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Australian PM Tony Abbott to ‘shirtfront’ Putin at G20 over MH17

Jamie Smyth

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has vowed to "shirtfront" Vladimir Putin over the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 in Ukraine if the Russian leader attends the G20 leaders' summit next month in Brisbane.

Mr Abbott, who will host the summit because Australia holds the G20 presidency, said on Monday he would have "the toughest conversation of all" with Mr Putin about the downing of the flight, which resulted in the deaths of 26 Australian citizens.

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Look, I'm going to shirtfront Mr Putin – you bet I am," he said. "I'm going to be saying to Mr Putin: Australians were murdered and they were murdered by Russian-backed rebels using Russian-supplied equipment.

Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott
Mohd Rasfan | AFP | Getty Images

"We accept that you didn't want this to happen, but we now demand that you fully co-operate with the criminal investigation, and if the criminal investigation identifies suspects that you have some influence over, they've got to be produced and justice has got to be done."

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"Shirtfront"refers to an aggressive front-on charge designed to knock an opponent to the ground in Australian rules football.

All 298 people aboard MH17 died when the aircraft came down while flying over eastern Ukraine. Kiev and the west have blamed Russian-backed rebels for shooting it down with an advanced surface-to-air missile, while Moscow and the militants have pointed the finger at Ukrainian forces.

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The initial findings by air crash investigators that "high energy objects" penetrated the Boeing 777 from the outside are consistent with the type of damage that would be caused by a surface-to-air missile. But the report stopped short of concluding it was shot down.

Mr Abbott made the comments following confirmation that Australia would invite Mr Putin to the summit, where efforts to boost growth would be discussed amid concerns about the health of the global economy. There had been calls from some Australian politicians and families of victims to bar Mr Putin from attending the summit because of the role played by Russia in backing rebels in eastern Ukraine, who have been blamed for the attack.

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Bill Shorten, leader of the opposition Labor party, said on Monday Mr Putin should show some conscience and not attend the meeting because he would be "rubbing our faces in it."

When asked if he should not invite Mr Putin, Mr Abbott said it was not Australia's role to determine who was a member of the G20.

Australia has been among the most outspoken critics of Russia in the wake of the downing of MH17. It also played a key role in securing a UN resolution calling on armed rebels to allow international investigators unfettered access to the crash site. Mr Abbott has been widely praised at home for taking a tough stance over the shooting down of MH17.

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Mr Putin's hardline credentials are well established following Russian military campaigns in Chechnya and Georgia.

Russia's foreign ministry has denied the country had any role in the shooting down of MH17 and in August strongly criticized Australian statements following the loss of MH17.

"It seems that, burdened by their own oversized ambitions, some members of the current Australian government have completely lost an adequate picture of the developments in Ukraine and around it," the Russian foreign ministry said.