The bodies of flight MH17 victims have begun a long journey back to the Dutch city where they boarded the downed airliner almost five days ago amid continued diplomatic tensions over the 298 deaths.
A UK expert is among international representatives waiting to start the process of identifying the remains when they arrive in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv before being flown on to Amsterdam.
Pro-Russian separatists yesterday agreed to allow 282 bodies recovered from the crash site to be sent there by train before being flown to Amsterdam on a Dutch C130 Hercules after days of global condemnation of their handling of the crash site.
The agreement brokered by Malaysian premier Najib Razak also included handing over the aircraft’s black box recorders and allowing in dependent international investigators safe access to the crash site to begin a full investigation of the incident.
Russia, under intense international pressure over its arming of insurgents blamed by the West for firing a missile which struck the passenger aircraft, last night backed a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in the area to allow a full international inquiry.
But Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond will lead British efforts in Brussels today to persuade European Union counterparts to further ratchet up sanctions on Moscow in an effort to force Russian president Vladimir Putin to change tack.
Downing Street played down the prospect of securing any concrete action to target wider sectors of the Russian economy, such as financial services, energy exports, trade and defence co-operation – something which has been threatened by the EU for several months.
Any new measures are likely instead to be restricted to accelerating the implementation and widening the scope of sanctions on specific Russian businesses, organisations and individuals held responsible for aiding the conflict in some way.
Prime Minister David Cameron criticised a “reluctance” on the part of some European nations to face up to the implications of the unrest in eastern Ukraine, pointedly singling out a French plan to sell Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia.
French arms sales and German dependence on Russian fossil fuels have been seen as possible barriers to tougher measures, but Britain will argue in Brussels that the whole union must share the burden.
“Frankly in this country it would be unthinkable to fulfil an order like the one outstanding that the French have,” he told MPs.
“But we need to put the pressure on with all our partners to say that we cannot go on doing business as usual with a country when it’s behaving in this way.”
“We must do what is necessary to stand up to Russia and put an end to the conflict in Ukraine before any more innocent lives are lost,” he said,
He dismissed Mr Putin’s “bluster and obfuscation” over the crash and rejected claims that Ukraine’s armed forces could have fired the surface-to-air missile that downed the Malaysian jet at 33,000ft.
“The picture is becoming clearer and the weight of the evidence is pointing in one direction: MH17 was shot down by an SA-11 missile fired by separatists,” he told the Commons in a statement on the latest developments.
Mr Putin warned Western powers not to use the incident to advance “vested interests” at Russia’s expense.
The UK’s ambassador to the UN Mark Lyall Grant said the resolution spelled out the world’s demands for an end to the “inexcusable” treatment of the victims’ by insurgents controlling the area whose behaviour had been “sickening and appalling beyond belief”.
“We owe it to the memory of those 298 victims to ensure that their remains are treated with dignity and with respect. And we owe it to them to find out exactly what happened on the afternoon of July 17,” he told an emergency session in New York.
“That is the purpose of Resolution 2166. It is a united demand by the whole international community for the dignified, respectful and professional treatment and recovery of the victims.”
He said the events “should serve as a wake-up call in Moscow and prompt a profound re-examination of Russia’s policy of supporting, training and arming armed separatists in Eastern Ukraine”.
Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop, whose country lost 37 citizens and residents in the crash, told the meeting that the resolution was an “unambiguous response from the international community to an utterly deplorable act”.
The “grotesque violations at the crash site” demanded such a response, she said.
Mr Lyall Grant said ” separatist thugs” had shown a “complete disregard for human dignity” by ” trampling over the site of the crash, showing no respect for the bodies of the victims, rifling through their belongings and even looting their personal effects”.
The UN resolution stresses the need for a “full, thorough and independent international investigation into the incident in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines” and calls on all states to “provide any requested assistance to civil and criminal investigations”.
Demanding a ceasefire in the immediate area, it says there must be “safe, secure, full and unrestricted access to the site and surrounding area for the appropriate investigating authorities” and a “dignified, respectful and professional treatment and recovery of the bodies of the victims”.
More British experts are travelling to the Netherlands to help with the repatriation of the victims, 10 of whom were from the UK.