WASHINGTON (WNEW/AP) — President Barack Obama says Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine are blocking international officials from conducting an investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 that left 298 people dead.
“What exactly are they trying to hide?” Obama said during a statement on the White House South Lawn Monday.
Obama stated that investigators need access to the crash site near the Ukraine-Russia border and that a prompt and unimpeded investigation must be allowed.
“We have to make sure the truth is out and accountability exists,” Obama said.
The president said that Russian President Vladimir Putin can use his influence on the separatists in eastern Ukraine in an effort to stop tampering with the crash site and removing bodies from the scene.
“This is the kind of behavior that has no place in the community of nations,” Obama said, adding, “Now is the time for President Putin and Russia to pivot away from the strategy they’ve been taking.”
On CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” Secretary of State John Kerry said there’s an “enormous amount of evidence” that Russia supplied the SA-11 surface-to-air missile to the separatists that shot down the plane.
“What we have is a lot of evidence that points in the direction, that raises very, very serious questions, including the fact that a few weeks ago, we have 150-vehicle convoy coming from Russia, going into the east of Ukraine with tanks, artillery, multiple rocket launchers, armored personnel carriers, turned over to the separatists,” Kerry told CBS News’ “Face the Nation.” “We know that there are Russians who are leaders of the separatists. Some, not all. Some. And we know that the Russians have armed the separatists, trained the separatists, support the separatists, and have, to date, not publicly called on the separatists to stand down or to be part of the solution.”
Kerry added: “So there’s enormous amount of evidence, even more evidence than I just documented, that points to the involvement of Russia in providing these systems, training the people on them.”
Putin lashed out against the criticism Monday, accusing others of exploiting the downing of the plane for “mercenary objectives.”
Putin said Russia was doing everything possible to allow a team of experts from the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. agency, to investigate the scene. He again criticized Ukrainian government authorities in Kiev for reigniting the fighting with the rebels.
“If fighting in eastern Ukraine had not been renewed on June 28, this tragedy would not have happened,” Putin said. “Nobody should or does have a right to use this tragedy for such mercenary objectives.”
The head of counterintelligence for Ukraine’s SBU security service, Vitaliy Najda, said the Buk missile launchers came from Russia and called on Russia to supply the names and ranks of the service personnel “who brought about the launch of the missile” so they could be questioned by investigators. He said the rebels could not have operated the sophisticated weapon without Russian help but did not provide specific evidence for his claim.
In Moscow, Russian officials offered evidence Monday to counter U.S. claims that the rebels were responsible for shooting down the jet. The Defense Ministry showed photos they said proved that Ukrainian surface-to-air systems were operating in the area in the days before the crash. The officials said the systems were operated nine times on Thursday, the day the plane was brought down.
Russian officials also said they had evidence that a Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-25 fighter jet had flown “between 3 to 5 kilometers (2 to 3 miles)” from the Malaysia Airlines jet.
“(The plane) is armed with air-to-air R-60 rockets, which can hit a target from a distance of up to 12 kilometers (7 miles) and guaranteed within 5 kilometers (3 miles),” said the chief of Russia’s General staff, Andrei Kartopolov.
The defense ministry officials also insisted that Russia had not given the rebels any surface-to-air missiles.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Ukraine’s prime minister, angrily called on Russia to halt what he said was its support for the rebels.
“They have to stop, and President Putin has to realize, enough is enough,” he said. “What we expect from Russia: To de-escalate the situation, to withdraw their agents, to close the border, to stop their support for these bastards, and to stick to international law and international observations.”
In the Netherlands, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told a news conference that repatriating the bodies was his “No. 1 priority” and victims’ families were being consoled by the Dutch royals.
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