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Anton Zverev and Peter Graff
20 Jul 2014 06:39
Debris from a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 that crashed on Thursday near the village of Rozsypne in the Donetsk region on July 18. (Maxim Zmeyev, Reuters)
Ukraine accused Russia and pro-Moscow rebels on Saturday of destroying evidence to cover up their guilt in the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner
that has accelerated a showdown between the Kremlin and Western powers.
As militants kept international monitors away from wreckage and scores of
bodies festered for a third day, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged the
rebels to cooperate and insisted that a UN-mandated investigation must not
leap to conclusions. Moscow denies involvement and has pointed a finger at Kiev’s
The Dutch government, whose citizens made up most of the 298 aboard MH17
from Amsterdam, said it was “furious” at the manhandling of corpses
strewn for kilometres over open country and asked Ukraine’s president for help to
bring “our people” home.
After US President Barack Obama said the loss of the Kuala Lumpur-bound
flight showed it was time to end the conflict, Germany called it Moscow’s last
chance to cooperate.
European powers seemed to swing behind Washington’s belief Russia’s
separatist allies were to blame.
That might speed new trade sanctions on Moscow,
without waiting for definitive proof.
“He has one last chance to show he means to help,” Dutch Prime
Minister Mark Rutte said after a telephone call to Putin.
Britain, which lost 10 citizens, said further sanctions were available for
use against Russia. Mail on Sunday.
Prime Minister David Cameron, writing in the Sunday Times, said European countries should make their power count
in dealing with the Ukraine crisis, “yet we sometimes behave as if we need
Russia more than Russia needs us”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the most powerful figure in the EU, spoke
to Putin on Saturday, urging his cooperation. Merkel’s foreign minister, Frank-Walter
Steinmeier, told Bild am Sonntag
newspaper: “Moscow may have a last chance now to show that it really is
seriously interested in a solution.”
“Now is the moment for everyone to stop and think to themselves what
might happen if we don’t stop the escalation.”
Germany, reliant like other EU states on Russian energy and more engaged in
Russian trade than the United States, has been reluctant to escalate a
confrontation with Moscow that has revived memories of the Cold War. But with
military action not seen as an option, economic leverage is a vital instrument.
Russia said on Saturday it was retaliating against sanctions imposed by the United
States last week, before the air disaster, by barring entry to unnamed
Americans and warned of a “boomerang effect” on US business. But
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry did agree
in a phone call to try to get both sides in Ukraine to reach a consensus on
peace, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said.
The State Department, however, put the onus on Russia, saying Kerry urged Russia
to take “immediate and clear actions to reduce tensions in Ukraine”.
Driving home its assertion that the Boeing 777 was hit by a Russian SA-11
radar-guided missile, Ukraine’s Western-backed government said it had
“compelling evidence” the battery was not just brought in from Russia
but manned by three Russian citizens who had now taken the truck-mounted system
back over the border.
The prime minister, denying Russian suggestions that Kiev’s forces had fired
a missile, said only a “very professional” crew could have brought
down the speeding jetliner from 33 000 feet (10 000m) - not “drunken
gorillas” among the ill-trained insurgents who want the Russian-speaking
east to be annexed by Moscow.
Fighting flared in eastern Ukraine on Saturday. The government said it was
pressing its offensive in the east.
Observers from Europe’s OSCE security agency visited part of the crash site
near the village of Hrabove for a second day on Saturday and again found their
access hampered by armed men from the forces of the self-declared People’s
Republic of Donetsk. An OSCE official said, however, they saw more than on
At one point, a Reuters correspondent heard a senior rebel tell the OSCE
delegation they could not approach the wreckage and would simply be informed in
due course of an investigation conducted by the separatists. However, fighters
later let them visit an area where one of the airliner’s two engines lay.
“The terrorists, with the help of Russia, are trying to destroy
evidence of international crimes,” the Ukrainian government said in a
statement. “The terrorists have taken 38 bodies to the morgue in Donetsk,”
it said, accusing people with “strong Russian accents” of threatening
to conduct autopsies.
Ukraine’s prime minister said armed men had barred government experts from
Kerry told Lavrov the United States is “very concerned” over
reports that the remains of victims and debris from the crash site have been
removed or tampered with, the State Department said. He said Washington was
also concerned over denial of “proper access” for international
investigators and OSCE monitors, it said.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko urged the United Nations on Saturday to
label rebels fighting his forces in the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk
as belonging to “terrorist organisations”.
In the regional capital Donetsk, the prime minister of the separatist
authorities told a news conference that Kiev was holding up the arrival of
international experts whose mission to probe the cause - and potentially blame
- for the disaster was authorised on Friday by the United Nations Security Council.
And contrary to earlier statements by the rebels, Alexander Borodai said
they had not found the black box flight recorders. He said rebels were avoiding
disturbing the area.
“There’s a grandmother. A body landed right in her bed. She says
‘please take this body away’. But we cannot tamper with the site,” Borodai
said. “Bodies of innocent people are lying out in the heat. We reserve the
right, if the delay continues ... to begin the process of taking away the
bodies. We ask the Russian Federation to help us with this problem and send
Midday temperatures are around 30 Celsius.
At Hrabove, one armed man from the separatist forces told Reuters that
bodies had already been taken away in trucks. Another said that immediately
after the crash people had looted valuables. But fighters and local people say
they have been doing their best to collect evidence and preserve human remains.
As the stench of death began to pervade the area after Thursday’s crash,
correspondents watched rescue workers carry bodies across the fields and gather
remains in black sacks.
Meeting Ukrainian President Poroshenko in Kiev, Dutch Foreign Minister Frans
Timmermans said: “We are already shocked by the news we got today of
bodies being dragged around, of the site not being treated properly ... People
are angry, furious.”
The Ukrainian security council in Kiev said staff of the Emergencies
Ministry had found 186 bodies and had checked some 18 square kilometres of the
scattered 25 square kilometres crash site. But the workers were not free
to conduct a normal investigation.
“The fighters have let the Emergencies Ministry workers in there but
they are not allowing them to take anything from the area,” security council
spokesperson Andriy Lysenko said. “The fighters are taking away all that
has been found.”
Malaysia, whose national airline has been battered by its second major
disaster this year, said it was “inhumane” to bar access to the site
around the village of Hrabove, but said Russia was doing its “level
best” to help.
A team of Malaysian experts flew in to Kiev on Saturday and experts from Interpol
are due there on Sunday to help with the identification of victims. Dutch, US
and a host of other specialists are being lined up to help in the
As tales of personal grief unfolded, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak
revealed his own family was involved - his 83-year-old step-grandmother had
been aboard the flight.
The United Nations said 80 children were aboard. The deadliest attack on a
commercial airliner follows the disappearance of flight MH370 in March with 239
Malaysia Airlines has defended its use of the route, 1 000 feet (300m)
above the area closed by Ukraine due to the hostilities. Some airlines had been
avoiding the area, though many others were flying over. The issue has raised
questions of liability for the deaths and damage and about international
The scale of the disaster could prove a turning
point for international pressure to resolve the crisis in Ukraine, which has
killed hundreds since pro-Western protests toppled the Moscow-backed president
in Kiev in February and Russia annexed the Crimea peninsula a month later. -
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