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Andrey Kortunov

Ph.D. in History, Academic Director of the Russian International Affairs Council, RIAC Member

Andrey Kortunov, the Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council discusses criticism of President Vladimir Putin's support for pro-Russian militants in Ukraine who are accused of shooting down Malaysia flight MH 17 , and Putin's failure to insist that the crash area be secured and international investigators be given unfettered access.

EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: Back to our top story now: the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 which has so enraged the international community.

But Russians are getting an entirely different version of events, including one allegation that it was a Ukrainian military aircraft which blew the Malaysian plane out of the sky.

Joining us now from Moscow is Andrey Kortunov, director general of the Russian International Affairs Council.

Good evening or good day to you and thanks very much for joining us.


EMMA ALBERICI: As far as the international community is concerned, the only explanation for the crash of MH17 is that it was shot down by pro-Russian separatists using Russian equipment. Is that a view shared by many in Russia?

ANDREY KORTUNOV: I'm afraid not. I think that if you take the official line here in Moscow it is that Russia, first of all, did not supply the secessionist forces in east Ukraine with any types of weaponry that can be used to ground an aircraft at such an altitude.

And second, allegedly there are at least pieces of circumstantial evidence that suggest that the plane was really grounded by either the Ukrainian army or some semi-military units that are associated with the Ukrainian army.

I think that for the Russian government it's a big gamble because if indeed it turns out that the plane was shot by the separatist forces, Russia will have to reconsider its position towards these forces. However, if it somehow turns out that the plane was grounded by those fighting for Kiev, definitely the Kremlin expects to get a major diplomatic and propaganda victory.

EMMA ALBERICI: Let's unpick all of that a little bit at a time. Having signed the UN resolution, do you now expect Vladimir Putin and his government to cooperate fully with this plane crash investigation?

ANDREY KORTUNOV: I do hope. Though, of course, the devil is in the details and we still don't know to what extent the Russian government can exercise influence on people in the field. After all, it is not Russian territory: it is territory controlled by separatists in east Ukraine. I think that Moscow can have some influence on them but it's not clear how much influence Moscow can exercise.

EMMA ALBERICI: So when we hear about intelligence suggesting that military objects, equipment and money and so on is flowing from that border with Russia: are you saying they're not credible reports that there is this flow of equipment and money from Russia going to the separatists?

ANDREY KORTUNOV: Well, you know, I think that definitely the Russian-Ukrainian border has been porous and definitely there is a flow of people, funding and, arguably, some types of weaponry.

It's a question whether the Russian government actually tolerates this flow of various stuff towards the border or it is supporting, in a kind of concerted effort, this types of intervention into the Ukrainian domestic affairs.

Again, the official line in Moscow is that they do not support the secessional forces, that they are trying to block the border. Of course, their position claims that the official position is not accurate, to put it mildly, and that if Putin and other people in the Kremlin really wanted to seal the border, they would have many opportunities to do that.

EMMA ALBERICI: Has anyone independently within Russia been able to determine the authenticity of the radio intercepts that the Ukraine claims to have between separatists and commanders in Russia?

ANDREY KORTUNOV: Well, again, of course you have a political opposition here and they're convinced that there is a large-scale intervention, at least indirect intervention by Russia into the Ukrainian affairs and they are using some circumstantial evidence to prove this point.

However, we also know that on the Ukrainian side there were many statements assuming that there is a large-scale direct intervention with Russian officers and military personnel. However, at least so far we have seen no direct evidence, no direct evidence of Russian officers from the military intelligence captured by the Ukrainian authorities.

So there is still a grey zone. We still don't know to what extent Russia is engaged. And of course one should also keep in mind that the situation is very volatile. For example, you know, some people have dual citizenship: they are Russians and Ukrainians at the same time. Some people are used to cross the border. Until recently we did not have any kind of formal restrictions on crossing the Russian-Ukrainian border.

And moreover, one should also keep in mind that there are many people in this country, in Russia, who are sympathetic to the course of the Ukrainian separatists. And even without direct orders from the Kremlin, even without additional support coming from Moscow, they would try to get involved because they feel that that's the right thing to do.

EMMA ALBERICI: Do you agree with the former British ambassador to Poland, Charles Crawford, who in the past day has made the point that while the west might not like global surveillance of the type used by Edward Snowden and the NSA, it works in these situations such that Russia and the US will know exactly already what has happened?

ANDREY KORTUNOV: Well, it's hard to tell. But I can assume that there are technical means to bring clarity to this case. And I think that if they really want to put the record straight, they can do that. I'm sure that there are means of technical surveillance. There are satellites. There are, you know, other means of intelligence. So I do hope that we will know the truth pretty soon, provided that everyone really wants to put it straight.

EMMA ALBERICI: If it is proved that Russian-backed separatists are responsible, what are the consequences for Vladimir Putin in terms of both his standing at home and his international relationships? That is: if it's been proved that there was some kind of command from the Kremlin?

ANDREY KORTUNOV: Well, I think that if it is - of course, right now a hypothetical situation - but if it is the case it would put the Kremlin into a very difficult situation. I think that Russia will have to demonstrate that it is not in the same boat with separatists; that it never authorised actions like that; that, basically they don't take orders.

So technically Russia will have to recognise that at least a part of this separatist movement is using terrorist means. Otherwise Russia will itself be exposed to claims that the Russian government supports terrorists directly. It's definitely not what Mr Putin would like to see.

My personal guess is that if it happens, Russia will try to do what it can in order to distance itself from separatists, in order to make sure that it didn't support and will not support such types of actions.

EMMA ALBERICI: What action from the international community is most likely to encourage Russia to do the right thing now? Is it more economic sanctions? Is it diplomatic isolation?

ANDREY KORTUNOV: Well, first of all I think it is really important to provide for an open and comprehensive cooperation on the investigation. We really need to know the truth, no matter what the truth is. And I think this is a major contribution to all of us.

Second, I think that it's important to try to work out some type of coordination, specifically between Russia and the European Union, on economic issues.

Because the point is that neither the European Union nor Russia alone can really rescue Ukraine economically. They need to reach a compromise on energy, on trade, on other important matters. Ukraine is simply too big to be rescued from either the west or the east. So this is something which in my view is quite important.

At the same time, I think that it's important for the west to show its true position on this issue because we keep receiving mixed signals from the west, from various European capitals and from Washington DC. I think it's very important to put it straight and to make sure that the west has a position.

EMMA ALBERICI: Finally, the British government has announced a public inquiry into the 2006 death of Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian dissident who was poisoned in London with radioactive tea. Do you see a link here between the launching of this inquiry and the downing of MH17?

ANDREY KORTUNOV: Well, many in Moscow would say that it's kind of insult to injury; that it's not accidental that this inquiry has started right after the downing of the Malaysian aircraft. And they would argue that British have always kept this card on their sleeve and right now are trying to humiliate Russia even more.

We still don't know the outcomes of this inquiry but definitely it's not likely to make the relations between Moscow and London any easier.

EMMA ALBERICI: Andrey Kortunov, we have to leave it there. We're out of time. Many thanks for joining us.

Source and video: ABC

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