Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Putin is 'directly responsible' for forcing rebels to co-operate with investigators, says Obama

“Russia has extraordinary influence over these separatists,” said the US President said during a speech on Monday

Kashmira Gander
Monday 21 July 2014 23:01
US President Barack Obama speaks on the Ukraine situation outside the Oval Office of the White House
US President Barack Obama speaks on the Ukraine situation outside the Oval Office of the White House

US President Barack Obama has intensified pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin by claiming that forcing pro-Moscow separatists to co-operate with international investigators at the MH17 crash site is Putin's “direct responsibility.”

During a speech at the White House on Monday, Obama said “the world deserves to know exactly what happened” when the passenger jet was shot down last Thursday, and called for international investigators to be given “immediate and full access” to the site in eastern Ukraine, BBC News reported.

He went on to accuse pro-Russia separatists of removing evidence and bodies from the crash site, and asked: “what exactly are they trying to hide?”

Obama said now is the time for Putin to “get serious” about resolving the crisis in Ukraine, and warned Russia “will only further isolate itself” and be hit by further economic costs if it continues to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty.”

The US President said the chaos at the scene of the crash is an “insult” to the families of the dead and that ensuring bodies are recovered and returned to their loved ones is “the least that decency demands”.

“Russia has extraordinary influence over these separatists,” said Obama, a day after the US presented what it called "powerful" evidence that the rebels shot down the plane with a Russian surface-to-air Buk missile.

Video: The Independent's Oliver Wright discusses European response to MH17 tragedy

“No one denies that. Russia has urged them on, Russia has trained them, we know that Russia has armed them with military equipment and weapons including anti-aircraft weapons. Key separatist leaders are Russian citizens.”

Obama’s address came as the loved ones of the 298 people killed expressed their increasing frustration and anger with how bodies are being treated by separatists.

It emerged on Monday morning that Russia-backed separatists in Grabovo, Donetsk, blocked the passage of a train carrying the bodies of hundreds of victims in refrigerated carriages, according to the Ukrainian government.

Dutch foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, told Ukraine’s president that his nation was “furious” at other reports of bodies being dragged around and the site “not treated properly”.

The chaotic recovery mission was given a further knock on Monday after the refrigerated train wagons suffered a power outage last night, an engineer told AP reporters at the scene.

Speaking after a private meeting near the central Netherlands city of Utrecht, Prime Minister Mark Rutte acknowledged the nation's discontent as the remains of 193 Dutch nationals on board the flight had not been returned home, four days after the crash.

“All of the Netherlands feels their anger,” Rutte said. “All of the Netherlands feels their deep grief. All of the Netherlands is standing with the next of kin.”

He added a Dutch military transport plane is ready to repatriate the remains being stored in a refrigerated train in a rebel-held town.

Echoed by Obama later in the day, Rutte said he has made it “crystal clear” to Putin that he must use his influence with rebels to ensure unhindered access to the crash scene for international investigators, adding sanctions could be slapped on “those directly or indirectly responsible” for hindering the probe.

“All political, economic and financial options are on the table,” he said, adding that he will ensure the perpetrators are brought to justice.

Russian officials have responded by blaming Ukraine's government for creating the situation and atmosphere in which the plane was downed.

At a briefing, the ministry said a Ukrainian fighter jet had tracked the airliner despite Kiev's assertions that no aircraft were nearby, and Defence asked the United States to produce satellite images to support its assertions.

The ministry also denied supplying the separatists in east Ukraine with SA-11 Buk anti-aircraft missile systems, known as "Gadfly" in NATO, or "any other weapons".

Since the crash, Putin has pointed the finger at his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko, saying the disaster would not have happened if Kiev had not ended a ceasefire with the separatists.

Additional reporting by agencies

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