Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: 'Make Putin's oligarchs pay for Ukraine disaster'

US and UK press for tougher Russia sanctions after Ukraine air disaster

Prominent Russian oligarchs, businesses and politicians could face wide-ranging and draconian new EU sanctions as the West united to punish Moscow for the shooting down of Flight MH17.

Britain will urge other European countries to extend travels bans, asset freezes and business sanctions on any individual or entity in Russia deemed to be “influencing or supporting” the “Putin regime”.

Existing sanctions only cover Russian individuals and firms deemed responsible for the recent conflict in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

At a meeting of foreign ministers, the new Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, will also call for a complete ban on any new arms sales to Moscow and for faster progress in identifying companies and individuals “materially or financially supporting Russian action in eastern Ukraine”. These are already covered by existing sanctions.

“We need to use the sense of shock, the sense of outrage, to galvanise opinion behind a more robust stance,” Mr Hammond said. “We have tools in our toolbox. We can inflict damage on the Russian economy.”

Video: Aftermath of MH17 crash

The new range of sanctions under discussion reflects growing fury on both sides of the Atlantic over what Downing Street called Russia’s “unacceptable” response to the tragedy. No 10 sources revealed that Russia had blocked the release of a Security Council statement calling for a full, independent investigation into the shooting down of MH17.

They also expect Russia to veto a UN Security Council resolution being drafted by the UK and Australia calling for “full, safe and unfettered access” to the crash site and for those responsible to be “held to account”.

At the crash site in Grabove in eastern Ukraine yesterday, pro-Russian rebels claimed that a total of 192 bodies had been gathered and placed inside railway carriages in the town of Torez, around 10 miles away. Officials from the Office for Security and Co-operation in Europe said they had inspected three carriages and been told 167 corpses were inside them.

The rebel leader Alexander Borodai, head of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, said the bodies would remain on the train until experts came to examine them. Apparently responding to claims the separatists had even been moving some of the bodies to Russia, he said he was waiting for the arrival of crash experts from Malaysia and the Netherlands.

“The bodies will go nowhere until experts arrive,” he said at a press conference in the rebel-held city of Donetsk

Mr Borodai also said his men had recovered the black boxes from downed plane. He said these would in due course be handed over to officials from the International Civil Aviation Organisation, a UN agency.

Last night, David Cameron spoke to Vladimir Putin over the phone for 30 minutes after three days of requests for talks which were rebutted by the Russian President. Downing Street said afterwards that Mr Cameron accused Mr Putin directly of contributing to an appalling tragedy by continuing to support the separatists.

Mr Cameron also said the delay and restrictions on access to the crash site were “completely unacceptable and indefensible”. Mr Cameron added: “President Putin must change course.”

Until now, the Obama administration has been frustrated at the slow speed of European sanctions that has, in part, been driven by the reliance of many countries on Russian gas supplies.

Even Britain, which has been more bullish on sanctions than France and Germany, would suffer financially if so-called Tier Three sanctions were imposed

These would cover measures on trade, energy and finance and would affect both the city of London and BP, which last month signed a £1.5bn deal with the Russian oil giant Rosneft.

The US Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday that he hoped the shooting down of MH17 would act as a “wake-up call” to other European governments on the need for effective sanctions to influence Russian support for the Ukrainian separatists.

Yesterday Mr Cameron also held conversations with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the French President François Hollande. Downing Street said afterwards they agreed that the EU “must reconsider its approach to Russia and that foreign ministers should be ready to impose further sanctions on Russia”.

To be effective, Russian sanctions would have to target more than only oligarchs such as Igor Sechin, the head of Rosneft who is already on the US sanctions list.

They would also have to target Russian companies’ access to Western capital, Russia’s oil and gas exports as well as Russian assets held overseas.

A government source said  much would depend on Russian actions over the next two days: “Our immediate priority is to secure unfettered access to the crash site both for investigators and those who will help to repatriate the bodies. If no more progress is made on support for the international investigation and access to the site by Russia then sanctions may be even tougher than they would otherwise have been.”

* John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, said there was a “build-up of extraordinary circumstantial evidence” that pro-Russian rebels had shot down the plane and that Moscow had been complicit in the act.

“This is the moment of truth for Russia,” he said. “Russia is supporting these separatists. Russia is arming these separatists. Russia is training these separatists, and Russia has not yet done the things necessary in order to try to bring them under control.”

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