial flight at 33,000ft.”
Girkin, Dubinskiy and Kharchenko were ordered to pay “more than €16m” (A$25m) in compensation to the victims. The three men remain at large and it is unclear if they will ever serve their sentences.
A third Russian national, Oleg Pulatov, was acquitted of the charges owing to lack of evidence about his role in the firing of the missile.
In 2014, all four were fighters for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, a pro-Russia separatist movement. None of the men appeared in court and only Pulatov chose to appoint lawyers, who pleaded not guilty on his behalf.
Prosecutors and the suspects have two weeks to appeal against the court’s decisions.
The Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said it was an important court decision, tweeting: “Holding to account masterminds is crucial too, as the feeling of impunity leads to new crimes. We must dispel this illusion. Punishment for all [Russia’s] atrocities then & now is inevitable.”