U.S. withholds MH17 criticism on Russia after Trump-Putin meeting

The Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash site in Ukraine. Source: Twitter/ @mashableThe Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash site in Ukraine. Source: Twitter/ @mashable

The United States State Department prepared a critical statement on Russia's involvement in the MH17 disaster, but never released it. The statement was set to be released on Monday - ahead of the four year anniversary of the disaster - but was withdrawn at the last minute because Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "did not approve" of the language used, a source told Foreign Policy.

This is the first year since the disaster that the United States did not release a statement for the anniversary. Foreign Policy points out that this year the anniversary fell one day after American president Donald Trump met with Russian president Vladimir Putin. The State Department refused to comment to the newspaper, which has a draft copy of the statement in its possession, on why the statement was withdrawn.

"Four years after the downing of MH17, the world still awaits Russia's acknowledgement of its role", the draft copy of the statement read, according to Foreign Policy. "It is time for Russia to cease its callous disinformation campaign and fully support the next investigative phase ... and the criminal prosecution of those responsible for the downing of flight MH17."

The statement said that the evidence "conclusively proves" that the missile used to shoot down MH17 came from a Russian military brigade, "was brought into sovereign Ukrainian territory from Russia, was fired from Russia-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine, and was then returned to Russian territory".

Foreign Policy also points out that the U.S. only published the statement Sunday released by the G7 foreign ministers, calling on Russia to provide clarification on the downing of the Malaysia Airlines flight, on Wednesday while other G7 countries did so immediately. According to the newspaper, the statement was only published after Foreign Policy asked the State Department about it and showed a "kind of carelessness about the matter". For example, it said that the G7 foreign ministers "today issued the following statement in advance of the anniversary", even though the U.S. only published it a day after the anniversary. 

When asked about this on Wednesday, a State Department spokesperson told reporters that "the Unites States government has long said that Russia is without a doubt responsible for shooting down MH17. We have put out three statements in two and a half months and we think that that covered it. Our position on Russian culpability for this has not changed. Our policy has not changed."

Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17th, 2014. All 298 people on board, including 196 Dutch, were killed. Investigation by the Dutch Safety Board and the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) so far revealed that the Malaysian Airlines flight was shot down by a BUK missile system from the 53rd Anti-aircraft Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces, fired from a field in Ukraine that was under the control of pro-Russian separatists at the time.

The JIT tracked a convoy of nearly 50 military vehicles, including the BUK that shot down MH17, from a 53rd Brigade parking area in Kursk to the border of Ukraine between June 23rd and 25th, 2014 - a few weeks before MH17 was shot down. In May the Netherlands and Australia officially held Russia accountable for its role in the MH17 disaster - providing the missile. Russia denies any involvement in the disaster, and repeatedly called the investigation biased.