US President Barack Obama discusses the situation in
Ukraine during a news conference at the White House in
Washington. REUTERS/Larry Downing
US President Barack Obama demanded Russia stop supporting
separatists in eastern Ukraine after the downing of a Malaysian
airline by a surface-to-air missile he said was fired from
rebel territory raised the prospect of more sanctions on
At least one American was among the almost 300 killed, he
said, a revelation that raises the stakes in a pivotal
incident in deteriorating relations between Russia and the
Calling it "an outrage of unspeakable proportions", Obama
stopped short of directly blaming Russia for the incident but
warned that he was prepared to tighten economic sanctions. He
echoed international calls for a rapid and credible
investigation and ruling out US military intervention.
But, noting the global impact of the crash, with victims from
11 countries across four continents, he said the stakes were
high for Europe, a clear call for it to follow the more
robust sanctions on Russia already imposed by Washington.
Russia, who Obama said was letting the rebels bring in
weapons, has expressed anger at implications it was to blame,
saying people should not prejudge the outcome of the inquiry.
There were no survivors from the Malaysia Airlines flight
MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, a Boeing 777. The United
Nations said 80 of the 298 aboard were children. The
deadliest attack on a commercial airliner, it scattered
bodies over miles of rebel-held territory near the border
Makeshift white flags marked where bodies lay in corn fields
and among the debris. Others, stripped bare by the force of
the crash, had been covered by polythene sheeting weighed
down by stones, one marked with a flower in remembrance.
One pensioner told how a woman smashed though her roof:
"There was a howling noise and everything started to rattle.
Then objects started falling out of the sky," said Irina
Tipunova, 65. "And then I heard a roar and she landed in the
An American-Dutch dual national was confirmed aboard - more
than half those who died were Dutch - and US investigators
prepared to head to Ukraine to assist in the investigation.
Staff from Europe's OSCE security body visited the site but
complained that they did not have the full access they
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.
"This outrageous event underscores that it is time for peace
and security to be restored in Ukraine," Obama said, adding
that Russia had failed to use its influence to curb rebel
While the West has imposed sanctions on Russia over Ukraine,
the United States has been more aggressive than the European
Union. Analysts say the response of Germany and other EU
powers to the incident - possibly imposing more sanctions -
could be crucial in deciding the next phase of the standoff
Some commentators even recalled Germany's sinking of the
Atlantic liner Lusitania in 1915, which helped push the
United States into World War One, but outrage in the West at
Thursday's carnage is not seen as leading to military
The U.N. Security Council called for a "full, thorough and
independent international investigation" into the downing of
the plane and "appropriate accountability" for those
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it was too early to
decide on further sanctions before it was known exactly what
had happened to the plane. Britain said the facts must be
established by a UN-led investigation before additional
sanctions were seriously considered.
Kiev and Moscow immediately blamed each other for the
disaster, triggering a new phase in their propaganda war.
The plane crashed about 40 km (25 miles) from the border with
Russia near the regional capital of Donetsk, an area that is
a stronghold of rebels who have been fighting Ukrainian
government forces and have brought down military aircraft.
Leaders of the rebels' self-proclaimed Donetsk People's
Republic denied any involvement and said a Ukrainian air
force jet had brought down the intercontinental flight.
Russia's Defence Ministry later pointed the finger at
Ukrainian ground forces, saying it had picked up radar
activity from a Ukrainian missile system south of Donetsk
when the airliner was brought down, Russian media reported.
The Ukrainian security council said no missiles had been
fired from its armouries. Officials also accused separatists
of moving unused missiles into Russia after the incident.
The Ukrainian government released recordings it said were of
Russian intelligence officers discussing the shooting down of
a civilian airliner by rebels who may have mistaken it for a
Ukrainian military plane.
After the downing of several Ukrainian military aircraft in
the area in recent months, including two earlier this week,
Kiev had accused Russian forces of playing a direct role.
Separatists were quoted in Russian media last month saying
they had acquired a long-range SA-11 anti-aircraft system.
Latvia, a former Soviet state which like Ukraine has a large
ethnic Russian minority, said Moscow bore "full
responsibility" for providing the separatists with missiles.
Baltic neighbour Lithuania spoke of "a brutal act of terror".
The OSCE said 30 observers and experts from the organisation,
which has monitors in the region, had reached the site on
Friday: "We have to work there quickly to see what's going on
in terms of safety and security of the perimeter, the state
of the bodies, the wreckage and also the black boxes,"
spokesman Michael Bociurkiw said near the crash scene.
The plane's two black boxes - voice and data recorders - were
recovered, but it was unlikely they could determine it was a
missile strike - let alone who launched it.
Further complicating any investigation, local people were
seen removing pieces of wreckage as souvenirs. The condition
of the metal can indicate if it has been struck by a missile.
Reuters journalists saw burning and charred wreckage bearing
the red and blue Malaysia Airlines insignia and dozens of
bodies in fields near the village of Hrabove, known in
Russian as Grabovo.
Ukraine said on Friday that up to 181 bodies had been found.
The airline said it was carrying 283 passengers and 15 crew.
Ukraine has closed air space over the east of the country as
Malaysia Airlines defended its use of a route that some other
carriers had been avoiding.
More than half of the dead passengers, 189 people, were
Dutch. Twenty-nine were Malaysian, 27 Australian, 12
Indonesian, nine British, four German, four Belgian, three
Filipino, one America, one Canadian, one New Zealand. Several
were unidentified and some may have had dual citizenship. The
15 crew were Malaysian.
A number of those on board were travelling to an
international AIDS conference in Melbourne, including Joep
Lange, an influential Dutch expert.
"We lost somebody who wanted to make the world a better
place," said his friend Marcel Duyvestijn.
"TRAGIC DAY, TRAGIC YEAR"
The loss of MH17 is the second devastating blow for Malaysia
Airlines this year, following the mysterious disappearance of
Flight MH370 in March, which vanished with 239 passengers and
crew on board on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
In Malaysia, there was a sense of disbelief that another
airline disaster could strike so soon.
"This is a tragic day, in what has already been a tragic
year, for Malaysia," Prime Minister Najib Razak said.
International air lanes had been open in the area, though
only above 32,000 feet. The Malaysia plane was flying 1,000
feet higher, at the instruction of Ukrainian air traffic
control, although the airline had asked to fly at 35,000
Relatives gathered at the airport in Kuala Lumpur and the
Netherlands declared a day of national mourning, without
Ukraine accused pro-Moscow militants of firing a long-range,
Soviet-era SA-11 ground-to-air missile. US officials said
that they saw this as possibly the most likely cause of the
Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed Kiev for renewing its
offensive against rebels two weeks ago after a ceasefire
failed to hold. The Kremlin leader called it a "tragedy" but
did not say who he thought had brought the Boeing 777 down.
He also called for a "thorough and unbiased" investigation
and for a ceasefire to allow for negotiations.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who had stepped up an
offensive in the east this month, spoke to Obama and sought
to rally world opinion behind his cause.
"The external aggression against Ukraine is not just our
problem but a threat to European and global security," he
Russia, which Western powers accuse of trying to destabilise
Ukraine to maintain influence over its old Soviet empire, has
accused Kiev's leaders of mounting a fascist coup. It says it
is holding troops in readiness to protect Russian-speakers in
the east - the same rationale it used for taking over Crimea.