Obama: what’re pro-Russian rebels trying to hide?
President Barack Obama has said Russia must use “its extraordinary influence” over pro-Russian separatists to ensure investigators can access the MH17 crash site.
All 298 people on board flight MH17 died when it crashed over the rebel-held area on July 17. The U.S. and other nations said there was growing evidence of Russian complicity in the crash.
In a statement, Obama said separatists were removing evidence from the crash site, asking “what exactly are they trying to hide?”
He added that in some cases bodies have been removed from the scene by separatists without due respect. “It’s the kind of behavior that has no place in the community of nations,” Mr. Obama said.
American officials have said that their intelligence shows that the Boeing 777-200 was taken down on Thursday by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile supplied by Russia to separatists. Such a weapon could not be used without extensive training and assistance, the officials have said.
The standoff over the crash site has reinforced American suspicions that Russians played a direct role in assisting separatists who fired the missile or perhaps pulled the trigger themselves.
“Our immediate focus is on recovering those who were lost, investigating exactly what happened and putting forward the facts,” Mr. Obama said. “We have to make sure the truth is out, that accountability exists.”
He singled out President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia as responsible for the chaotic situation at the crash scene and said the Kremlin leader would be held accountable for ensuring that separatists open the site to international investigators. “He has direct responsibility to compel them to cooperate with the investigation,” Mr. Obama said. “That is the least that they can do.”
Mr. Obama, who had imposed a new, tougher round of sanctions on Russia just the day before the plane was brought down, held out the prospect of going further now. “If Russia continues to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and to back these separatists,” he said, then “Russia will only further isolate itself from the international community and the costs for Russia’s behavior will only continue to increase.”
The challenge for Mr. Obama will be persuading the Europeans to go along. Until this point, they have not been willing to adopt measures that go as far as the United States has, wary of antagonizing Russia, which provides about 30 percent of Europe’s natural gas. The question is whether the plane tragedy changes that dynamic – and that may become clearer on Tuesday when senior European officials meet to discuss the situation.
Republicans in Washington said Mr. Obama needs to do more – not just to bring the Europeans along but unilaterally if necessary. Among other suggestions they have made in recent days were to arm and provide more intelligence and training to Ukraine’s security forces, deploy more American military units in Poland, reconstitute missile defense in Eastern Europe, bar Aeroflot flights from American airports and lobby to cancel or boycott the World Cup to be held in Russia in 2018.
Representative Mike Rogers of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, credited Mr. Obama for last week’s sanctions but said the plane episode means more should be done. “The longer we let this go, the more mistakes like this that are going to happen and the massacre of more innocent civilians,” Mr. Rogers said on CNN. “That’s why we need to take certain action.”
Senator Pat Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, said Mr. Obama should do more to target Mr. Putin directly. “The president should come and make it clear that this man should be an international pariah,” Mr. Toomey said on MSNBC. “We should have sanctions that go after him personally.”
Other Republicans were tougher on Mr. Obama. “He’s out to lunch,” Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said on CNBC. “He is President Nero, fiddling as the world burns.”
Democrats, unsurprisingly, were more supportive of the president. But even some of them seemed to agree with suggestions that Mr. Obama might want to rethink a schedule that includes a three-day fund-raising trip this week.
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