EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Holding Russia Responsible for MH17
DATE: 1 pm – 2 pm, July 17th, 2019
VENUE: Committee Room 12, House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA, United Kingdom
SPEAKERS: Natalia Galibarenko, Hon Alexander Downer
EVENT CHAIR: Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon MP
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: Good afternoon, it’s one o’clock and welcome to our meeting. And let me congratulate the Henry Jackson Society for organising such a meeting and thank you all for attending it. It is five years on and extremely important to remember the flight of MH17, and in my view it is important that this is more than a memorial to the 298 fellow citizens who lost their lives. I see this only as a milestone on the pathway to obtaining justice for all those who died. I believe we owe it to them and to their families to establish the definitive truth, to identify who was individually responsible and indeed who may have licenced or authorized or otherwise directed this despicable act, and to hold all those identified accountable, and I pay tribute to the diligence and painstaking work of the investigation led by our friends in the Netherlands. This atrocity holds a particular resonance for me; it occurred only on my third full day in office as Defence Secretary, and as it happens, and I think it’s no secret now, our defence intelligence analysts were able to very quickly establish that the airliner has indeed been shot down. They were able to establish the trajectory of the missile, and they were able to establish remarkably quickly the movement of missile launchers in and out of the only point from which the missile could have been fired. So there is no doubt in my mind that this was a deliberate act and part of a series of deliberately worsening behaviours not least on the part of Russia. I had seen up until that point worsening behaviours over a period of years — of course the violation of the Budapest Memorandum and the sovereignty of Ukraine itself — but the breach of a series of international agreements, leading up to of course the breach of the Convention of Chemical and Biological Weapons that we saw here on our soil by the use of Novichok. But what was also apparent to me before I introduce our other guests: not simply the link back to a pattern of behaviour but a much more deliberate attempt unlike previous breaches to obfuscate the truth and frustrate the search for identifying who was responsible. And we are seeing now from the Russian state a much bolder and brasher campaign of misinformation – no longer what we used to call maskirovka, or pure deception, but what is actually now vranyo, vranyo in the sense that we know they’re lying, they know that we know they’re lying, but they go on lying anyway. And that is why I don’t believe we should rest until we establish a faster truth in this matter and that we do call out those who were probably responsible and see those held to account more properly. I recall Bulgakov in that wonderful book The Master and Margarita, “The tongue may hide the truth but the eyes never.” I hope that our eyes will not and continue to remained focus on this dreadful event until it is properly explained and the people responsible properly held to account, we should go on meeting like this today. Now that’s all I wanted to say, but I am joined here at the top table by her Excellency the Ambassador of Ukraine and now I would like to invite her to say a few words.
Ambassador Natalia Galibarenko: Thank you so much Michael and good afternoon to everybody and thank you for coming on a very hot summer day in London but you know the occasion of why we are meeting here is of course a tragic one. We are facing this fifth anniversary with some good news. After five years, we know the cause, the reason, the process; we know the factual perpetrators. What we don’t know still is presumably, say, that we know but we don’t see any way of how to prosecute these people and bring them to justice, and that is the major problem still on the table. I will not be going into details of the crash of MH17 five years ago – I am certain you all know the story. But for me it’s quite striking that all these five years after the tragedy, these five years were full of lies – very big lies, small lies, false and sometimes clumsy constructed theories made by the Russian Federation and made by the Russian trolls and spread on the Internet, suggesting that MH17 was shot down by some kind of miracle magic Ukrainian military plane and even concluded with a very cynical theory that from the beginning it was a plane full of human corpses and Ukraine with the West just stationed everything just to blame Russia for the tragedy. But now I think we can put aside all these conspiracy theories, the job that was done by the Joint Investigation Team was enormous; they have done tremendous work over these five years; comparing satellite images, listening to phone conversations, checking different theories and facts, actually reforming the shape of the plane in the Netherlands. And now we know the truth, we need to take the next steps. So, not only about the perpetrators – who I can predict will never leave the territory of the Russian Federation – but also about the wider circle of people who were shaping the plan and who commanded others to commit this tragedy. So on the one hand, it’s positive news that we have the legislative tools to bring Russia to justice. One of these tools is the European Convention (1959) about Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters and Russia is a party to that convention. So in theory, we can expect the Russian Federation to cooperate, to provide us with necessary facts and other materials otherwise there is the possibility to call upon international bodies to do this and to impose its will on the Russian Federation. We have also the Joint Claim already in the European Court of Human Rights which was made on behalf of the relatives of victims. And this claim, which was registered last year, is not about money as some Russian media is trying to depict it. This is about establishing truth and obtaining justice which is the final goal of us all. We as Ukraine are also trying to bring Russia to justice through our own international processes in the court in The Hague. We are using the international convention about preventing the financing of terrorism, using the MH17 case as a confirmation that Russia was in fact financing terrorists and supporting international terrorism which led to a such a great number of human victims. However, let me be frank with you, after the poisoning of Litvinenko, the poisoning of Skripal, I am afraid that our international legislative instruments will not be enough in the end. We should be able to impose the will and the decision of the investigation team. So, the good news is that Dutch legislation foresees that there is no obligation for the physical presence in court of those who are accused of perpetrating this attack if there is enough evidence that they did indeed commit the crime. However, looking through Russian media and Mr. Putin’s press conference after he met the Dutch Prime Minister, there is very little positive to see – they are lying about the lack of evidence. There is a Russian version about what happened five years ago and I do not see how their behaviour will ever change. As a Ukrainian during these five years of war in the Donbass and after losing Crimea, I think we know better than others that if you show any readiness for compromise or concessions, the Russians will immediately perceive this as a weakness. There can be no constructive cooperation or concession from their side. They will only use this as your weakness and try to do something even more aggressive. So again, the big job has been done. But still justice should be established from this process. Also, in reference to other recent events, we recently witnessed how Russia was admitted back to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. The most outrageous aspect of this is that they did absolutely nothing to implement the commitments or the resolution adopted by the Council of Europe. The only reason why they returned was for their financial resources. So in exchange for the Russian membership fee, and also the fee for the two years when the Russian delegation was excluded from the parliamentary assembly, this is unfortunately the price for our Western colleagues of bringing back Russia without demanding anything in return. They are having to pretend that nothing has changed. Our delegation was only supported by a few of them in Strasbourg, including the UK actually, which I really appreciate. I really praise the position of this parliament sitting in Strasbourg and defending not only Ukraine, but defending the common values and the reputation of the Council of Europe. Why am I talking about the Council of Europe here? You know, if we admitted the return of the Russian Federation without any demands or requirements, how can we really be persistent in demanding that Russia takes responsibility in bringing the perpetrators to justice? Why are we giving them concessions for nothing? So again, Russia will take any compromise or concession it is offered to be a weakness. We need to be thinking about our tough response at this point. Thank you.
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: Thank you Ambassador. I am now going to invite comments from Alexander Downer, formerly the Australian High Commissioner in London, before that Australia’s Foreign Minister and currently Executive Chair of the International School for Government at King’s College London. Alexander…
Alexander Downer: Well thank you Michael and Your Excellency. Ladies and Gentlemen, we all remember what we were doing when we first heard about this tragedy this very day five years ago. It had a particular impact on my country Australia where 38 of the victims were either Australian citizens or in some cases permanent residents. They were all people who call Australia home. And a number of these victims were families and young children returning from holidays in Europe; some of the victims including many of the Dutch victims were people heading to Melbourne to attend a conference on the prevention of AIDS. So the shooting down of this aircraft created a sense of outrage in Australia – but we took two positions. The first was that we need a very rapid humanitarian response, access to the site, and an attempt to recover the victims’ bodies and repatriation to wherever those victims had come from and obviously identification before that. So the humanitarian response was the first priority. The second priority was the implementation of something that we talk about all the time, and that is the rule of international law. So everything that was subsequently done, and I think by the way has been very well done by the international community, was entirely consistent with an example of the application of international law. Within four days of the plane being shot down, the Australian Foreign Minister at the time – Julie Bishop – was a non-permanent member of the Security Council. She was at the security council in New York and guided through Security Council resolution 2166 and you’ll recall that that not only demanded an investigation, but demanded that those who were responsible for the incident be held to account and called on all states – which of course includes Russia – to cooperate fully. That Security Council resolution was passed unanimously. It’s very important to remember that everything that’s happened since was based on that very important Security Council resolution. You will recall that there followed two investigations: the technical investigation which established very quickly that the plane had indeed been shot down by a missile and there was the second and very important joint investigation team (JIT) made up of investigative officers – essentially police investigators from a number of countries including Australia, the Netherlands and Malaysia, Ukraine and Belgium. They have done a fantastic job. They established that it was a Buk missile (an anti-aircraft missile) that shot down this aircraft from the 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade of the Russian Federation. They identified four people who they regarded as culpable and on the 19th of June this year announced within Dutch jurisdiction (Ukraine had handed over jurisdiction for the purposes of prosecution) that these four Russians would be prosecuted. And that, by the way, is something that we very warmly welcome. I really want to dwell on the point that this was a very strong assertion of international law. And while it won’t bring back the lives of those who were so cruelly murdered (and it is true, it is going to be pretty hard going to get those four people prosecuted before a court in the Netherlands, I think we accept that’s not going to be an easy task) this does demonstrate that if in the international community you behave as reprehensively as clearly the Russians did in this case, there will be a huge price to pay. Of course for Russia, there has been a huge reputational price. As Michael was saying, the lies that have been told and the disinformation that has been put out there have done them absolutely no good because we, the allied countries, have the capability to be able to work out precisely what had happened: the trajectory of the missile, where the missile was fired from, what sort of battery was used to fire the missile. Eventually the investigation team were able to work out the four people who they believe were worthy of prosecution. So for all the dissemination and propaganda that Russia put out there, this was damaging to Russia’s reputation. It damages the integrity of the Russian government and it should remind Russians that the standing of their country has been severely damaged and it will continue to be damaged if they don’t follow Security Council Resolution 2166 and hand over those four people who the JIT have identified and the Dutch prosecutors have said they want to proceed to prosecute. I think we can only continue to work on the Russians to make sure the four are handed over, and in the meantime, provide support to the Dutch and the Dutch prosecutors. The Australian government is providing 50 million dollars over four years to the Dutch to help with the cost of the prosecution. We can all have great confidence in the Dutch judicial system and their capacity to respond effectively.
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: Thank you Alexander. Now just before we open up for comments, questions and so on to the floor, I’d like to invite Dr. Foxall from the Henry Jackson Society to add a few comments of his own.
Dr. Andrew Foxall: Thank you, Sir Michael. If I may I’ll just make two brief points. The first, is to dispel this myth or misunderstanding that the destruction of MH17 was in any way an accident. I think the strength of the JIT’s work is to establish the timeline of events and that is such. The Buk surface to air missile was moved to the Russian side of the Russian-Ukrainian border and held there in place for a number of hours. It was then moved to directly underneath the flight path of MH17. During that time, Russia closed the flight information region on its side of the border, the Rostov flight information region, so that any planes on the Russian side of the border did not accidentally or temporarily drift into the flight path of MH17. It stayed under MH17’s flight path for about 20 minutes. It then fired a single missile and was then immediately transported back to Russia. That is, in my opinion, what the Joint Investigation Team have established. So, the culpability of the Russian Federation in spite of – as I think Alexander and Sir Michael argued very strongly – their attempts to confuse and distract, that clearly has not worked.
My second point is that MH17 was, I think, an extension to the outside world of the sort of behaviour that has long been evident inside of Russia’s borders. By which I mean that one of the defining traits of Vladimir Putin’s time in power – as the Ambassador and I argued today in a piece in the Times – one of the defining traits of Putin’s regime is a blatant if not reckless disregard for human life and in particular, civilian life. That disregard of course is evident in Chechnya, in Beslan, in Moscow with the theatre siege and in the destruction of MH17. That behaviour was continued in Syria and more recently in Salisbury as well. There is a line of continuity between Russia’s actions; it has been in a state of permanent war since the 1970s with the exception of one or two years in the 1990s. Russia, in spite of the various actions taken by the West – most obviously in the imposition of sanctions since the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014 – clearly believes that it can act with impunity. And as Sir Michael suggested in his opening remarks it is really for us in the West to show that it can’t. I’ll finish there.
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: Andrew, thank you very much. And thank you for being so concise with your remarks. We now have at least 30 minutes for other comments from the floor. Who would like to go first? It would be helpful if you could tell us who you are.
Speaker 1: My name’s Fidel Pelbeck and I’m a [inaudible]. Mr Downer, you said there’ll be a huge price to pay, what exactly have you got in mind?
Alexander Downer: Well I think these are not short term prices to pay, these are medium term prices to pay. The damage that has been done to Russia’s reputation, the confidence that international partners have in dealing with Russia, the capacity of Russia to act effectively as a full member of the international community and to gain all the things that can be gained from that plus of course the impact of sanctions…I think it’s very hard to calculate but I think that is a very high price to pay. It’s a higher price than people realise. You might think, why don’t we just slap a trade ban on Russia or have no aircraft flying to Russia, and that’s something complicated to do in the first place. In the second place, it would be too excessive and on the other hand, for a country to succeed in the era of globalisation, it needs to be able to fully engage, and Russia can’t. It’s because of this, the Skripal attack and so on, it is this sort of behaviour and their response to this sort of behaviour which is going to limit their capacity to take advantage of the benefits that might go their way in the international community.
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: Ambassador, a short word to add onto that?
Ambassador Natalia Galibarenko: As I mentioned in my remarks, there is no chance that the perpetrators will be brought to justice unfortunately. For one reason I mentioned, and another reason is a provision in the Russian constitution that Russia is not in a position to transmit its own citizens to other countries for trial, court process or anything. Secondly, when I mentioned also that the relatives of the victims filed a suit seeking compensation in the European Court of Human Rights, there is also a provision in the Russian Constitution – a very instrumental one – that Russia does not recognise any decisions of any international courts outside Russia. Thank you.
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: Yes, Sir.
Speaker 2: Thank you very much, my name is [inaudible] Grant and I was supposedly the expert in the studio of LBC radio throughout the time MH17 was shot down. Before I went to the studio after I received the call to join them, somebody in the room said ‘it’s a Buk missile’ – literally within three hours. Two short questions: first one mainly for Mr Downer, what has happened about the truly extraordinary statement of the Prime Minister of Malaysia when the indictments were first raised? The BBC did comment on this, and said, is his reticence about this related to the reported [inaudible] arms trade for Russian [inaudible]. Has he rode back on this statement, which came just after the indictments? The second one is, what questions do you think the non-Russian classmates at British universities and expensive private schools should put in the new academic year to all the gilded pupils from Russia about MH17? The questions that get them to look in the eye and reply [inaudible].
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: Ok, thank you. Alexander, will you take the first one now?
Alexander Downer: Well as a former Australian Foreign Minister for some years I had lots of experience of Dr. Mahathir, and he is not somebody who is going to roll back from some position, that’s not going to happen. However, I draw your attention to a couple of things. First of all, on the twentieth of June, so that’s less than a month ago, the Malaysian Minister of Foreign Affairs issued a press release reaffirming Malaysia’s commitment to the JIT and calling on all parties to cooperate with the JIT process. We all very much welcomed that and Malaysia also made a statement on the 19th of June at the Joint Intelligence Team press conference that I referred to earlier, saying that Malaysia was committed to the JIT and to seeking justice for the victims. They also said that the JIT findings were based on extensive investigations and legal research. In Australia, we know Malaysia very well and we in particular know Dr. M so I think the best way to put it is that at this stage, the Malaysians are very much on track.
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: Thank you. Your question, I don’t know if anyone else wants to comment on that…I hope we will make it clear to all our Russian visitors and those who are in our schools or wherever, that this murder is not going to be forgotten, that outside or inside the European Union this country will continue to apply sanctions in respect of a number of breaches of international agreements – in particular the breach of the sovereignty of Ukraine those sanctions will continue. Secondly, while we have no quarrel with the people of Russia, we should and will I hope get much tougher about Russia’s access to the City of London and its finance and the extent to which that finance can fuel Russia’s military machine. Thirdly, we will not hesitate to use the new Magnitsky legislation where we can identify individuals in the chain of command many steps away from the missile launcher itself. We will not hesitate to use that legislation to name those particular individuals, to freeze their accounts and to curb their travel.
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: Let’s get some more questions in. I saw some more hands. Yes sir.
Speaker 3: My name is [inaudible] and I am a student from the University of Manchester and I just wanted to ask, regarding holding Russia accountable. We know that most foreign countries understand that Russia is guilty and we don’t need to go far and see how the…..[inaudible] rather than blaming Russian people perhaps it makes more sense to prevent these acts from being committed in the future. But equally, we have to bring Russians out of the bubble of propaganda, so my second question is related to propaganda. Thanks to the British government that Russia Today was banned in the United Kingdom, how should we deal with Russian propaganda [inaudible]…
Ambassador Natalia Galibarenko: Maybe I will start, with your question about how we prevent Russia from doing what it keeps doing. So, I mean, I can be quite realistic about this. You can prevent if you completely and fully understand the logic. And what is the advantage of Russian behaviour? They are absolutely not logical. So that’s why it’s so difficult sometimes to prevent and to even foresee their actions. The Skripal case is a very good example in that sense. We could never have foreseen that Russia would retaliate against an ex-officer who is already out of practice and out of work for some personal reasons to publicly punish people who made their position against the Russian Federation. So this is one point. Be ready at all fronts…it sounds good but this is not practical. So I think what we are doing now during this year is quite good; deepening cooperation between intelligence services, deepening cooperation between relevant authorities, exchanging information, satellite images and so on. This has proven to be quite effective. We may not be revealing everything in Ukraine about this cooperation but believe me this is quite effective because we are also taking on board the experience we have gained during these years in our relations with Russia.
And of course, countering Russian propaganda should be our priority. Not only Ukrainians should be warriors at that front but also the West should understand how to counteract what Russia is saying. Some time ago we already agreed that Russians are creating a parallel reality. And if you respond, you can also create a parallel reality it would be equal at that point. So telling the truth is the most effective instrument of countering what Russia is doing. The MH17 case is actually a very vivid example of that.
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: Thank you, Alexander…
Alexander Downer: Well I think there are a couple of things to say. First of all, what we’ve been able to demonstrate over the last five years is that Russia can’t get away with these kinds of activities without being found out – or as they’re likely to say nowadays in America – ‘called out’. So they were found out over MH17 and they have been exposed as lying over what happened. It’s hugely humiliating for them. As they were over the Skripals as well. In the case of MH17 I think they thought that they could just blame it on the Ukrainians at one stage. They started off by saying that it was the Ukrainians who did it, they thought that would be enough and that no one would be able to prove whether that was right or wrong. Well they were wrong. It was proven. And the same goes for the Skripals – I mean you know a clever use of Novichok and nobody would ever find out who really did it – well they were caught out. This, I think I said earlier, is hugely damaging to the Russian government. Now I say the Russian government because the second point I’d like to make is that every country has its politics. I think we all know that living here, and Russia does as well. The important thing is not to blame the Russian people but to blame the Russian government and the Russian hierarchy. But to work on the Russian people and to help them to understand that these sorts of activities by their government are damaging the standing of their whole country and they will lose advantages they could otherwise take from engagement with the world. But it’s really important – and I’m guilty of doing this right here in Committee Room 12 in saying ‘the Russians did this’ or ‘the Russians did that’ – it’s the Russian government. It’s not your average, every day Russian living in the suburbs of Moscow or St. Petersburg. It’s the Russian government who have been behaving in this way. And right from the top they create a culture where it’s seen as normal to behave in this kind of deceptive way. Well, what we’ve established is that they can’t get away with it. We’ll always find them out. We will always find them out and we will always hunt them down.
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: Andrew…
Dr. Andrew Foxall: Thank you. Two points in response to your question. The first, I suppose, would just be a point of correction. RT isn’t banned in the UK – some people would argue that it should be – but RT isn’t banned, it’s on the 16th and 17th floor of Millbank Tower just down the road. The second point is that where MH17 is concerned it’s not just that the situation surrounding the destruction that the Russian Government has sought to hide from its people. You may recall that during the early stages of the war in Ukraine which, properly understood, was an invasion of Ukraine, the Russian Government passed a law making it illegal to report on the deaths of military personnel even during times of peace – and that followed some wonderful investigative journalism by Russian journalists who were reporting on graves turning up in peripheral or marginal provincial Russian cities or towns that attested to the presence in eastern Ukraine of regular Russian personnel. Again, we talk about – and I’m guilty of this – ‘Russian backed separatists’, many of these people were regular Russian troops. The Ukrainian Government for obvious reasons often talks about ‘terrorists’, the language is important.
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: I’d add two things to this. First, when we talk about ‘calling out’, we have to call out more rapidly. We have to have a faster truth, I think. And we have to look again at this. If we had the information about the Buk missile launcher, we had it very early. Now there were reasons we couldn’t publish it straight away because of the sources of that information and so on. But that proved damaging to us. It gave Russia time to spin this fabrication about alternative theories about the downing of the airliner. We’ve got to somehow, without crippling the way in which we get information, we’ve got to look at ways of getting a faster truth out there to combat the propaganda machine. And secondly, in these international organisations and agreements, we’ve got to not let people get away with breaches without consequences. We’ve done that now with the chemical weapons after Salisbury, they did that in the Convention by actually calling out. And I think we’ve got to look again at some of these international agreements which have almost atrophied, where Russia is clearly in breach but nobody actually does anything about it. We’ve got to more clearly link some of the sanctions that we apply to those specific breaches. Now, yes.
Speaker 4: [inaudible] law professor with Pepperdine University. Dr Foxall mentioned that there was a warning to Russian planes not to go into that airspace. I’m wondering if you could say a few more words; was that a warning to Russian military, to Russian civilians, what is the evidence for that and does that indicate premeditation to specifically to down a civilian aircraft. And in addition, is there evidence that this was directed from Putin and does that indicate that he is specifically seeking out to down a civilian airliner? And what would be the motivation for Russia to do that?
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: Andrew?
Dr. Andrew Foxall: Thank you. I’ll take the second part of the question first if I may. I don’t think there’s any direct culpability or line of connection – at least not that I know of – between Putin and the team, the four individuals who we believe who accompanied the missile and one of whom pressed the fire button. But the JIT is looking into that. Where the flight information region is concerned, this is something that the JIT have established. Alexander spoke earlier about the press conference that was held in June, I would point you to that and the report that the JIT released. They established that the Russian civil aviation closed the Rostov flight information region for a period immediately preceding and immediately proceeding the destruction of MH17 and their understanding of that was such that no flights on the Russian side of the border would accidentally stray into the flight path of MH17. They also established that if you were operating the Buk missile system, that the shape of the aircrafts on the infrared system would have clearly identified that this was a civilian passenger jet rather than a Ukrainian cargo plane which was one of the first claims of course. Mr. Girkin was one of the three Russians, one of the four individuals – three of whom were Russian one of whom is Ukrainian – that were identified by the JIT as having participated. Mr Girkin immediately following the destruction of MH17 claimed on the behalf of the Russian backed separatists that they had downed a Ukrainian cargo plane. He made this claim on his Vkontakte – the Russian version of Facebook – social media profile. He then subsequently rolled back from that, although it’s interesting I would note, that on Tass – one of Russia’s main media websites – an article was written based on his claim that it was a Ukrainian military cargo plane that was destroyed. It is still on Tass’s website today. You can go on Tass’s website, look at today’s date from 2014 and you will see the claim that it was a Ukrainian cargo plane that was destroyed not MH17.
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: And the motivation?
Dr. Andrew Foxall: Well, I don’t know. But what’s interesting is that the narrative that Mr Putin was pressing immediately before MH17 and actually in press conferences immediately following it, was that ‘accidents’ like this happen during times of war, and that this is evidence, further evidence – as if it were needed – that actually the West and Russia ought to get together to address the so-called ‘civil war’ in eastern Ukraine. That’s not to suggest of course that Putin himself is culpable, but it’s interesting how the narrative that the Kremlin was putting forward changed after the destruction.
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: Ambassador?
Ambassador Natalia Galibarenko: Just only one sentence, because you were asking about the confirmation of this closure of the air corridor. So the confirmation here is very obvious and it is factual. Because any air administration should issue a specific document about closing the air corridor. This document should be copied every time to the international organisation of civil aviation. So everybody should know from all the air companies, they should know that for whatever specific reason, for this time period, this air corridor, all countries should be aware that it has been closed. So this is the rule that circulates in the air companies about flying and that’s why Russians cannot say that that is not true. This air corridor over the Rostov region was closed for unexplained reasons so that’s why they were absolutely sure that all passenger flights will be crossing the area over Donbass.
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: Thank you. Ok, let’s get some more in. Yes sir.
Speaker 5: Ian Bond from the Centre for European Reform. I wanted to take issue actually, with Mr. Downer, on the question of whether the Russians are feeling humiliated that we don’t believe their stories. It seems to me that the aim has never been to persuade us that they’re right, it has been to sow confusion and that’s working quite well. I have just come across a tweet from a former Conservative Member of Parliament, which says ‘MH17 investigations are as secure and safe as the recent political report from OPCW about [inaudible] and Syria. The Russian government have got a point, and even Dr Mahathir Mohamad agrees with the Russians’. The story is embedding itself in a way that it really shouldn’t and I don’t think that our efforts have been [inaudible] at countering them and I fear that the costs for Russia are not rising but diminishing. President Putin at the G20 was able to have live action meetings with the [inaudible]. But I would like to ask the panel, what can we do to increase the costs to the Russian government because it seems to me that at the moment those costs are all too varied.
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: Thank you. Alexander first.
Alexander Downer: Well, you do misrepresent me. I think that this incident has been hugely damaging to Russia around the world. I can’t speak for a former Conservative MP but I reckon there’d be thousands of former Conservative MPs, wouldn’t there Michael, in this world?
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: Several hundred
Alexander Downer: I would say, so what? So one person tweets that…but I don’t think that’s what most people think. It’s not what the British Government or the Australian Government or the Dutch Government or the Belgian Government – other governments directly affected – and it’s not what the Malaysian Government – whatever you’re saying about Dr. Mahathir – one scratches the ground to try and find a quote here from a former MP and, you know, Dr. Mahathir is Dr. Mahathir, he makes a lot of comments. I’m careful what I say for fear of doing the Australian Government’s reputation some damage, but he says a lot of things…I think against that, is a huge body of support for the JIT, for the results of the JIT and I think outside of a very small clique of countries – and some of them are important countries – that have geopolitical reasons to collaborate and to work with Russia, I think that Russia’s reputation is very poor at the moment. I actually have to say that they almost, although maybe not Beijing or Tehran, but almost everywhere you go in this world Russia’s name is a bad name. And I think this incident has done Russia huge damage. This is not a country which is just booming away. I often point out that Russia has 150 million people and has a GDP the same as Australia’s, which I don’t know what that says, but that does suggest that it’s not a huge economy. So I just don’t think they’re doing very well in the world. So there might be somebody that has a different view, that’s what happens in liberal societies, but it’s not what most people think.
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: Ok. Regardless of whether the price that Russia is paying is rising or falling, I certainly think we should be increasing it and looking at ways to do so. I hope that the next government which takes office next week will look again at how we can, here in the United Kingdom, play our part in increasing it. And that means being very sure of how we continue to apply our sanctions after Brexit, what the mechanism is then for us continuing to lead on sanctions as we have done. Secondly, looking again as I said, at the access of the Russian elite to the City of London and the finance that is leaking from here back into the Russian military machine. And thirdly, in making proper use of the Magnitsky legislation where we can identify individuals higher up the chain of command. So I think there is plenty that the new government, when it takes office at the end of next week, can do to look again at the price and make sure it increases. Ambassador do you want to say anything on that?
Ambassador Natalia Galibarenko: Just one sentence. I know for sure what can’t help – it won’t help if we will be trying to encourage people to people contacts with the Russian Federation’s population because we should encourage them and so on and try to find ways of compromise. I am completely sure that it cannot help if we would be doing the same approach as the European Union for example after the situation with our sailors in Azov. When we were suggesting more than 100 people to be put under the sanctions, including people in trials, judges, everybody, prosecutors who were connected with the whole false process of judging our sailors. And what we received, like eight people, who are serving on some of the Russian fleet ships. I mean these people, they don’t obviously care what kind of sanctions would be introduced against them. So that’s for sure not a reasonable approach.
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: Ok, we’ve got five minutes remaining before we have to give back the room. But there’s a question at the back there.
Speaker 6: My name’s Malcom Payne my question is for the Ambassador. First of all congratulations to your special forces or whoever it was who succeeded I believe in snatching Vladimir Tsemakh from Russian occupied Donbass region. I wondered if there’s any chance to bring him to trial, and if there is a plan to bring him to trial, what he will be on trial for. And just as a little subnote there’s just a one word which I haven’t heard in the discussion so far, there’s been a lot of talk about open truth and countering propaganda and I wanted to mention Bellingcat and its fantastic role in publicising and documenting in particular the movements of the missile from Kursk into –
Ambassador Natalia Galibarenko: – Yeah I absolutely agree about the role of Bellingcat. Because we were receiving I think valuable portions of very independent and professional information when for some reasons, as Michael mentioned, the government were not in a position to share with the public some details of the investigation. As you mentioned this man who was arrested unfortunately I cannot share with you any additional information for the simple reason that I just don’t know. So from today the Central Intelligence Office of Ukraine they made public that the whole proceeding will be in a special secret regime and as soon as they will be able to share with us some details for sure they will.
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: Andrew, do you want to share anything?
Dr. Andrew Foxall: Only just to echo what you said about Bellingcat – they set the standard for open source intelligence analysis not only, although perhaps we know them because of their fantastic work on MH17, but it’s not just MH17 either, it’s Skripal, it’s Syria and across the board. We haven’t mentioned them today but they are a fantastic organisation.
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: Good, Polish Ambassador, your excellency…
Ambassador Arkady Rzegocki: First of all, I would like to thank you for organising this public event it’s very important to remember, it’s very important to know the truth. And it’s very important to collaborate and for sure we can do more and such meetings will really help us in the future to make some forward against this [inaudible] so thank you once again. What I should say, I am here because it’s an important [inaudible]…
Rt Hon Sir Michael Fallon: Well thank you Ambassador for returning on behalf of Poland and thank you for what you’ve just said. Fine, we’re going to call a halt now, but before we do break up I would like on your behalf to thank our panellists Andrew Foxall, Alexander Downer and above all the Ambassador, Her Excellency Galibarenko from Ukraine, thank you very much indeed.