U.S. casts blame on Russia for downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17
WASHINGTON — The United States on Friday began piecing together circumstantial evidence against Russia in the downing of a Malaysian airliner,as President Obama said Russian supplies of sophisticated weapons to Ukrainian separatists were “not an accident.”
Confirming widespread reports of preliminary conclusions, Obama said the plane “was shot down” on Thursday by a surface-to-air missile fired from separatist territory. All 298 aboard, including one U.S. citizen, were killed.
Obama stopped short of publicly accusing the separatists, or their Russian patrons, of pulling the trigger. But he left little doubt whom he believed was to blame for what he called “an outrage of unspeakable proportions.”
As an international inquiry was organized, and investigators struggled to reach the wreckage and bodies strewn across fields of wheat and sunflowers in separatist-held territory, Obama said Russian President Vladimir Putin has the power to end the escalating violence in Ukraine.
“If Mr. Putin makes a decision that we are not going to allow heavy armaments and the flow of fighters ... across the Ukrainian-Russian border, then it will stop,” he said. “He has the most control over that situation, and so far, at least, he has not exercised it.”
Senior aides added elements to the administration's case throughout the day. At an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting in New York, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said a Russian-made SA-11 missile system, easily capable of reaching the plane that was flying at 33,000 feet, had been spotted in the area of the shootdown. Because of the system's “technical complexity,” she said, “it is impossible to rule out Russian technical assistance” to separatists operating it.
Separatist leaders, who have downed several Ukrainian military aircraft in recent days, had “boasted” on social media about the shootdown “but later deleted those messages,” Power said. “Russia can end this war. Russia must end this war.”
“Whether it was a Russian military unit that did it or it was a separatist unit ... we don't know,” the Pentagon press secretary, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said at a briefing. He noted that Russia has as many as 12,000 troops deployed on its side of the border with Ukraine.
Privately, officials said intelligence assessments, based on weapons believed to be in separatist hands and the tracked location of the launch site, concluded that separatists fired the missile, although it was unclear whether they knew their target was a commercial airliner.
One of the strongest public statements was made from Britain, which lost 10 citizens aboard the flight. A statement released by Prime Minister David Cameron's office said “it is increasingly likely that⅛the Malaysian airliner⅜was shot down by a separatist missile.”
Russia said it welcomed an investigation by the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization but responded sharply to the thinly veiled U.S. accusations of at least indirect responsibility for the shootdown.
Obama should “stop lecturing Russia” and force the Western-backed Ukrainian government to seriously engage in negotiations with the separatists, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
At the U.N., Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin criticized those he said were “trying to prejudge the outcome of an investigation with broad statements and insinuations” and accused the Ukrainian government of failing to warn international aviation to avoid the conflict area.
By continuing its military offensive to dislodge the separatists, Ukraine “chose the wrong path, and their Western colleagues supported them,” Churkin said. “I'm talking about the United States; they actually pushed them to escalate,” he said, and now “they are trying to lay the blame on Russia.”
A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry said none of its sophisticated antiaircraft systems, nor any other weaponry in service with the Russian armed forces, had crossed the border into Ukraine, Itar-Tass reported from Moscow.
Amid the official statements and allegations came the now-familiar accoutrements of international tragedy — the laying of flowers at embassies and in hometowns, candlelight vigils and the signing of condolence books.
The one American known to be aboard the flight, Dutch dual-national Quinn Lucas Schansman, 19, was traveling on the Malaysian flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur to meet his family for a vacation.
Three Australian siblings, ages 12, 10 and 8, returning home with their grandfather from a vacation were among the 80 children the United Nations said were aboard the flight. Power, in her Security Council speech, said three children had the letter “I” next to their names on the flight manifest, indicating they were infants.
Two-thirds of the passengers were from the Netherlands, where grieving relatives gathered at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. A large but undetermined number of the dead were international AIDS researchers traveling to a conference in Australia.
Referring to the researchers, Obama said that “in this world today, we shouldn't forget that in the midst of conflict and killing, there are people like these — people who are focused on what can be built rather than what can be destroyed. People who are focused on how they can help people that they've never met. People who define themselves not by what makes them different from other people but by the humanity that we hold in common ... and it's time for us to heed their example.”
Although statements by the United States, and others such as Britain, grew harsher as the day progressed, it was unclear what the administration proposed to do once responsibility for the attack was firmly established, and who would be with them.