Europe gets tough on Russia
Sanctions may be introduced against Putin's 'cronies' over plane crash
The European Union has inched towards introducing economic sanctions against Vladimir Putin's Russian "cronies" over the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, as the bodies of the dead were finally released by Ukrainian separatist rebels.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels agreed "concrete proposals" to draw up a list of the Russian President's associates who would be subject to punitive measures, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said.
The first names will be considered at a meeting tomorrow, where ministers will also look at broader sanctions such as arms embargoes and access to capital and hi-tech goods.
The announcement came after Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte announced that a train carrying some of the 298 passengers and crew killed last Thursday – which included 10 Britons and one Irish woman – had arrived in the Ukrainian government-controlled city of Kharkiv. The first bodies are due to be repatriated by air to the Netherlands today.
Interpol said its team had started preliminary attempts to identify passengers from MH17, which was apparently shot down by Russia-backed separatists as it flew from Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport to Kuala Lumpur.
He added that Interpol had received offers of additional experts from 13 member countries.
Speaking after the meeting of EU ministers, Mr Hammond said: "What I have heard today is a clear political commitment by the foreign ministers in response to this outrage to act. I would expect to see that process now moving forward at pace unless the Russians deliver on all the demands we have made.
"The cronies of Mr Putin and his clique in the Kremlin are the people who have to bear the pressure because it is only them feeling the pressure that will in turn put pressure on the Russian government."
Mr Rutte said: "As soon as the aircraft lands at Eindhoven Airport, the victims will be transported to the Korporaal van Oudheusden barracks in Hilversum. Once a positive identification has been made, the immediate next step will be to inform the next of kin – no one else.
"This may happen rapidly, but I have to caution you that it could also take weeks or even months."
He added that the Netherlands would lead the investigation into the shooting down of MH17 at the request of the Ukrainian government.
He added: "Our next priority is investigating the cause of the disaster. We will leave no stone unturned."
A British team of police officers will assist with victim identification in the Netherlands once bodies have arrived back in the Netherlands.
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British air accident investigators will examine the black boxes from downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, Prime Minister David Cameron has said. Experts based in Farnborough in Hampshire will retrieve data from the flight recorders for "international analysis" after a request from the Dutch Government.