Dutch and Australian experts forced to delay a planned visit to the site of the crash of flight MH17 for the third day as fighting between separatists and pro-Russian forces near the crash site continues
According to CBC, Ukrainian forces staged a major attack against separatist fighters on Sunday July 27 in an attempt to gain control of the area surrounding the crash site in the east of Ukraine.
The troops entered a string of towns nearby on Monday July 28, among them the town of Shakhtarsk, a mere six miles from the crash site.
Britain’s Telegraph newspaper reported on the same day that the Dutch and Australian team had been forced to abandon plans to travel to the site in order to identify the remaining bodies. They were instead forced to stay in the town of Donetsk, a rebel headquarters approximately 40 miles to the west.
At the time of writing, the group remain in Donetsk. Rebels are considering preventing investigators from gaining access, according to Reuters.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called on Ukraine to stop the fighting in that area. Attempts at a ceasefire have so far failed although Ukrainian Prime Minister Petro Poroshenko said on July 29 that he would do everything he could to facilitate the team’s access.
The Malaysian flight MH17 was shot down in Ukranian airspace on July 17. All 298 passengers on board died, the majority of whom were Dutch and Australian citizens. Over 200 bodies have already been recovered and sent to the Netherlands to be identified.
The Netherlands declared a national day of mourning – the first in over 50 years – to mark the arrival of the first bodies from Ukraine on July 23. Now sadness is beginning to turn to anger as delays continue to prevent the return of the rest of the bodies.
Reflecting the national mood, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans has adjusted his previously hesitant stance on further sanctions against Russia. At a meeting of ministers in Brussels, he said the Dutch would not oppose sanctions, adding “The Netherlands wants the European Union (to make) a united, and also strong, clear, statement against the unrest in eastern Ukraine.”
Neither Ukraine nor Russia will accept responsibility for the attack, which appears to have been conducted with a missile. The West has accused separatist rebels of committing the attack and, in the strongest statement on the events to come out of the White House, a spokesman appeared to cast the blame for this on Russia.
White House spokesman John Earnest said President Putin was ‘culpable’ for the attack on flight MH17. This comes after the White House previously criticised Russia for providing Ukranian separatists with arms.
The EU and the White House confirmed on July 29 that they will push forward to“phase three” sanctions against Russia.
This means that, rather than just targeting wealthy individuals with asset freezes and travel bans, the sanctions will be aimed at the country’s finance, technology, energy and defense sectors.
This is an unprecedented step for the EU who have never unleashed such a punishment on a close neighbour. The EU said it ‘was an urgent and determined response’ but made it clear that the sanctions were reversible if Russia was willing to negotiate.