Reuters International

A pro-Russian separatist standing at the crash site of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, is seen in this July 18, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev/Files

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By Matt Siegel

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The U.S. aviation lawyer who won compensation for victims of the 1988 Lockerbie aircraft bombing and is now seeking $330 million (227 million pounds) from Russia for the downing of Malaysian Airlines MH17 in 2014, says Russian President Vladimir Putin must be held responsible.

Jerry Skinner, who is leading Australian law firm LHD's compensation claim against Russia and Putin in the European Court of Human Rights, says he is confident of success but admits the case, like that of Lockerbie, may take years.

The Malaysian Airlines' Boeing <BA.N> 777 crashed in eastern Ukraine in pro-Russian rebel-held territory on July 17, 2014, killing all 298 people on board, including 28 Australians.

The aircraft, which was en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile, the Dutch Safety Board concluded in its final report.

Skinner said he had no personal issue with Putin, but that the Russian president had opened himself to liability through his extensive control over the Russian state.

"Nothing happens in Russia that he doesn't approve of, therefore vicariously he's responsible," Skinner told Reuters in an interview on Monday in Sydney.

Skinner said evidence from witnesses, videos, photographs, radar, air traffic control tapes supported his compensation case.

"All of that stuff is available and even without the Russian's contribution I am confident in saying that it was the Russians who caused this event to occur," he said.

The LHD lawsuit is on behalf of 16 victims from Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia, and 33 next of kin. Each claimant is seeking $10 million in damages.

Skinner won similar compensation for the victims of Pan Am Flight 103 which was destroyed by a bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people.

Skinner said international political pressure was needed to uncover the truth behind the downing of MH17.

"I'm hopeful that the Australian government gets involved. We need the leverage of one of the governments whose hands are clean," he said.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop on Monday echoed the sentiment for an independent investigation.

"However painful and however difficult and traumatic it is for them to deal with the loss of their loved ones aboard MH17...we will work very hard to ensure that a system is set up, a mechanism is set up, to hold those responsible for this atrocity to account," she said.

(Editing by Michael Perry)

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