EU leaders to add to pressure on Russia over MH17

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte speaks to the media following a press conference of the international Joint Investigation Team (JIT) on the ongoing investigation of the 2014 Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash. (AFP Photo)

EU leaders will heap fresh international pressure on Russia on Thursday over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 by demanding Moscow cooperate with a Dutch probe that led to charges against four men.

The Kremlin will also be served with a tough warning over its move to make it easier for Ukrainians living in breakaway regions of their country's east to obtain a Russian passport.

International investigators on Wednesday charged three Russians and a Ukrainian with murder over the 2014 catastrophe, in which 298 people were killed, with the trial in the Netherlands set to start in March next year.

But neither Russia nor Ukraine extradites their nationals and the Kremlin has denounced the "absolutely unfounded accusations" against the men, all of whom have military and intelligence links.

EU government leaders at a summit in Brussels will welcome the criminal charges over the downing of the plane, which was hit by a missile over part of eastern Ukraine held by pro-Russian rebels while flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.

"The European Council reiterates its full support for all efforts to establish truth, justice and accountability for the victims and their next of kin," the leaders will say, according to a draft of formal summit conclusions seen by AFP.

"(The Council) calls on Russia to cooperate fully with the ongoing investigation, and expresses its full confidence in the independence and professionalism of the legal procedures that lie ahead." The call comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo insisted Moscow must ensure those charged over the incident face justice.

The Dutch-led inquiry team on Wednesday said international arrest warrants had been issued for Russian nationals Igor Girkin, Sergei Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov, and Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko, all of whom are suspected of roles in the separatist self-declared Donetsk People's Republic.

Prosecutors say the four were to be held responsible for bringing the BUK surface-to-air missile system that shot the plane down from Russia into eastern Ukraine "even though they have not pushed the button themselves".

Ties between the EU and Russia plunged into the deep freeze over the war in eastern Ukraine which rumbles on with a death toll of some 13,000 and the downing of the MH17.

The summit will also voice the "utmost concern" over Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to fast-track Russian citizenship for Ukrainians living in areas controlled by Kremlin-backed rebels and warn the EU may not recognise their travel documents.

"The European Council will continue to monitor the situation in eastern Ukraine and stands ready to consider further options, including non-recognition of Russian passports issued in contradiction to the Minsk agreements," the summit conclusions say.

The leaders will also extend by six months sanctions imposed on Russia over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine though diplomats said some member states had pushed for a 12-month prolongation. 

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