Tony Abbott has vowed to hold Vladimir Putin to his word on an investigation into the MH17 attack after the Russian president said “all the right things” in a phone call overnight.
The prime minister on Monday declined to divulge details of the leaders’ first conversation since Russia-backed rebels shot down the Malaysia Airlines plane in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people on board – including 37 Australian citizens and residents.
Mr Abbott has been a vocal critic of Russia’s response to the disaster, accusing Mr Putin’s government of trying to wash its hands of responsibility and failing to properly secure the crash site.
“He said all the right things,” Mr Abbott said of Mr Putin in an interview with Macquarie Radio.
“And now we need him to be as good as his word.
“I will be speaking regularly to the Russian president to do my best to hold him to his word.”
The talks came as Foreign Minister Julie Bishop arrived in the US to push for a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for separatists to allow full international access to the crash site.
Mr Abbott said while there had been some signs of improvement, including Ukrainian government officials gaining some access to the crash area, the situation was still completely unacceptable.
“The site is being treated more like a garden clean-up than a forensic investigation. The wreckage has been picked over, it’s been trashed, it’s been trampled.”
The site is being treated more like a garden clean-up than a forensic investigation
The prime minister said his priority was to do the right thing by the Australian victims and their families by ensuring bodies were treated with respect, the crash site was secured and a thorough investigation undertaken.
“Then of course, we have to punish the guilty,” he said. “We have to do our best to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice.”
Australian experts are in Kiev, ready to travel to the crash site controlled by pro-Russian militiamen, who have loaded about 200 bodies into refrigerated train wagons.
Ms Bishop said the government was committed to returning the bodies of the victims to their families.
“This is not a time to use bodies as hostages or pawns in a Ukrainian-Russian conflict,” she told reporters in Washington.
Ms Bishop expects all countries on the United Nations Security Council – including permanent member Russia – to fully support Australia’s bid for full international access.
Ms Bishop has called for an urgent vote which could take place as soon as Monday.
“They have been murdered and the Australian government will not rest until we’re able to bring the bodies home to the Australian families who are waiting for them,” she said.