President Vladimir Putin defied international anger over Russia’s alleged role in the shooting down of flight MH17 as the U.S. and Europe threaten further sanctions against his increasingly isolated country.
As leaders from London to Washington signaled Putin risks becoming a pariah, the Russian leader suggested they were playing politics. At the site of the crash in eastern Ukraine, armed pro-Russian rebels are preventing the departure of refrigerated train cars carrying corpses and body parts of crash victims, according to the government in Kiev.
“Nobody should and no one has the right to use this tragedy to achieve selfish political aims,” Putin said in a video posted on the Kremlin’s website after a series of phone calls yesterday with world leaders about the crash. “Such events should unite, not divide people.”
Russia’s relations with the rest of the world are deteriorating four months after his annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region sparked Europe’s biggest geopolitical crisis since the end of the Cold War.
The Malaysia Air crash site at Grabovo, less than 60 miles from Russia, has become a focus of international outrage as armed rebels hover over the investigation, making reclamation of wreckage and corpses more difficult.
The bodies of 251 people and 66 parts of human remains have been recovered and brought to refrigerated train wagons in Torez as of 7 a.m. local time today, according to Ukraine’s state emergency service website. Rebels continue to prevent the departure of the train, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told reporters today in Kiev. The plane was shot down on July 17 killing all 298 passengers and crew.
Putin again blamed the downing of the plane on the Ukraine conflict and said that international investigators should have full access to the wreckage. Russia will “do everything it can” to seek a negotiated settlement of the Ukraine conflict, he said.
Russia’s Micex Index dropped 1.3 percent to 1,404.09 by 12:47 p.m. in Moscow, while the ruble rose 0.1 percent against the dollar. OAO Gazprom, the nation’s biggest natural gas producer, fell 2 percent, while OAO Lukoil, the nation’s second- biggest oil producer, dropped 1.6 percent.
Putin, already facing sanctions over Crimea and Russia’s role in backing the rebels in Ukraine, is confronting worldwide scorn over the crash as evidence mounts that Russia provided the missile used to down the jetliner.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday that he agreed with his French and German counterparts that Europe should be ready to impose further sanctions on Russia at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers tomorrow in Brussels. Britain wants sanctions against the entire Russian defense industry, a U.K. official said.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a Twitter posting that “this is perhaps the last opportunity for Russia to show that they are seriously interested in finding a solution.” Hans-Peter Bartels, who heads the German parliament’s Defense Committee, said “time is slowly running out for Putin” and that further economic sanctions aimed at Russia are likely unless there’s a clear shift in Kremlin policy.
“There’s a build-up of extraordinary circumstantial evidence,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program. “We picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing.”
Putin didn’t address the allegations in the video, saying “one can say with certainty that if the fighting hadn’t been resumed on June 28 in eastern Ukraine, this tragedy for sure wouldn’t have happened.”
Separatists had at least three Russian-made surface-to-air missile systems, known by their NATO designation SA-11 Gadfly, Ukraine state security official Vitaliy Nayda said on July 19. Three of the systems were transported back to Russia just hours after the plane was shot down, he said. Nayda displayed photos that he said showed them on the road to the Russian border.
The Gadfly, known locally as the Buk-M, is a radar-guided weapon that can locate a target at a range of 140 miles and reach altitudes as high as about 72,000 feet, according to the army-technology.com website.
Yatsenyuk told reporters today that Ukraine’s armed forces haven’t fired surface-to-air missiles, that the rocket used to down the plane came from Russia and that those who fired it had received training in Russia. He said the Netherlands and Ukraine’s international partners should lead the investigation into the crash.
The conflict in east Ukraine is raging on, even as the eyes of the world focus on the crash. There is fighting today in both Donetsk and Luhansk. Rebels shelled the downtown area of Luhansk yesterday damaging a school, a hostel and other buildings, Vladyslav Seleznyov, a military spokesman, said in comments on Facebook. The insurgents are using Grad multiple rocket systems and mortars, he said.
Ukrainian troops are holding their positions near the airports of Luhansk and Donetsk -- both about 60 miles from the crash site -- and widened the area they have under their control, the Defense Ministry said in a statement on its website.
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