The Ukrainian government on Saturday said it had proof that Russia had provided the surface-to-air missile system that shot down a Malaysia Airlines passenger jet over eastern Ukraine on Thursday, killing all 298 aboard.
Ukraine accused Russia and separatist rebels in the east of trying to cover up their role by blocking recovery workers from the crash site, removing evidence and driving the missile launchers back to Russia just hours after the crash. At a news conference in Kiev, Vitaly Nayda, head of counter-intelligence for the Ukrainian State Security Service, displayed photographs that he said showed three of the Buk-M1 missile systems on the road to the Russian border. Two of the devices, which are missile launchers mounted on an armored vehicle, crossed the border into Russia about 2 am Friday, or less than 10 hours after the jet, Flight 17, was blown apart in mid-air, he said. The third weapon crossed about 4 am.
Nayda said the missile had been fired from the town of Snizhne, located in rebel-controlled territory, echoing American intelligence showing the missile coming from eastern Ukraine. Both the Ukrainians and the Americans said they believed that the separatist rebels would have needed help from Russia in order to fire the anti-aircraft missiles.
The allegations of a cover-up, both to hide the weaponry in the hours immediately after the missile strike and to stop investigators from collecting evidence, threatened to further inflame an already highly-charged international incident. The Kremlin has forcefully denied any role in the downing of the plane and has said the Ukrainian military’s anti-aircraft weapons may have been responsible. Ukrainian officials accused Russia directly, and called for an international investigation.
“We have proof that the terrorist attack was planned and carried out with the involvement of representatives of the Russian Federation,” Nayda said. “We know that Russia is trying to hide its terrorist activity and their direct involvement.” While Russian officials have stopped short of pointing a direct finger at Kiev, they have issued their own calls for a thorough international inquiry. In a statement on Saturday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said “appeals to both sides of the Ukrainian conflict, urging them to do everything possible to enable access for international experts to the airplane crash area in order to take action necessary for the investigation”.
In Kiev, officials also said there was still no clear information about the location of the flight data recorders. They were said to be recovered at the scene but then taken by rebels. On Saturday, however, a rebel leader, Alexander Borodai, said they devices had not yet been found, Ukrainian news services reported.
Adding to the outrage over the downing of the plane, the Ukrainian government also charged that rebels had moved at least 38 bodies to a morgue in Donetsk, a regional capital and rebel stronghold.
In Russia Saturday, the Kremlin announced that President Vladimir Putin had spoken with German chancellor Angela Merkel about both the investigation and the need to pursue a ceasefire in Ukraine. The two leaders agreed to the need for a “thorough and objective investigation of all the circumstances of the incident,” according to a statement. NYT