JOURNALIST: We’re joined in the studio now by the Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop. Thanks so much for coming in. Yesterday the Prime Minister said he was deeply unsatisfied with Russia’s attempts to blame Ukraine for this disaster. President Putin this morning struck back. We understand he said that those comments were unacceptable and based on speculation. As you understand it, what is Russia’s involvement in this?
JULIE BISHOP: Well our support of course is for the families of the victims, particularly the 28 Australians on board and we owe it to the families and their loved ones to ensure that this incident is fully and thoroughly and impartially investigated. So we don’t know the precise cause but the evidence is increasingly pointing to a surface-to-air missile and fired from the Russian-backed rebel area in eastern Ukraine. And so last night, overnight, there was a UN Security Council statement released, part authored by Australia which of course offered condolences to the victims and the families of this terrible tragedy but also called for an independent and thorough and impartial international investigation. That needs to happen. We need to determine the cause and who is responsible.
JOURNALIST: So regards responsibility, we as a nation call those rebels in the Donetsk republic, we call them Russian-backed separatists?
JULIE BISHOP: That’s right.
JOURNALIST: They say, the Russians say, well we are not backing them, they are just pro-Russian. But the PM made it pretty clear in some of his comments yesterday that we strongly feel that Russia has a hand of responsibility in this and therefore culpability for this disaster?
JULIE BISHOP: Well this is why I called in the Russian Ambassador yesterday, to seek from him an explanation from Russia as to how a commercial jet could be brought down over eastern Ukraine which is currently being held by Russian-backed separatists. Russia has a crucial role to play. It can influence a ceasefire and that is absolutely essential, so that the crash site can be secured not only for the purposes of protecting evidence for the investigation but also for the identification and repatriation of remains. That must be done speedily and with dignity. But also Russia can stop the flow of fighters and weapons and resources from Russia into Ukraine that is supporting, that effort is supporting separatists. Now we need an immediate, urgent international investigation. Australia welcomes the statement of the UN Security Council but we need more. We need a binding resolution, binding on all UN Security Council members including Russia that will enable this full, thorough, impartial investigation to take place.
JOURNALIST: What is the likelihood that we will get that investigation, when we know it seems as if these Russian-backed separatists have control of the crash site and they are impeding the investigation to this point?
JULIE BISHOP: We have sent a team of 12 DFAT and AFP officers to Kyiv. Six are on the ground there now including our Ambassador from Warsaw. We have five others on their way plus a senior AFP officer and they will be working with other governments and other authorities to ensure that the crash site is secure. There is an Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. They would be the appropriate monitors, experts at this point. They have had access to the site but for a short period of time. That’s why we need the backing of a UN Security Council resolution to ensure that the investigators, the experts have access to the site, unfettered, unimpeded.
JOURNALIST: Even though Russia in theory could veto such a resolution, you’d have to think they’d be mad to do that right? Because that would bring upon them the most dramatic international condemnations, wouldn’t it?
JULIE BISHOP: Well if you follow Russia’s logic, as it was explained to me by the Russian Ambassador, they believe that Ukraine is responsible for this.
JOURNALIST: So there’s no reason…
JULIE BISHOP: If they believe that, then of course they would back a full, thorough, independent investigation to work out who is culpable for this and so we expect, indeed we require Russia’s support for this investigation to take place.
JOURNALIST: What was your reaction yesterday when you met with the Russian Ambassador and you asked about Russia’s involvement and he said there wasn’t one? What was your reaction to that?
JULIE BISHOP: I continued to ask more questions and seek assurances and guarantees that no Russian weaponry or military equipment had been used. He couldn’t give me that guarantee but he indicated that the separatists had indeed had access to a Ukraine surface-to-air missile. Well, that just raises more questions. If Russia was aware of that, why did Russia allow this pro-Russian, Russian-backed group of separatists to have access to such sophisticated weaponry?
JOURNALIST: Do you think Foreign Minister that an event of such global significance and impact may change the course of the war that is currently being waged in Ukraine and by Russia by proxy?
JULIE BISHOP: It certainly has made this conflict international. I have been speaking during the course of yesterday and overnight to the Foreign Ministers of a number of nations that have now been involved in this through the death, through the murder, of their citizens. I’ve been speaking to the Ukrainian Foreign Minister, the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, the Foreign Minister of Belgium, Indonesia, Malaysia. This is now an international tragedy and so many citizens from so many different nations were on board that flight and that’s brought it home to a number of countries around the world. But also all of the countries on the UN Security Council have a responsibility to support the resolutions that will be required to facilitate the investigation to determine who is responsible and of course, the global community will want to hold those responsible to account.
JOURNALIST: But just from your expertise as someone who deals with these issues every day, are the Ukrainian separatists likely to say, ‘oh my god we have really messed up. We’ve got to change the way that we’re going about our bid for separation, for secession’.
JULIE BISHOP: There is no doubt that this brings an entirely new dimension to the conflict in Ukraine and on the border between Ukraine and Russia and the events leading up to this, the annexation of Crimea, the breach of Ukraine’s sovereignty, all these issues are now being put into perspective because of this international, this global tragedy that has hit Australia so hard.
JOURNALIST: If diplomatic efforts don’t work what then?
JULIE BISHOP: What we’re seeking to do now is focus our efforts on supporting the families, and they are our immediate priority. We’ve allocated departmental officials to each family to support them. I’ve had conversations with Qantas who have offered to support in any way, to take families, next of kin to Europe if they need. We have a national day of mourning planned. Today in fact is a day of mourning in Australia, flags are flying at half-mast. So that’s our immediate priority. Our second priority is to secure that crash site for the evidence, protect the evidence but also to ensure that we can repatriate the remains of those who were murdered. And then third we need the backing of the UN Security Council resolutions that all countries sign up to, to ensure that there is a ceasefire to enable that to happen. So we are methodically, purposely going through this step-by-step.
JOURNALIST: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop thank you so much for joining us this morning. I can only imagine how incredibly busy you are right now and will be for the next couple of weeks.
JULIE BISHOP: Well my priority is to support the families that have been affected by this shocking, indescribably evil act.
JOURNALIST: Indeed. Thank you Foreign Minister.
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