World leaders called for an immediate ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and demanded speedy access for international investigators to the crash site of the Malaysia Airlines jetliner shot down over the country’s battlefields.
The strong words came amid the contrasting images of emergency workers and off-duty coal miners fanning out across picturesque sunflower fields searching for charred bodies and wreckage from the Boeing 777.
The attack killed 298 people from nearly a dozen nations — including holidaymakers, students and a large contingent of scientists heading to an AIDS conference in Australia.
President Barack Obama called for an immediate ceasefire between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russia separatists. He also called for a credible investigation.
“The eyes of the world are on eastern Ukraine, and we are going to make sure that the truth is out,” Obama said at the White House.
US intelligence authorities said a surface-to-air missile brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as it travelled from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. US ambassador Samantha Power told the UN Security Council in New York the missile was likely fired from a rebel-held area near the Russian border.
The Ukrainian government in Kiev, the separatist pro-Russia rebels they are fighting, and the Russia government that Ukraine accuses of supporting the rebels all denied shooting the plane down. Moscow also denies backing the rebels.
After holding an emergency session, the UN Security Council called for “a full, thorough and independent international investigation” into the downing of the plane.
Russian president Vladimir Putin said both sides in the Ukrainian conflict should put down their weapons and hold peace talks. On Thursday, Putin blamed Ukraine for the crash, saying Kiev was responsible for the unrest in its Russian-speaking eastern regions. But he didn’t accuse Ukraine of shooting the plane down and didn’t address the key question of whether Russia gave the rebels such a powerful missile.
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry released a video purporting to show a truck carrying the Buk missile launcher it said was used to fire on the plane with one of its four missiles apparently missing. The ministry said the footage was filmed by a police surveillance squad at dawn yesterday as the truck was heading to the city of Krasnodon toward the Russian border. There was no way to independently verify the video.
Ukraine’s state aviation service closed the airspace yesterday over two border regions gripped by separatist fighting — Donetsk and Luhansk — and Russian airlines suspended all flights over Ukraine.
A commission of around 30 people, mostly officials representing the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, travelled to the crash site in the first such visit there by an international delegation.
“No black boxes have been found . . . we hope that experts will track them down and create a picture of what has happened,”
The crash site was spread out over fields between two villages in eastern Ukraine — Rozsypne and Hrabove. In the distance, the thud of Grad missile launchers being fired could be heard yesterday morning.
In the sunflower fields around Rozsypne, 40km from the Russian border, lines of men disappeared into thick, tall growth that reached over their heads. One fainted after finding a body. Another body was covered in a coat.
About 70 off-duty coal miners joined the search, their faces still sooty.
Andrei Purgin, a leader of the pro-Russian separatists, told The Associated Press that after consultations with international diplomats and a former Ukrainian president, a decision has been reached for bodies to be taken to the government-controlled Black Sea city of Mariupol.
Putin could be included on an EU sanctions list due to be extended to his supporters and cronies by EU foreign ministers next week.
EU leaders gave the go-ahead to hit a range of people and entities involved in the situation in Ukraine. With the shooting down of the passenger flight, sanctions are likely to be extended far more widely.
An EU source said much would depend on the reaction of President Putin to the crash. “His initial reaction was not good, suggesting that this was the Ukrainians responsibility”.
Russia has failed to control its border with lots of heavy equipment and weaponry moving across to the separatists, while the equipment needed to take down an airliner like the Malaysian one was not in the region before this.
There are already two entities and 72 individuals on the sanctions list agreed by all member states — as they must be under EU Treaty rules — and foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday are likely to extend the sanctions.
The net is widening to include entities in Ukraine and the Russian Federation that are supporting the separatists actions either materially or financially. Up to now it extended to those who were benefiting from it — making money out of the situation — but this has now been extended to those who are helping to finance the operation.
President Putin’s cronies, Russian decision-makers and Mr Putin himself could now be included, shutting down any financial interests they have in the EU and imposing a visa ban.
The EU cannot slap on sanctions as easily as the US as they have to go through more legal hoops to ensure those they include do qualify. This legal net is also under consideration to see how it can be extended.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved