US: Russia behind crash | Inquirer News

US: Russia behind crash

Obama stirs int’l wake-up call with ‘unspeakable outrage’
, / 03:30 AM July 20, 2014

Pro-Russian fighters walk on a road with victims’ bodies lying in bags by the side at the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines jet near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, July 19, 2014. Ukraine accused Russia on Saturday of helping separatist rebels destroy evidence at the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines plane shot down in rebel-held territory — a charge the rebels denied.  AP

WASHINGTON—The United States government has concluded that the passenger jet felled over Ukraine was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile launched from rebel-held territory and most likely provided by Russia to pro-Moscow separatists, officials said on Friday.

Speaking at the White House, President Barack Obama tried to channel international indignation toward Russia for what he called an “outrage of unspeakable proportions.”


Obama said the episode should be “a wake-up call for Europe” and “should snap everybody’s heads to attention” about what is going on in Ukraine, where a pro-Russia insurgency has become an international crisis.


While American officials are still investigating the chain of events leading to the destruction of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 on Thursday, they pointed to a series of indicators of Russian involvement.

Among other things, military and intelligence officials said there was mounting evidence that a Ukrainian military plane shot down three days earlier had been fired upon from inside Russian territory by the same sort of missile battery used to bring down MH17.

The intelligence persuaded Obama to publicly lay responsibility at least indirectly at the door of the Kremlin.

Without going into detail about the intelligence he had been shown, Obama said that the separatists had been armed and trained “because of Russian support.”

High-flying aircraft cannot be shot down without sophisticated equipment and training, he added, “and that is coming from Russia.”

He singled out President Vladimir Putin of Russia, accusing him of waging a proxy war that led to the tragedy.


“He has the most control over that situation,” Obama said, “and so far, at least, he has not exercised it.”

Russia denied involvement and suggested that Ukraine’s military might have been responsible, an assertion Ukraine rejected.

Putin called for talks, saying: “All sides to the conflict must swiftly halt fighting and begin peace negotiations. It is with great concern and sadness that we are watching what is happening in eastern Ukraine. It’s awful; it’s a tragedy.”

Global revulsion

As investigators tried to sort out control of the crash site in the middle of a war zone and families mourned the victims, the global revulsion at the downing of the plane grew, particularly with the news that a number of AIDS researchers were among the dead.

European leaders joined Obama in calling for an international investigation unimpeded by combatants, and Ukraine asked the United Nations civil aviation authority to lead an investigation.

While separatists guarding the crash site allowed some Ukrainian government rescue teams to enter and begin collecting bodies on Friday, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the armed rebels had prevented its monitors from gaining full access to the site in order to secure a safe route for the investigation and salvaging operations.

One rebel even fired into the air as the monitors were leaving, according to a spokesperson for the organization, Michael Bociurkiw, who was there.

Bociurkiw said bodies in the field were beginning to bloat.

A separatist leader said that the governments of the Netherlands and Malaysia had asked the rebels informally not to disturb the crime scene, but that there were not enough refrigerators to keep the bodies there.

Rescue workers carry a plastic bag with a dead body at the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines jet near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, July 19, 2014. AP

Don’t tamper site

A Malaysian disaster response team including two air accident investigators was due in Kiev on Saturday, after the country’s leader appealed to Putin to help them gain access to the MH17 crash site.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters late Friday that he spoke to Putin by phone to stress the need for an objective, unfettered probe into the crash that killed 298 people, amid concerns the site was vulnerable to tampering.

“I also told Putin that the site should not be tampered [with] before the team begins its investigation,” Najib was quoted as saying by Malaysian national news agency Bernama.

MH17 came down in grasslands and fields of sunflowers between the villages of Rozsypne and Grabove, about 40 kilometers from the Russian border in Ukraine’s Donetsk region.

Malaysia’s Ministry of Transportation said on Friday that the team would include two accredited air crash investigators who had been invited by Ukraine to take part in the probe into who was responsible for the disaster.

Russian-made missile

American intelligence agencies concluded that the Boeing 777-200 was struck by a Russian-made SA-11 missile fired from a rebel-controlled area near the border in Ukraine.

American analysts were focused on an area near the small towns of Snizhne and Torez, about midway between the rebel strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Their determination was based on an analysis of the launch plume and trajectory of the missile, as detected by an American military spy satellite.

But the analysis did not pinpoint the origin of the missile launch or identify who launched it.

“Those are the million-dollar questions,” said a senior Pentagon official who, like others, insisted on anonymity to discuss details of the analysis.

A woman lights a candle as people gather to commemorate victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight 17 which was shot down over Ukraine at St. Vitus church in Hilversum, Saturday, July 19, 2014.AP

Not Ukrainian system

Although the separatists claimed to have captured a Ukrainian SA-11 battery in late June, a senior American official said the system was not believed to be operational.

“We have high confidence that it was not a Ukrainian system,” the official said of the battery that shot down the Malaysian plane. “We have reason to suspect that it could be a Russian-supplied system.”

The downing of the Ukrainian military transport plane on Monday figured prominently in the evaluations.

Western officials said there were strong indications that the missile that struck that plane, an Antonov-26, came from the Russian side of the border, although the crash is still under investigation.

It was not clear whether the same missile battery brought down the Malaysian aircraft on Thursday, but officials said that either way, they believed the unit had been transported over the border from Russia in recent days.

The Ukrainian government released audio in which separatist rebels seemed to be discussing an SA-11 missile system that was moved into eastern Ukraine from Russia just before the Malaysian plane was destroyed.

American officials said that while they had not authenticated the tape, they had no reason to doubt it, and noted that the accents of the speakers and the scenario described seemed to fit existing information.

In recent months, Russians have funneled tanks, rockets, artillery and antiaircraft weapons to the separatists, according to American and European officials.

Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, the top Nato commander, warned last month that the Russians had trained separatists to operate some of the heavy weaponry, although he did not mention SA-11 missiles specifically.

At a briefing on Friday, Rear Adm. John Kirby, the top Pentagon spokesperson, said it would have been difficult for separatists to fire the SA-11 without Russian help.

“It strains credulity to think that it could be used by separatists without at least some measure of Russian support and technical assistance,” Kirby said.

Separatist leaders on Friday denied taking down the Malaysian plane, and Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, dismissed Ukraine’s accusations of Russian involvement.

“In the last few months, I have not heard practically any truthful statements from Kiev,” Lavrov said.

The Russian Defense Ministry said at least five Ukrainian air defense systems were within range to bring down the plane.

It said the flight path and crash site were within two areas where Ukraine was operating a long-range S-200 air defense system, and where three squadrons were deployed with SA-11 missile batteries.

A doll and other personal effects lie on the ground at the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines jet near the village of Hrabove, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, July 19, 2014. AP

Ukrainian denial

Ukraine denied that any of its forces had been involved, and American officials said they believed that denial.

“The Boeing was outside the zone of possible destruction by the antiaircraft forces of Ukraine,” Andriy Lysenko, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told reporters.

After months of trying to gently prod European allies to take tougher action against Moscow for its intervention in Ukraine, Obama decided to raise the diplomatic temperature on Friday on both Russia and American allies.

He sent his United Nations ambassador, Samantha Power, to the Security Council to describe what she called “credible evidence” that the separatists were responsible.

Power said she could not “rule out technical assistance by Russian personnel.”

Europe must pay attention

Obama then went before the cameras himself at the White House to argue that whatever the investigation found, Russia’s aid to the insurgents had led to the disaster.

He said Europe should pay attention, noting that most of the passengers were Europeans, including 189 from the Netherlands.

“That, I think, sadly brings home the degree to which the stakes are high for Europe, not simply for the Ukrainian people,” Obama said, “and that we have to be firm in our resolve.”

He later called Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany to talk about the disaster.

He also spoke with Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia, which had 27 passengers on board, and Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. spoke with President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine.

Russia must cooperate

Abbott on Saturday called for an independent, international investigation into the downing of MH17 and demanded Russia’s cooperation.

Abbott repeated his assertion that all evidence suggests that the missile that shot down MH17 came from an area controlled by Russian-backed separatists, using equipment likely supplied by Russia.

“This is a problem, a very serious problem,” Abbott said.

“Australia takes a very dim view of countries [that] facilitate the killing of Australians. The idea that Russia can wash its hands of responsibility because this happened in Ukrainian airspace just does not stand up to serious scrutiny. We all know what’s happening in the Ukraine,” he said.

Merkel and Putin spoke on the telephone and agreed on an international investigation into the downing of MH17 and on rapid access to the crash site, Berlin said on Saturday.

The two leaders “agreed that an international, independent commission under the direction of Icao (UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization) should quickly have access to the site of the accident … to shed light on the circumstances of the crash and move the victims,” a German government statement said.

A Kremlin statement on the same phone call said that “both sides stressed the importance of a thorough and objective investigation of all circumstances relating to what has happened.”


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TAGS: Australia, Barack Obama, Hrabove, Kremlin, Russia, Tony Abbott

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