By Anton Zverev and Matt Spetalnick
HRABOVE, Ukraine/WASHINGTON, July 21 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry laid out what he called overwhelming evidence of Russian complicity in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 as international horror deepened over the fate of the victims' remains.
Kerry demanded that Moscow take responsibility for actions of pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine whom Washington suspects of downing the jet with a missile, and expressed disgust at their "grotesque" mishandling of the bodies.
Television images of the rebel-held crash sites, where the remains of victims had lain decomposing in fields among their personal belongings, have turned initial shock and sorrow after Thursday's disaster into anger.
Emotions ran high in the Netherlands, the home country of about two-thirds of the 298 people who died in the Boeing 777. The Dutch foreign minister has said the nation is "furious" to hear bodies were being "dragged around", while relatives and church leaders demanded they be rapidly returned home.
But the departure of dozens of corpses loaded into refrigerated railway wagons was delayed on Sunday as Ukrainian officials and rebels traded blame over why the train had not yet left the war zone, and where or when international investigators would be able to check it.
The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to vote on Monday on a resolution that would condemn the downing of the plane and demands that those responsible be held accountable and that armed groups not compromise the integrity of the crash site.
In an apparent bid to compromise with Moscow, the wording of the resolution, drafted by Australia, was changed to characterize the incident as the "downing" of the flight, instead of "shooting down," according to the final draft obtained by Reuters. Diplomats said it was unclear if Russia would support the final version.
In Washington, Kerry criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin and threatened "additional steps" against Moscow.
"Drunken separatists have been piling bodies into trucks and removing them from the site," he said on NBC television on Sunday. "What's happening is really grotesque and it is contrary to everything President Putin and Russia said they would do."
Moscow denies any involvement in the disaster and has blamed the Ukrainian military. While stopping short of direct blame on Moscow, Kerry put forward the most detailed U.S. accusations so far, based on the latest U.S. intelligence assessments.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond urged Moscow to ensure international investigators had access to the crash sites. "Russia risks becoming a pariah state if it does not behave properly," he told Sky television.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he had spoken "overnight" to Putin for the first time about the disaster, amid mounting horror over the treatment of victims' remains. At least 27 Australian passengers were on the Malaysia Airlines flight.
Abbott said an Australian investigation team was in Kiev but had been unable to travel to the site. He said there had been some improvement with the Ukrainian government offering access.
"But there's still a hell of a long way to go before anyone could be satisfied with the way that site is being treated," Abbott said. "It's more like a garden cleanup than a forensic investigation. This is completely unacceptable."
After lying for two days in the summer heat, the bodies had been removed from much of the crash site by Sunday, leaving only bloodstained military stretchers along the side of the road.
Emergency workers, who have to navigate reporting both to the authorities in Kiev and the rebels who control the crash site and other areas in the Donetsk region, will now need to pick through the debris spread across the Ukrainian steppe.
As Ukraine accused the rebels of hiding evidence relating to the loss of the airliner, a separatist leader said items thought to be the stricken jet's "black boxes" were now in rebel hands.
Investigators from the U.N. aviation agency arrived in Ukraine to help probe the crash, but a senior official said safety concerns prevented them from reaching the crash site.
"Until safe passage for them is assured, we don't send people into that kind of situation," said the official with the Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organization.
Kerry said the United States had seen supplies moving into Ukraine from Russia in the last month, including a 150-vehicle convoy of armored personnel carriers, tanks and rocket launchers given to the separatists.
It had also intercepted conversations about the transfer to separatists of the Russian radar-guided SA-11 missile system, which it blames for the Boeing 777's destruction. "It's pretty clear that this is a system that was transferred from Russia," Kerry said in an interview on CNN.
"There's enormous amount of evidence, even more evidence that I just documented, that points to the involvement of Russia in providing these systems, training the people on them," he said on CBS.
Kerry's evidence of a Russian connection tracked closely with an official unclassified U.S. intelligence summary released over the weekend. It said intelligence analysts confirmed the authenticity of an audiotaped conversation provided to the press by Ukrainian authorities of a known separatist leader boasting of downing the plane.
"We also have information indicating that Russia is providing training to separatist fighters at a facility in southwest Russia" that includes missile systems, it said.
The disaster has sharply deepened the Ukrainian crisis in which the separatists in the Russian-speaking east have been fighting government forces since protesters in Kiev forced out a pro-Moscow president and Russia annexed Crimea in March.
The United States has already imposed sanctions on individuals and businesses close to Putin but Kerry indicated that President Barack Obama might go further. "The president is prepared to take additional steps," he told Fox News, although he ruled out sending in U.S. troops.
European Union ministers should be ready to announce a fresh round of sanctions at a meeting of the EU's Foreign Affairs Council this week, said a statement from British Prime Minister David Cameron's office, issued after telephone calls with French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"They ... agreed that the EU must reconsider its approach to Russia and that foreign ministers should be ready to impose further sanctions on Russia when they meet on Tuesday," it said.
The leaders also agreed to press Putin to ensure investigators had free access to the crash site.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said all efforts were focusing on getting the train loaded with bodies to territory controlled by the Ukrainian authorities.
The European security organization, the OSCE, was negotiating with the separatists, he said, adding that a team of victim identification specialists was likely to enter the crash site on Monday.
While Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko issued a renewed appeal for backing from the international community, some European nations, with an eye to their trade links with Russia, have been less enthusiastic about confronting Moscow.
Kerry challenged the Europeans to be more assertive. "It would help enormously if some countries in Europe that have been a little reluctant to move would now recognize this wakeup call and join the United States and President Obama in taking the lead, and also stepping up," he said.
A spokesman for Ukraine's Security Council, Andriy Lysenko, accused the rebels of a cover-up. "The terrorists are doing everything to hide the evidence of the involvement of Russian missiles in the shooting down of that airliner," he told a news conference in Kiev.
He said the rebels had taken debris and bodies from the crash site in trucks, tampering with a scene that investigators need to be secure to have a chance of determining what and who caused the plane to plunge into the steppe.
OSCE observers visited part of the crash site for a third day on Sunday. Just before their arrival, emergency workers found parts of three more bodies and put them in black body bags on the side of a road.
At the site where the cockpit fell, in a field of sunflowers near the village of Razsypnoye, residents had made a small memorial shrine of flowers, candles in tiny jars and brightly colored teddy bears.
Photocopied pictures of children and families killed in the disaster, apparently from news coverage of the victims, had been set out on the grass.
All bodies, including that of a woman who had lain naked under a tarp about 50 meters away, had been removed."There were five or six over here, and two or three over there," said a young man with a rifle guarding the site, who declined to give his name. "They took the bodies away to the morgue. Firstly, they were decomposing. And secondly, the smell was horrible." (Additional reporting by Peter Graff in Hrabove, Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets and Elizabeth Piper in Kiev, Jim Loney, Doina Chiacu, Ayesha Rascoe and Mark Hosenball in Washington, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Allison Lampert in Montreal, Lincoln Feast and Jane Wardell in Sydney, William James in London and Nicholas Vinocur in Paris; Writing by Giles Elgood and David Stamp; Editing by Tom Heneghan, Peter Cooney and Eric Walsh)
A document shows that EU sanctions ar targeting Russian businesses, the AP reports:
A European Union document shows that among those targeted by the EU-wide asset freeze and travel ban are Alexander Bortnikov, head of the Russian Federal Security.
Also targeted is Sergei Beseda, head of the FSB service that oversees international operations and intelligence activity.
Associated Press journalists in Ukraine saw a BUK missile system -- the type that the US says downed Flight MH17 -- in rebel hands just hours before the plane was shot down, the news agency says in detailed account of the day's events. AP says that while the rebels officially deny responsibility, "the denials are increasingly challenged by accounts of residents, the observations of journalists on the ground, and the statements of one rebel official." Further, one rebel official told AP that they were behind the plane tragedy.
More from the AP story:
A highly placed rebel, speaking to the AP this week, admitted that rebels were responsible. He said a unit based in the hometown of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, made up of both Russians and Ukrainians, was involved in the firing of an SA-11 from near Snizhne. The rebel, who has direct access to the inner circle of the insurgent leadership in Donetsk, said that he could not be named because he was contradicting the rebels' official line.
The rebels believed they were targeting a Ukrainian military plane, this person said. Instead, they hit the passenger jet flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. All 298 people aboard were killed.
Read the full account here.
In a briefing on Friday, the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said there has been a "steady flow" of weapons from Russia into Ukraine, and emphasized the position that Russia played a role in the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal's Marketwatch reports.
Russia 'culpable' for Malaysia Air jet downed in Ukraine: White House http://t.co/bJR9bYh7js
— MarketWatch (@MarketWatch) July 25, 2014
The Pentagon said on Friday that the transfer of missile systems from Russia to separatists in Ukraine appeared to be imminent. On Thursday, the U.S. claimed that Russia had fired on Ukrainian military positions.
— Zeke Miller (@ZekeJMiller) July 25, 2014
Ukraine's security service, SBU, on Friday released a recording it said was of a phone call between pro-Russian separatists discussing a plane overhead, minutes before the Malaysian Airlines jet was shot down over east Ukraine. “I see… Roger... Report it upstairs,” the rebel commander says, according to a translation.
Writing for Mashable, Christopher Miller notes that the recording has not been authenticated and the commander "stops short of giving the order to shoot down Flight 17," however the implication is clearly to build a case that the rebels shot down the plane.
Responding to U.S. officials assertion that Russia was firing artillery on Ukrainian military positions across the border, Russia on Friday countered by calling the claim a baseless "smear campaign,"AFP reports.
A statement from the Russian foreign ministry said, "Due to the smear campaign against us that the US Administration has begun... we reject the unfounded public insinuations that US deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf is spreading on a daily basis," adding that Harf has used "a basketful of these anti-Russian cliches," to influence perceptions of Russia. The statement refuted the U.S. State Departments claim on Russia targeting Ukraine military, saying "There are no facts or specifics about these falsehoods."
More from AFP.
-- Andrew Hart
#BREAKING: More than 15,000 Russian troops amassed along border with Ukraine: U.S. ambassador to NATO
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) July 25, 2014
The Pentagon said on Friday the transfer of heavy caliber multiple launch rocket systems from
Russia to Ukrainian separatists appeared to be imminent, with the arms close enough to the border they could be handed over "potentially today."
"We have indications that the Russians intend to supply heavier and more sophisticated multiple launch rocket systems in the very near future," said Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, adding that the weapons were in the over-200mm range.
Warren indicated the weapons had been seen getting closer to the border and the Pentagon believed a transfer was imminent and "potentially today."
"We believe that they are able to transfer this equipment at any time, at any moment," he said.
Pentagon: Russia readying powerful weapons for rebels in Ukraine, transfer could happen any time. http://t.co/xZnfkBUWSV
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) July 25, 2014
(Reuters) - Australia will send 100 additional police and some defense force personnel to Europe to join a planned Dutch-led international security force to secure the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crash site, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Friday.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers, some of whom will be armed, will join a contingent of 90 AFP officers already in London waiting for a deal with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to be approved by Ukraine's parliament.
"This is a humanitarian mission, with a clear and simple objective," Abbott told reporters. "I expect the operation on the ground in Ukraine, should the deployment go ahead, to last no longer than a few weeks."
Read the full story here.
A leading Russian newspaper has issued an apology on its front page, asking for forgiveness from the people of the Netherlands who lost their loved ones in the Malaysian Airlines plane crash. The front page of Novaya Gazeta on Friday featured the words "Vergeef ons, Nederlands" (Forgive Us, Netherlands) in bold above a heartbreaking image of the line of hearses carrying MH17 victim's bodies.
Read the full story on the Huffington Post here.
CNN reports that the European Union slapped sanctions on 15 more people and 18 entities due to the Ukraine crisis, according to an announcement Friday. Already 87 people have been subject to EU-wide asset freezes and travel bans, as well as 20 entities, CNN said.
FIFA rejected calls to move the 2018 World Cup from Russia, saying the tournament "can achieve positive change."
Russia's alleged involvement in shooting down a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine last week prompted calls from some lawmakers in Germany to review the country's hosting rights.
On Friday, FIFA issued a statement saying it "deplores any form of violence" and questioning the purpose of relocating the sport's showcase tournament.
"History has shown so far that boycotting sport events or a policy of isolation or confrontation are not the most effective ways to solve problems," FIFA said, adding that global attention on the World Cup "can be a powerful catalyst for constructive dialogue between people and governments."
New York-based human rights organization Human Rights Watch has accused both Ukrainian government forces and separatist rebels of using unguided Grad rockets, which they said had killed 16 civilians and wounded many more. “Grad rockets are notoriously imprecise weapons that shouldn’t be used in populated areas,” HRW researcher Ole Solvang said in a statement. "Ukrainian authorities should order all their forces, including volunteer forces, to immediately stop using Grads in or near populated areas, and insurgent forces should avoid deploying in densely populated areas," he added.
A view of proceedings during a memorial service held for victims of the MH17 disaster at St Mary's Cathedral on July 25, 2014 in Perth, Australia. (Paul Kane/Getty Images)
Russia said around 40 mortar shells fired by Ukrainian forces fell on Friday in its Rostov province near the border with eastern Ukraine where Kiev is fighting pro-Russian separatists.
"Around 40 mortar shells have fallen from Ukraine ... in Rostov province," Vasily Malayev, a representative of the region's Federal Security Service devoted to border security, was cited by the state Ria Novosti news agency as saying.
In a statement on Friday, the headquarters of the government's military operation in the east listed at least seven locations where rebels attacked Ukrainian troops. They also claimed that attacks on two locations including a border crossing were supported by artillery fire from Russia.
Late on Thursday, Ukrainian troops entered the town of Lysychansk, which has been in rebel hands for several months, the military press office said. Rebels on Friday morning admitted in comments carried by Interfax that they had to flee the town which is 70 kilometers (45 miles) north-west of the regional capital Luhansk.
The Associated Press reports the countries of the European Union have reached a preliminary deal to impose more sanctions on Russia.
BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union ambassadors have reached a preliminary deal on stepped-up sanctions against Russia, targeting its access to European capital markets and trade in the defense sector, dual-use goods and sensitive technologies.
EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic says the proposals were transmitted Friday to EU officials to codify into regulations, with the ambassadors scheduled to meet again Tuesday to review the results. She said EU member states must decide whether the measures need to be approved by a summit meeting of the trade bloc's 28 member countries to go into effect.
The ambassadors also ordered EU-wide asset freezes and travel bans for an undisclosed number of Russians and pro-Russian Ukrainians who are accused of undermining Ukraine's sovereignty. The names of those affected should be made public later Friday.
The black box flight recorders from the doomed Malaysia Airlines jet suffered slight damage in the attack and crash, Reuters reported.
"During the inspection it was established that the recorders have slight mechanical damage which did not affect the intactness of the recorders," Russia's Interstate Aviation Committee, a supervisory body that oversees the use and management of civil aviation, stated.
FMI: Click here.
Two more planes arrived in the Netherlands carrying the remains of victims on Thursday, AP reports:
Human remains continue to be found a full week after the plane went down, underlining concerns about the halting and chaotic recovery effort at the sprawling site spread across farmland in eastern Ukraine. Armed separatists control the area and have hindered access by investigators.
President Barack Obama spoke with Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte on the phone and they agreed that more sanctions need to be imposed on Russia, Reuters reports:
"Instead of de-escalating the situation, they agreed that all evidence indicates Russia is still arming and supplying separatists who continue to engage in deadly acts of aggression against Ukrainian armed forces," the White House said.
Foreign correspondents report shelling in the city of Donetsk on Thursday night.
The soothing lullaby of shelling. The war creeps close and closer to Donetsk city centre.
— Roland Oliphant (@RolandOliphant) July 24, 2014
Midnight in Donetsk. Sustained, low rumble of shelling in the distance. Going to be a long summer.
— max seddon (@maxseddon) July 24, 2014
This is easily the loudest and longest fire I've heard in Donetsk.
— max seddon (@maxseddon) July 24, 2014
Dutch sending 40 unarmed military police to #MH17 crash site, want to "stabilise area": PM Rutte
— Charles Onians (@charlesonians) July 24, 2014
Gunmen chased investigators from the site where the Malaysian airliner crashed and "lunatics" were still making life difficult for those who wanted to find out what downed flight MH17, officials said on Thursday.
As foreign ministers from Australia and the Netherlands met Ukrainian officials to coordinate the investigation, the head of Ukraine's Emergency Situations Service and the chief of a Dutch police mission said their work at the site was being hampered.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, however, said there had been no incidents, and that they had been joined by experts from Malaysia and Australia, which lost 28 citizens in the crash.
The West has called for a thorough investigation into the downing of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine to get justice for the 298 people who were killed, but have voiced concern that the rebels were preventing investigators from doing their job.
"They took away our tents, the ones which were at our base camp," Serhiy Bochkovsky, the head of the emergencies service, told a news conference in the eastern city of Kharkiv from where the remains of the victims are starting their journey home.
"We were allowed only our equipment and machinery and we were chased away at gunpoint."
He did not say when this happened.
Read the full story here.
U.S. says it has evidence Russian artillery is firing across border to attack Ukrainian military: State Dept.
— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) July 24, 2014
A convoy of hearses carry bodies and remains from those killed on Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 on July 24, 2014 in Boxtel, Netherlands. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
Dutch military personnel carry coffins containing the remains of the victims of the MH17 plane crash to a waiting hearse at the airbase in Eindhoven on July 24, 2014. (MARCEL VAN HOORN/AFP/Getty Images)
The Washington Post has an infographic showing information surrounding each of the aircraft that have been shot in Ukraine since May 2.
— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) July 24, 2014
Investigators looking into the downing of MalaysiaAirlines flight MH17 have found no evidence that either of the aircraft's two black boxes were tampered with, the Dutch Safety Board, which is coordinating the investigation, said.
In a statement on Thursday, the Board said the data from theBoeing 777's flight data recorder had been successfully downloaded by investigators at Britain's Air Accident Investigation Branch. The other voice recorder was successfully read the day before.
World leaders had expressed concern that the black boxes, which could contain data vital to ascertaining the cause of the crash, may have been manipulated by Moscow-backed rebels who control the territory in which the aircraft crashed last week.
BREAKING: Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk says he is resigning.
— The Associated Press (@AP) July 24, 2014
(Reuters) - Russia will cooperate with the investigation into the downing of a Malaysian airliner a week ago and is satisfied that the Netherlands, rather than Ukraine, is leading the effort, the country's ambassador to Malaysia said on Thursday.
The norm under rules set down by the United Nation's civil aviation body (ICAO) is that an air investigation is led by the state in whose territory the plane crash, but Russia had said that Ukraine should not take charge because the rebels who control the crash site did not trust the authorities in Kiev.
Read the full story here.