The Abbott government didn’t want the MH17 crisis to be a distraction as it hosted a G20 trade summit, but the tragedy was present nonetheless.
A dark, tragic cloud hung over the G20 summit in Sydney as senior government ministers from the world’s richest nations got together to talk trade.
The MH17 disaster and the escalating diplomatic crisis with Russia loomed large all day Saturday, with delegates offering each other their condolences as they tried to plough on with the agenda.
As president of the G20 this year, Australia was keen to move things along and not allow the destruction of the ill-fated plane in eastern Ukraine to distract from the task at hand.
“There was a sombre mood I think in regard to that terrible event, and it did affect I suspect for a while the sort of mood in the room,” Trade Minister Andrew Robb told reporters after chairing the event.
“But we all had a job to do and got on with it.”
All eyes were on Russian minister Alexei Ulyukayev, the Russian minister summoned for an unexpected meeting with Prime Minister Tony Abbott in the afternoon.
Mr Abbott had spoken to US President Barack Obama and other leaders in the wake of the attack that left nearly 300 people – including 28 Australians and eight permanent residents – but not Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop – who is flying to New York to spearhead a campaign for an independent, UN-backed investigation into the disaster – had also been unsuccessful in speaking to her Russian counterpart.
News that bodies were still lying in the open two days after the attack, and suspected pro-Russia militants had fired on an international monitoring team trying to preserve the crash site proved too much.
Mr Abbott called a snap meeting with the Russian envoy, telling him Australia expected nothing less than full co-operation from Moscow for a “full and fearless” investigation.
“Our objective is to ensure that for the dead – and for the living – dignity, respect and justice,” he told reporters in Sydney.
Mr Ulyukayev assured the prime minister he would take Australia’s message directly to Mr Putin, but the standoff with Moscow is only just warming up.
Russia has already slammed as “unacceptable” Mr Abbott’s suggestion that pro-Russia separatists were likely responsible for the deadly attack, using weaponry provided by Russia.
The prime minister wasn’t backing away a day later, saying the evidence was clear.
“The idea that Russia can wash its hands of responsibility because this happened in Ukrainian airspace just does not stand serious scrutiny,” he said.
He also hinted that Mr Putin’s attendance at November’s G20 summit would hinge on Russia’s unequivocal support for an investigation, saying Australia would wait and see what next unfolded.
“Australia is a self-respecting country,” he told reporters in Sydney on Saturday.
“Visitors to this country are people who have done the right thing by this country.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten declared Labor would fully support barring the controversial leader from the G20, while Queensland premier Campbell Newman said Mr Putin would not be welcome in his home state if he did not co-operate.