AP Analysis: Downed jet could alter Ukraine crisis

Associated Press | July 18, 2014

PARIS — The downing of a passenger jet in Ukraine is likely to be a turning point in the country’s conflict. But which way it turns depends mainly on who carried out the attack and how convincingly it can be proved to the world.

With suspicion falling heavily on pro-Russian insurgents, the event could provide an opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin to disengage from his increasingly uncontrollable allies in eastern Ukraine.

But if enough doubt persists, positions could harden in both Russia and the West. The West could toughen its sanctions against Russia and help Ukraine’s military, prompting Putin to dig in for an even higher-stakes battle.

The disaster has already drawn the world closer into the Ukraine conflict, the worst crisis between Russia and the West in a generation.

It also made the fighting painfully real for families from Australia to Amsterdam whose relatives were on Malaysian Airlines Flight 17. And it revealed a danger that most people hadn’t contemplated: rebels able to strike beyond their own homeland by pointing conventional weapons toward the skies.

WEAKENING THE INSURGENCY

Definitive proof that the insurgents are at fault could be a crucial step toward defusing the months-long conflict, discrediting them so badly that Russia’s leadership distances itself from the rebels and their movement fizzles.

Even before the plane was downed, Putin faced competing pressures at home. Some in his administration were urging him to take a more forceful hand in supporting the rebels, while others urged him to step away.

If the rebels can be shown to have committed an act that horrified the world, the doves would likely see their position strengthened. But Putin-watchers caution that with the Russian president, you never really know.

Any change would probably be gradual, especially because Putin has always denied any direct role in supporting the rebels.

HARDENING THE INSURGENCY

It will be difficult, and perhaps impossible, to prove definitively who shot down the Boeing 777 and why. This is an unusually tough investigation in a region where no one is really in charge, propaganda trumps truth and every announcement seems to have an ulterior motive.

If enough doubt remains about who shot down the plane, Russia could plausibly continue to quietly support the rebels, especially as many Russians believe the Ukrainian government was responsible for the attack.

Of course, that would bring consequences for Russia. In Washington, some lawmakers are already pushing President Barack Obama to get tougher on Russia and crank up the sanctions. European leaders face similar calls.

The West might even increase its military aid to Ukraine. And it’s anyone’s guess where those hostilities might lead.

BAD PRECEDENTS

Few passenger airliners have ever been shot down — and when they are, it can cause lasting political damage.

A U.S. warship mistakenly shot down an Iranian jet in 1988 during the Iran-Iraq war, killing 290 people and prompting widespread anger at U.S. policy and years of legal dispute.

The downing of a Korean Airlines flight by Soviet forces in 1983 and the loss of 269 lives sparked one of the tensest moments of the Cold War and led to an escalation of anti-Soviet sentiment in the U.S. The man in charge of the Soviet Union at the time, Yuri Andropov, was a hero of Putin’s.

FROZEN CONFLICT

Lingering uncertainty about Flight 17 could lead to yet another option: condemning eastern Ukraine to a frozen conflict, like others around Russia’s edges.

It may take days or longer to know what Putin plans to do. A dragged-out, inconclusive investigation could leave things just as they are, serving Russia’s interests by preserving economic ties between eastern Ukraine and Russia and effectively scotching any Ukrainian attempt to join NATO.

The world may never know what happened to Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared over the Indian Ocean this year. And it’s possible that the motive behind the downing of Flight 17 could remain a mystery as well.

Whether it does could well determine the future of Ukraine.

___

Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.

 

MH17 disaster creates dilemma for Putin over backing Ukraine’s rebels
Malaysia Airlines crash makes supplying arms to separatists a threat to the world but pulling the plug means defeat for Russia
Julian Borger and Luke Harding
The Guardian | 18 July 2014

The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 has confronted Vladimir Putin with a dilemma he had sought to avoid: to continue to support the separatist insurgency in Ukraine in the face of a storm of international outrage, or cut the rebels off and allow them to be defeated by the government in Kiev.

Until the plane was hit by an anti-aircraft missile on Thursday, killing nearly 300 people, the Russian president had tried to hedge his bets according to circumstances on the battlefield and western pressure. He moved troops and tanks away from the border after the Ukrainian presidential elections in May, but moved them back in recent weeks.

Similarly, he initially appeared to distance himself from the rebels until Ukrainian forces under the newly elected president, Petro Poroshenko, made significant gains in the east, triggering a new supply of Russian equipment over the border, including anti-aircraft missiles.

The MH17 disaster forces his hand. Anything he does now will attract much more scrutiny. Arms shipments across the very porous Ukrainian border, which had until now been a threat to the Ukrainian armed forces, will henceforward be seen as a direct threat to the international community and a trigger for global outrage. But pulling the plug on the separatists would leave them vulnerable to Ukrainian forces, which can be expected to seize the opportunity to crush the revolt, handing a strategic defeat to Putin.

The early pointers suggest he is hesitating between the two options. While Russian media quickly accused Ukraine of shooting down the plane – even floating a theory that Kiev thought it was targeting Putin’s own plane – neither the president nor his top officials have followed that line explicitly.

In the fullest exposition of the Russian position so far, the country’s envoy to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, blamed the tragedy on the Ukrainian conflict in general, and Kiev and its western backers for stoking of the conflict. Churkin also questioned why Ukrainian air traffic controllers had allowed the Malaysian plane to fly over eastern Ukrainian airspace, but did not address direct responsibility for the shooting down itself. With a wealth of details emerging from the region building a compelling case against the separatists, the Kremlin has kept its powder dry. The foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, followed suit, telling Rossiya 24 TV channel: "The tragedy may sober up those who give up obligations over the political process." He also stopped short of assigning immediate blame. Putin himself called for a new peace initiative.

It is likely that this initial demurral is intended to buy time so the international response can be measured before Putin makes a strategic choice.

It is already clear from Friday’s UN security council meeting that if the rebels are found to have carried out the outrage with a Russian weapon, Moscow will find itself more isolated than at any time in its recent history. Nobody around the council table spoke up in support of Churkin.

The concerted western response is to build the circumstantial case against the Russian-backed separatists while awaiting an international inquiry. If that investigation confirms the early suspicions, one western option would be to declare the rebel Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) a terrorist organisation, said Ben Judah, the author of Fragile Empire: How Russia Fell In and Out of Love with Vladimir Putin.

"Putin’s greatest worry is that [the US] Congress will deem the DNR a terrorist organisation, responsible for the worst attack on a civilian airliner since 9/11, which would make Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.

"He will do anything possible to avoid that wrath, while not admitting anything," Judah said.

"Meanwhile, this is a huge failure for GRU [Russian military intelligence], the FSB [the secret police] and the special forces. What kind of people are not capable of distinguishing a Malaysian airliner in the sky? It would not be surprising if the people involved were drunk. So heads will likely roll in the security forces."

Stephen Sestanovich, a former US ambassador to Moscow now at Columbia University, said that Putin’s past behaviour made it difficult to predict which path he would take.

"This is the problem with Putin mind-reading," he said, adding that Putin had alternated between prudent and reckless behaviour.

"Even before the shoot-down there were some signs of diminished Russian enthusiasm for the whole project. Russian public opinion is going off it and support for separatism inside Ukraine is less than originally thought. But Russia kept the supply of weapons going," Sestanovich said.

"You would think that this disastrous result would wake up Russian officials and make them see this was even more of a loser than they thought. But Putin doesn’t like to be put in a corner. He’s very humiliation-conscious,"he said, "and doesn’t like to feel he’s backed down."

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/18/malaysia-airlines-disaster-creates-dilemma-putin-ukraine-rebels

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MH17: Evidence mounts against Russian-backed separatists

Ukraine interior minister claims Buk missile launcher moved across border to Russia, as accident investigators raise fears about interference at crash site
David Barrett, and Tom Parfitt
Telegraph | 18 Jul 2014

A missile launcher allegedly used to destroy Flight MH17 has been smuggled across the Ukrainian border into Russia in order to cover up its role in the strike, Ukraine’s interior minister has claimed.

Amid mounting evidence mounted that Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine were behind the disaster, the United States’ ambassador to the United Nations said “technical assistance” from Russia could not be ruled out.

And in a pointed reference to Moscow, Samantha Power as she said the perpetrators should not be “sheltered” by any other UN member state.

In a day of claim and counter-claim, Ukraine’s interior minister Arsen Avakov said a Buk mobile launch vehicle had been moved since the destruction of the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777-200 on Thursday, and that it was missing at least one rocket, suggesting it had fired at the jet killing all 298 aboard.

The minister claimed the launcher had been tracked by Ukrainian intelligence agents as it passed by the town of Krasnodon in Luhansk region on its way to the Russian border.

A 13-second video showed a tarpaulin-covered vehicle being driven through a semi-rural location with green and white missiles still visible, but it was not possible to confirm the veracity of the claim.

Mr Avakov wrote on Facebook: “To all appearance, this is exactly the Buk rocket complex which fired at the aircraft flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.”

Photographs also emerged purportedly showing a Buk battery being moved in a rebel-held area close to the crash site in eastern Ukraine.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, rubbished suggestions that Moscow was involved in the alleged strike, while the pro-Russian separatists also denied involvement claiming they did not have a weapon capable of such an attack.

However, the separatists themselves announced at the end of last month that they had seized at least one Buk missile launcher from a Ukrainian army base in Donetsk.

Miss Power told the UN Security Council: “We assess Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 … was likely downed by a surface-to-air missile, [likely] an SA-11, operated from a separatist location in eastern Ukraine.”

SA-11 is the designation used by the US Department of Defense for the Buk missile.

“We cannot rule out technical assistance from the Russians,” added the ambassador.

“The perpetrators must be brought to justice they must not be sheltered by any member state of the United Nations.”

Douglas Barrie, a defence aerospace specialist from the International Institute for Security Studies, said the Buk would have been easily capable of hitting an aircraft at 33,000ft (10,000 metres), the altitude at which MH17 was flying when it disappeared from the screens of air traffic controllers on Thursday.

“That kind of altitude is in the heart of its engagement envelope,” Mr Barrie said.

Russian sources have suggested the Buk system seized by the rebels in Donetsk was poorly maintained or incomplete, and there was speculation that it could not have been fired in such condition.

But Mr Barrie said that while the Buk required specialist training to operate, the launcher could be used crudely even without a separate command vehicle or surveillance radar.

Raw tracking data from a less sophisticated radar which is mounted within the launch vehicle itself would have made it difficult to distinguish a civilian jet from a military plane, possibly explain why Flight MH17 was shot down by mistake, he said.

There were also unconfirmed reports that MH17’s “black box” – the voice data recorder and flight data recorder – has already been found and spirited away to Moscow.

Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Mr Avakov, said: “According to the latest information from our intelligence the ‘black boxes’ obtained by the terrorists at the scene will be handed over to their supervisors from FSB [the Russian security service] today on one of the border crossing check-points of Luhansk.

“This would be the one of the many brazen acts of violation of international treaties in the sphere of aircraft accidents investigation by Putin.”

In response, Mr Lavrov said: “Despite what Kiev is again saying, we do not plan to take these boxes. We do not plan to violate existing norms for such situations.

“We want international experts to get to the site of the crash as soon as possible so that they get the black boxes right away.”

Earlier Valentyn Nalivaychenko, Ukraine’s state security chief, releasing recordings and transcipts of what he claimed were intercepted telephone conversations between Russian military intelligence officers and rebel fighters, showing collusion in a missile strike.

One recording featured a man who Mr Nalivaychenko said was Igor Bezler, a rebel group commander, who is heard reporting on the incident to Vasily Geranin, a colonel in Russian military intelligence.

“A plane has just been shot down. It was the ‘mine-laying’ group. They’ve gone to search and photograph the plane. It is smoking,” Bezler says.

In another recording, a rebel fighter going by the nom de guerre of ‘Major’ is heard to say: “Hell. It’s almost 100 per cent certain that it’s a civilian plane.”

Asked by a comrade called ‘The Greek’ if any weapons were found, ‘Major’ says: “No. Civilian things, medical things, towels, toilet paper.”

In a third conversation, a rebel fighter says: “There’s a sea of women and children.”

Yesterday world leaders moved to secure a proper investigation of the wreckage amid fears that interference with the crash site has already fatally compromised crucial evidence.

There were even reports of items of wreckage being taken as souvenirs by locals.

The UN Security Council approved a statement drafted by the British Government which called for “a full, thorough and independent international investigation”.

It called for a crash inquiry to be launched “in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines and for appropriate accountability” and stressed the need for “immediate access by investigators to the crash site to determine the cause of the incident”.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said 30 observers reached the site as talks continued with the rebels to create a “humanitarian corridor” allowing access to the region.

But it remained unclear which organisation will take the lead role in the mounting a wide-ranging inquiry.

International law sets out that the state in which an air accident occurs will take command of an accident inquiry, said Jim Morris, a former RAF pilot and air accident investigator who is now a barrister specialising in air accident litigation.

It is unknown whether Ukraine has a functioning air accident organisation with the resources and personnel necessary to carry out such a complex inquiry.

Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, has called for the United Nations to lead the investigation and the Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB) confirmed it was sending a team to Ukraine to help.

Downing Street confirmed that specialist teams from British police forces have been sent to the crash site to help recover and repatriate the bodies of the 298 passengers and crew of Flight MH17.

The painstaking process of investigating the Malaysian Airlines disaster will be made immeasurably more complicated by the crash site’s location in the middle of a country on the brink of civil war, experts said.

The investigation will require scrupulous mapping of debris – to help give a clear picture of how and why the fuselage broke up – followed by recovery of every piece of wreckage and possible forensic examination for traces of explosives.

Peter Claiden, who was a senior engineer in the AAIB investigation into the 1988 Lockerbie disaster, said: “There really needs to be a proper, professional investigation if they want to secure evidence from the wreckage.

“It was difficult enough to achieve at Lockerbie so the problems facing investigators in what is effectively a war zone are very serious indeed.”

Mr Claiden, who was responsible for reconstructing part of Pan Am Flight 103 after it was blown up mid-air above the Scottish town killing all 259 onboard and 11 on the ground, said: “The first problem will be to try to identify how widespread the wreckage is.

“They will need to find the infrastructure to take away the wreckage and store it safely.

“If the aircraft was destroyed by a missile, in an ideal world you must get all that wreckage and reassemble it. Then you might get an idea of the origin of the disaster.”

Air accident investigators must sometimes go to extraordinary lengths to establish the cause of a disaster – as in the case of Lockerbie which became Britain’s largest ever murder inquiry.

Part of the fuselage of Pan Am Boeing 747 – which exploded above Lockerbie in December 1988 – was reconstructed in a hangar in Farnborough, Hants, by the AAIB, where it remained for 24 years while diplomatic and legal machinations wore on.

The reconstruction was essential in proving Flight 103 broke up mid-air after the detonation of Semtex high explosive concealed in a Toshiba radio cassette recorder, which was contained in a Samsonite suitcase in the aircraft’s hold.

Fragments of the items, plus a long-delay electronic timer made by a Swiss firm, MEBO, were presented in the trial of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi held under Scottish law in Camp Zeist, the Netherlands, in 2000.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/ukraine/10977078/MH17-Evidence-mounts-against-Russian-backed-separatists.html

 

Cover-up: Ukraine rebels destroying all links to MH17 air atrocity
UN demands full inquiry but armed Russian separatists block access to crash site amid confusion over black boxes
Ewen MacAskill, defence correspondent, Harriet Salem in Grabovo and Spencer Ackerman in New York
The Guardian | 18 July 2014

Pro-Russia separatist groups in eastern Ukraine are hastily covering up all links to the Buk missile battery suspected to have been used to shoot down the Malaysia Airlines passenger plane, according to western-based defence and intelligence specialists.

As the UN security council called for a "full, thorough independent international investigation" into the downing of the plane, concern that a cover-up was under way was fuelled by a standoff at part of the crash site between observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and rebel gunmen, which ended with a warning shot being fired.

Postings on rebel websites immediately after the crash boasted of having shot down what they claimed was an Antonov Ukrainian military transport plane, but these have been deleted.

The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, blamed a surface-to-air missile fired by rebels in eastern Ukraine and hinted that they might have had Russian technical help. The rebels are suspected of having used a Russian-built, vehicle-mounted Buk missile system to bring down MH17, killing all 298 passengers and crew. Power called for the crash site to be preserved. "All evidence must be undisturbed," she said. "Russia needs to help make this happen."

But hopes are not high. The OSCE was trying to gain access to one part of the large crash site but the commander of a rebel unit, known as Commander Glum, blocked them. After the warning shot, the OSCE convoy departed.

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There is also confusion over the black boxes and other devices apparently salvaged from the plane. A rebel military commander initially said he was considering what to do with them, while another rebel leader, Aleksandr Borodai, contradicting his colleague, said the rebels had no black boxes or any other devices.

The Ukrainian interior ministry added to fears of a cover-up when it released video purportedly taken by police showing a truck carrying a Buk missile launcher with one of its four missiles apparently missing, rolling towards the Russian border at dawn . The video could not be independently verified.

Other material on rebel social media sites was being deleted, including pictures showing the alleged capture of Buk missile vehicles by rebels from a Ukrainian air base last month.

Rebels said the boast on the social media site on Thursday that a plane had been shot down was not put up by them but by a sympathiser who mistakenly assumed it was a Ukrainian military plane that had been shot down. But in a separate posting a rebel leader also claimed that a plane had been brought down. "We warned you – do not fly in our sky," he said. That too was removed.

A Nato intelligence specialist quoted by the military analysts Janes said the recordings "show that the Russian ‘helpers’ realise that they now have an international incident on their hands – and they probably also gave the order for separatists to erase all evidence – including those internet postings. It will be interesting to see if we ever find this Buk battery again or if someone now tries to dump it into a river."

Video footage allegedly taken on Thursday appeared to support the idea that pro-Russia separatists had been to blame. It showed a Buk battery seemingly being moved in the rebel-held area between Snizhne and Torez close to the crash site. A still picture allegedly shows a missile in vertical launch mode beside a supermarket in Torez. However, the location has still to be established.

Ukrainian intelligence has published a tape said to be a recording between rebels and Russian intelligence in which they realise there has been a catastrophic blunder. One recording is said to be between a rebel commander, Igor Bezler, and a Russian intelligence officer in which he says: "We have just shot down a plane." A second recording from an unidentified source puts the blame on Cossack militiamen.

Defence analysts with Russian expertise shared Power’s scepticism that Russia-backed rebel groups would have had the expertise to fire the missile and suggested it was more likely to have been Russian ground troops who specialise in air defence, seconded to help the rebels.

At the Pentagon, officials said a motive for the operation had yet to be determined, as had the chain of command. One said it would be "surprising to us" if pro-Russia separatists were able to operate the Buk missile battery without Russian technical support. The Ukrainian military confirmed it has Buk batteries but said it had none in the area the missile was fired.

Nato had Awacs surveillance and command-and-control planes flying in the Baltics around the time of the crash, but Pentagon officials did not think the aircraft picked up indications of the disaster.

Bob Latiff, a former US weapons developer for the air force and the CIA and now a professor at Notre Dame University, said he leaned towards a belief that it was a case of mistaken identity on the part of those who pressed the button.

"A radar return from an airplane like this would look very similar to that from a cargo plane, as was initially claimed by the separatists. If radar was all they were using, that is a shame," he said. "All airliners emit identification signals which identify the aircraft and provide other information like altitude and speed. They also operate on known communications frequencies. It doesn’t sound like the separatists were using any of this.

"My guess is the system’s radar saw a return from a big ‘cargo’ plane flying at 30,000 ft or so and either automatically fired, or some aggressive, itchy operator fired, not wanting to miss an opportunity."

Latiff said that if they had only one radar, as Ukrainian officials suggest, it would have been pointed at the target. A second, rotating one would normally have been part of a battery to pick up other planes in the immediate vicinity, but he said even that would not have established whether it was a commercial plane and there would normally have been communications equipment to pick up signals showing the plane was non-military.

Igor Sutyagin, a Russian military specialist at the London-based Royal United Services Institute, said he regarded the tape recordings as genuine, as well as postings on social media pointing the finger at pro-Russia separatists or Russia itself.

But getting evidence would be very difficult. He said: "A decision has been made on the Russian side to hide their tracks. It will be hard to find the battery." Satellites might have been able to catch something, but the trail from the missile would have been very short, Sutyagin said.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/18/separatist-links-malaysia-airlines-mh17-removed

Did MH17 pilot divert INTO the danger zone?

Aviation expert claims captain made last-minute change of course over Ukraine because he ‘felt uncomfortable’
By Simon Tomlinson and Michael Seamark and Louise Eccles and Will Stewart and Ted Thornhill
Daily Mail | 18 July 2014

Russian military expert claims pilot radioed his concerns about the route before diverting over rebel-held territory

Russian media explores theory that Ukrainian armed forces shot down Boeing 777 after mistaking it for Putin’s jet

Malaysia Airlines filed flight plan requesting 35,000 feet through airspace but was told to fly at 33,000

Kremlin leader was flying back to Moscow from Brazilian World Cup at around same time passenger plane crashed

Russian aviation sources said the routes of the two planes ‘crossed at the same point and on the same altitude’

Ukrainian official accuses Putin of smuggling missile launcher back into Russia to cover up Kremlin involvement

Malaysian transport minister said MH17 was flying on approved route and pilot given no last-minute instructions

Putin calls for a ceasefire by pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces to allow for negotiations

Confusion over the two black boxes: Rebel says none found, another said it has eight, Ukraine says it has both

Ukrainian officials issue plea for respect as it emerges looters are raiding the possessions of dead passengers

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Is this proof that MH17 change course into a war zone? A route map compiled by Twitter user Vagelis Karmiros using data from flight-tracking website Flightaware claims to show how the doomed Malaysia Airlines plane took a different flightpath to the ones taken by the previous ten MH17 flights

The pilot of MH17 radioed that he ‘felt uncomfortable’ about the route he was flying while over Ukraine and fatally altered his course to hostile territory, according to an expert.

Dr Igor Sutyagin, Research Fellow in Russian Studies from the Royal United Services Institute, believes that MH17 was shot down by rebels based in the 3rd District of Torez, in eastern Ukraine, after mistaking his plane for a government military transport aircraft.

He told MailOnline that information had been leaked from a source he was unwilling to name that the pilot of MH17 ‘felt bad’ about his course over Ukrainian airspace, so changed direction.

Little did he know, according to Dr Sutyagin, that his plane would then be mistaken by rebels who brought it down using a ground-to-air Buk missile system. Malaysia Airlines today denied that the plane was told to alter its course.

His comments come as Vladimir Putin called for a ceasefire by pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces to allow for negotiations.

A top separatist leader in east Ukraine has ruled out a truce with government forces but pledged to allow investigators to access the crash site.

‘There is no question of a ceasefire but we will let experts access the site of the catastrophe,’ Alexander Borodai, the prime minister of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’, told journalists.

Dr Sutyagin’s theory appears to be supported by a route map which shows the passenger plane travelling on a different course to the ones taken by the previous ten MH17 flights.

Twitter user Vagelis Karmiros collated the information from Flightaware, the largest flight tracking website in the world.

Dr Sutyagin said: ‘There is a Ukrainian mechanised brigade blocked by separatists near the Russian border.

‘It’s blocked on three sides by separatists and behind the brigade is the Russian border, so they can’t get out. The Ukrainians try to resupply them from the air by transport aircraft.

‘Now, the pilot of MH17 said that he "felt bad" and wanted to change course south to get out of the danger zone. But several kilometers to the south is a Ukrainian Army heavy transport plane, an IL76, or Candid, which has the same echo as a 777 on a radar screen.

‘The two planes came close. They tried to shoot down the transport delivering supplies to the brigade. They believed that they had been firing at a military plane, but they mistakenly shoot down a civilian airliner.’

His comments came as Malaysia Airlines said it filed a flight plan requesting to fly at 35,000 feet through Ukraine airspace but was instructed by Ukraine air traffic control to fly at 33,000. It would still have been in range of the missile were it flying at the higher altitude, however.

Rescue workers, police and even coal miners are today combing the site where a Malaysian Airlines jet crashed after being shot from the sky by a surface-to-air missile, scattering wreckage and bodies across the Ukrainian countryside.

Ukraine accused pro-Russian separatists of shooting down the plane which was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with 298 people on board, while the Russian media today blamed everyone but pro-Moscow rebels for the Malaysia Airlines horror.

One theory explored by TV and newspapers was that the Ukrainian armed forces may have shot the Boeing out of the sky after mistaking it for Vladimir Putin’s official Ilyushin jet.

The Kremlin leader was flying back to Moscow from Brazil at around the same time that the Boeing 777 was downed, stated TV and newspaper reports.

Evidence for the theory seems scant, but an anonymous source in Russia’s Federal Agency for Air Transportation was quoted saying that there was a crossover flight path between the doomed Malaysian aircraft and Russian plane ‘number one’ used by Putin.

A source at the agency was quoted by Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper as saying: ‘Vladimir Putin’s plane could have been a target for a Ukrainian missile.’

NTV cited a source from the same body as saying: ‘I can say that the routes of plane Number One and the Malaysian Boeing crossed at the same point and on the same altitude.

‘It was near Warsaw at altitude 10,100 metres, echelon 330. The plane Number One was at that point at 16.21 Moscow time, the Malaysian plane was there at 15.44 Moscow time.’

The source also said that the ‘plane’ contours are similar in principle, the real sizes are also similar, and ‘as for their liveries then at the distance they are almost identical’.

Putin’s equivalent of Air Force One is a specially modified Ilyushin, the Il-96 300. It is a four-engine  long distance aircraft, with a length of 55 metres, and a wingspan of 60 metres.

The Boeing 777-200 is 63 metres long, and its wingspan 61 metres. 

Asked last night on the route of Putin’s plane, agency head Alexander Neradko said: ‘We never comment on the routes and other details of the flights of the president of Russia.’

Earlier, Ukrainian government official Anton Gerashchenko accused Mr Putin of ‘a desperate attempt to hide the consequences of his deeds’ by permitting the smuggling of the Buk rocket launcher – suspected of being used to shoot down the Boeing – across the frontier into Russia.

An effort during the night was made ‘to hide the Buk rocket complex on Russian territory’, he alleged.

He did not say if it was known whether or not it had moved into Russia.

‘It is most likely that the machinery which fired the missiles at Malaysian aircraft will be destroyed and the people who committed the act of terror will be annihilated,’ warned Gerashchenko, an advisor to the Interior Ministry in Kiev.

‘Several hours ago, Putin made a statement in regard the catastrophic crash of the Malaysian Boeing in which he blamed it all on Ukrainian side. What else is there to be done for an international terrorist? Only lie.’

Meanwhile, Pro-Kremlin Izvestia cited separatists claiming the shooting out of the sky was ‘a planned provocation by Kiev’.

‘Judge for yourself, who could have done it? The rebels don’t have weapons that you could use to shoot down a plane at such a height, but Kiev does,’ one local leader told the paper.

Tabloid Tvoi Den splashed a full-page cover photograph of the crash scene with a line reading: ‘Donetsk People’s Republic Authorities Claim Plane Destroyed by Ukrainian Buk Missile,’ an anti-aircraft system.

Rebel official Sergei Kavtaradze was quoted saying: ‘According to our information, this plane was shot down by Ukrainian armed forces.’

Other media claimed it could have been a Ukrainian plot to give the Americans an excuse to deploy NATO on the ground in the eastern European country.

But a Ukrainian military expert, Igor Levchenko, told Kommersant business daily that although Kiev did have several Buks in the conflict zone, they ‘definitely would not be used against such a target as a passenger liner.’

IS THIS THE SMOKING GUN THAT PROVES SEPARATISTS WERE TO BLAME? FOOTAGE SHOWS MISSILE LAUNCHER BEING SMUGGLED BACK TO RUSSIA WITH TWO ROCKETS MISSING

An expert believes that MH17 was downed by a missile fired from rebel-held Torez in eastern Ukraine – and a BUK anti-aircraft launcher has been pictured rumbling into the town just two hours before the crash, leading to speculation that it was this piece of equipment that was used to bring about the tragedy.

On Friday a missile launcher with two rockets missing was then filmed by Ukrainian intelligence services being smuggled on the back of a truck to Russia.

Anton Gerashchenko, from Ukraine’s interior ministry, said of the missing missiles that ‘it’s not hard to guess why’.

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Suspicious: Ukrainian spies reportedly filmed the launcher used in the attack being smuggled to Russia – with two missiles missing

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A view of what is believed to be a BUK surface-to-air missile battery being driven along a path on July 17 in Torez, Ukraine

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Launch site? The BUK missile system photographed in Torez hours before MH17 was downed

‘It was exactly these missiles which brought death to almost 300 innocent passengers of the ill-fated Malaysian Boeing,’ he said, according to the Telegraph.

He continued: ‘International terrorist Igor Strelkov, aka Girkin, last night visited Snizhne to settle the situation with the downed Malaysian Boeing.

‘In the night the Buk system, from which the missile was launched, was removed to Russia, where it is likely to be destroyed.’

He claimed that the ‘direct performers of the terrorist attack’ are also likely to have been killed to avoid any witnesses.

The rebels ‘happily announced that they had downed the Ukrainian AN-26’ when in fact they had shot the Boeing, he said.

Dr Igor Sutyagin, Research Fellow in Russian Studies from the Royal United Services Institute, believes that MH17 was shot down by rebels based in the 3rd District of Torez.

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A map showing the distance between the launch site and the MH17 crash site

Dr Sutyagin said the evidence that Russian separatists were responsible was very strong – and that there’s even a suggestion the BUK missile launcher was being manned by soldiers from Russia.

He said: ‘These separatists boasted on Twitter about capturing an BUK SA11 missile launcher [capable of downing high-flying airliners] on June 29, and several hours before the downing of the plane locals in Torez reported seeing BUK missile launchers and separatist flags around the city.

‘Later, there was lots of video posted of the plane falling down and rebels saying that “it was not pointless moving it [the BUK] there”.’

Dr Sutyagin then underscored the emerging Russian link to the tragedy.

He said: ‘The military leader of the Donetsk Republic, Igor Strelkov, real name Girkin, a Muscovite, a Russian citizen, posts a video of the intercept.’

This video was taken down once it was discovered that the downed plane was civilian.

The expert implicated Russia further, revealing that the former commander of Russian Air Force Special Operations Command, a Colonel-General, stated recently in an interview that the separatists did not have the expertise to operate the BUK launchers, that only Russian personnel could do so.

It’s also suspicious, Dr Sutyagin said, that Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported the crash at 16.13 Moscow time, several minutes before the crash actually happened – at 16.20.

‘The plane is safely in the sky, and RIA Novosti publishes information that it has been shot down,’ he said.

Turning some of the blame towards the aviation industry, the same paper cited aviation sources saying it was ‘reckless’ to allow passenger flights over the region.

Government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta said: ‘It remains unclear how a Boeing 777 came to be above a conflict zone and why air traffic controllers didn’t prevent a potentially dangerous situation.

Malaysia’s transport minister today insisted there were no last-minute instructions to the pilots of MH17 before it took off.

Liow Tiong Lai said the Boeing 777 was flying on an internationally-approved route which other airlines had been using ‘in the hours before the incident’.

He said: ‘Our sympathies are with those affected by this tragedy. There were 298 passengers and crew. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families at this incredibly difficult time for them.’

Mr Lai reiterated that the plane had ‘a clean bill of health’ and all its systems were functioning normally.

The route taken over Ukraine was one approved by the International Civil Aviation Authority and by the International Air Transport Association.

He went on: ‘There were no last-minute instructions given to the pilots to change the route. In the hours before the incident, a number of airlines used this route.’

Mr Lai said that of the 41 passengers whose nationalities were initially unknown, 21 had now been identified.

Listing the nationalities, he confirmed that nine UK passengers were among those lost.

He added that the full passenger manifesto would be released once all next of kin had been informed.

Mr Lai called for the crash site to be preserved, adding that Malaysia was sending a dozens-strong team to Ukraine, which would include 15 medical staff.
Malaysia Airlines is also sending 40 staff to Amsterdam to support families there.

Speaking at a media conference in Kuala Lumpur, Mr Lai said Ukraine would start the investigation into the crash and he supported a call for an international investigation.

The Duke of Cambridge spoke today of his ‘deep sadness’ over the Ukraine plane disaster.

Speaking at an event at Australia House in London to remember a British explorer, William said words ‘cannot do justice to our sense of loss’.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight  MH17 in Ukraine was ‘an absolutely appalling, shocking, horrific incident’ and said his thoughts were with the families of those killed.

Mr Cameron said: ‘If, as seems possible, this was brought down, then those responsible must be held to account and we must lose no time in doing that.’

Emergency workers, police officers and even off-duty coal miners spread out Friday across the sunflower fields and villages of eastern Ukraine, searching the wreckage of a jetliner shot down as it flew miles above the country’s battlefield.

By midday, 181 bodies had been located, according to emergency workers in contact with officials in Kiev.

Malaysia Airlines said the passengers included 189 Dutch, 29 Malaysians, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, nine Britons, four Germans, four Belgians, three Filipinos and one person each from Canada and New Zealand.

Still Nataliya Bystro, a spokeswoman for Ukraine’s emergency services, said rebel militiamen were interfering with the recovery operation.

It came as the UN Security Council has called for ‘a full, thorough and independent international investigation’ after approving a statement expressing ‘deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of the victims and to the people and governments of all those killed in the crash’.

Security Council members stood in a moment of silent tribute to the 298 victims at the start of an emergency council meeting.

The council called for an investigation ‘in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines and for appropriate accountability’.

It stressed the need for ‘immediate access by investigators to the crash site to determine the cause of the incident’.

The crash site is spread out between two villages in eastern Ukraine with pro-Russia separatists apparently controlling access in and out.

Confusion surrounds the fate of the plane’s flight recorders after conflicting reports over whether they had been found.

An assistant to the insurgency’s military commander, Igor Girkin, said earlier that eight out of the plane’s 12 black boxes had been located and that he was considering whether to give international crash investigators access to the crash site.

Since planes usually have two black boxes – one for recording flight data and the other for recording cockpit voices – it was not clear what the number 12 referred to.

But another separatist leader, Aleksandr Borodai, said later: ‘No black boxes have been found. We hope that experts will track them down and create a picture of what has happened.’

Earlier, the separatists claimed that one of the black boxes had been sent to Moscow.

Meanwhile, Kostyantyn Batozsky, adviser to the Donetsk regional governor, claimed the voice and data recording devices by the Ukrainian Emergency Services Ministry after workers were granted access to the crash site by rebels, it was reported by The New York Times.

But Mr Batozsky said he did not know the current location of the devices or who had them.

Large chunks of the Boeing 777 that bore the airline’s red, white and blue markings lay strewn over a field.

The cockpit and one of the turbines lay more than half a mile (1km) apart and residents said the tail landed about six miles (10km) away, indicating that the aircraft probably broke up before hitting the ground.

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Bodies and body parts strewn across the field outside the village of Rozsypne about 2.5 miles (4km) away from the crash site.

Shocking new accounts of the carnage emerged today.

‘The plane broke up in the air and the parts and human bodies are lying within a three-kilometre area,’ said a post by Vsevolod Petrovsky after visiting the scene.

‘One body broke a hole in the thin roof of a summer terrace in a private house. I got out of the car and immediately saw the naked body of a woman, covered by some leaves.

‘There were many bodies without clothes around. Probably, their clothing was torn away after the loss of pressurisation. Horrible.

‘I go further and see a hill made of the cockpit parts. The area is lit. The pilot’s body is in this seat, with seat belt fastened, he is dressed in his clothes.

‘Among the plane parts there were many parcels. Letters tied with a rope, books, old vinyl records, somebody’s shoes. Children’s caps with the Dutch national flag colours. Amazingly, almost all of these things are not destroyed.

‘There was no fire in this part of the plane. The fire was in the back part which is lying not far from Grabovo village.’

A local farmer said: ‘I was herding my cows and heard a buzzing noise. I lay on the ground and thinking only that it would not hit me and my cows.

‘Then I looked and saw that something turns sharply and two big wings were flying. Bang. And something explodes. It came from eastern side, from the side of Sokholikha mountain.’

American intelligence authorities believe a surface-to-air missile brought the plane down but are still working on who fired the missile and whether it came from the Russian or Ukrainian side of the border, a U.S. official said.

Malaysia’s prime minister said there was no distress call before the plane went down and that the flight route was declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

More than half of the passengers on board – 154 – were Dutch citizens, with 43 from Malaysia, including the 15 crew members.

Another 27 were Australians, 12 from Indonesia, and nine Britons. The victims included three infants.

Earlier it was feared that 23 Americans had perished based on a Reuters report, but there has been no confirmation of any U.S. deaths since then from the State Department.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called it an ‘act of terrorism’ and demanded an international investigation. He insisted his forces did not shoot down the plane.

U.S. Senator John McCain said there ‘would be hell to pay’ if the plane was shot down by the Russian military or separatists.

Earlier this week, the rebels claimed responsibility for shooting down two Ukrainian military planes.

In Kuala Lumpur, several relatives of those on board the jet gathered at the international airport.

A distraught Akmar Mohamad Noor, 67, said her older sister was coming to visit the family for the first time in five years.

‘She called me just before she boarded the plane and said, "See you soon",’ she said.

Counsellors were meeting with a few family members in the airport viewing gallery, sealed off from a horde of journalists. One woman emerged in tears and was escorted out of the airport by a security officer without saying anything.

‘This is just too much,’ said Cindy Tan, who was waiting at the airport for a friend on another flight.

‘I don’t know really why this happened to a MAS (Malaysia Airlines) plane again.’

Ukraine’s security services produced what they said were two intercepted telephone conversations that showed rebels were responsible.

In the first call, the security services said, rebel commander Igor Bezler tells a Russian military intelligence officer that rebel forces shot down a plane.

In the second, two rebel fighters – one of them at the crash scene – say the rocket attack was carried out by a unit of insurgents about 15 miles (25km) north of the site.

MH17 WASN’T THE ONLY ONE FLYING OVER DANGER ZONE: 55 OTHER AIRCRAFT ALSO DID ON THE SAME DAY

A Singapore Airlines passenger plane was flying just 15 miles away from flight MH17 when it was shot out of the sky over Ukraine.

Data from Flightradar24.com reveals the Copenhagen to Singapore flight was in airspace above the dangerous Donetsk region just two minutes before a surface-to-air missile hit the Malaysia Airlines plane on Thursday.

Figures also reveal 55 planes – including six flights from London’s Heathrow Airport – flew over the war zone on the same day the tragedy happened.

The flights were still operating in the conflict zone despite warnings from as far back as April from the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) about potential risks to commercial planes.

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Danger zone: Flightradar24.com data shows the closest plane in the air to MH17 just two minutes before it was shot out of the sky over Ukraine was a Singapore Airlines flight

Neither recording could be independently verified.

Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted Sergey Kavtaradze, a special representative of the Donetsk People’s Republic leader, as denying that the intercepted phone conversations were genuine.

U.S. President Barack Obama called the crash a ‘terrible tragedy’ and spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as Mr Poroshenko. Britain called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Ukraine.

Later, Mr Putin said Ukraine bore responsibility for the crash, but he did not address the question of who might have shot it down and did not accuse Ukraine of doing so.

‘This tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine,’ he said, according to a Kremlin statement issued early today.

‘And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy.’

At the United Nations, Ukrainian Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev told the AP that Russia gave the separatists a sophisticated missile system and thus Moscow bears responsibility, along with the rebels.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament today that authorities owe it to the families of the dead to find out exactly what happened and who was responsible.

‘As things stand, this looks less like an accident than a crime. And if so, the perpetrators must be brought to justice,’ he said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he was ‘horrified’ by the crash, and the United States was prepared to help with an international investigation.

Ukraine’s crisis began after pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych was driven from office in February by a protest movement among citizens angry about endemic corruption and seeking closer ties with the European Union.

Russia later annexed the Crimean Peninsula in southern Ukraine, and pro-Russians in the country’s eastern regions began occupying government buildings and pressing for independence. Moscow denies Western charges that it is supporting the separatists or sowing unrest.

Kenneth Quinn, of the Flight Safety Foundation, said an international coalition of countries should lead the investigation.

Safety experts say they are concerned that, because the plane crashed in area of Ukraine that is in dispute, political considerations could affect the investigation.

The RIA-Novosti agency quoted rebel leader Alexander Borodai as saying that talks were under way with Ukrainian authorities on calling a short truce for humanitarian reasons. He said international organisations would be allowed into the conflict-plagued region.

Aviation authorities in several countries, including the FAA in the United States, had issued warnings not to fly over parts of Ukraine prior to yesterday’s crash, but many carriers, including cash-strapped Malaysia Airlines, had continued to use the route because ‘it is a shorter route, which means less fuel and therefore less money,’ said aviation expert Norman Shanks.

Within hours of the tragedy, several airlines said they were avoiding parts of Ukrainian airspace.

A U.S. official said American intelligence authorities believe the plane was brought down by a surface-to-air missile but are still working to determine additional details about the crash, including who fired the missile and whether it came from the Russian or Ukraine side of the border.

But American intelligence assessments suggest it is more likely pro-Russian separatists or the Russians rather than Ukrainian government forces shot down the plane, according to the official.

The United States has sophisticated technologies which can detect missile launches, including the identification of heat from the rocket engine.

Anton Gerashenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s interior minister, said on his Facebook page the plane was flying at about 33,000ft (10,000m) when it was hit by a missile from a Buk launcher, which can fire up to an altitude of 72,000ft (22,000m). He said only that his information was based on ‘intelligence’.

Igor Sutyagin, a research fellow in Russian studies at the Royal United Services Institute, said both Ukrainian and Russian forces have SA-17 missile systems – also known as Buk ground-to-air launcher systems.

Rebels had recently bragged about having acquired Buk systems.

Mr Sutyagin said Russia had supplied separatists with military hardware but had seen no evidence ‘of the transfer of that type of system from Russia’.

Earlier yesterday, AP journalists saw a launcher that looked like a Buk missile system near the eastern town of Snizhne, which is held by the rebels.

Mr Poroshenko said his country’s armed forces did not shoot at any airborne targets.

Separatist leader Andrei Purgin told the Associated Press news agency he was certain that Ukrainian troops had shot the plane down, but gave no explanation or proof.

There have been several disputes over planes being shot down over eastern Ukraine in recent days.

A Ukrainian fighter jet was shot down on Wednesday by an air-to-air missile from a Russian plane, Ukrainian authorities said, adding to what Kiev says is mounting evidence that Moscow is directly supporting the insurgents.

Pro-Russia rebels claimed responsibility for strikes on two Ukrainian Sukhoi-25 jets on Wednesday. Ukraine’s Defence Ministry said the second jet was hit by a portable surface-to-air missile but the pilot landed safely.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2696975/Putin-blames-Ukraine-loss-Flight-MH17-298-innocent-souls-DOESNT-deny-Russian-separatists-shot-missile-McCain-warns-Hell-pay.html

The Guardian view on the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner over Ukraine

Could this tragedy lead to new thinking in Moscow and Kiev and bring about fresh negotiations?
Editorial
The Guardian | 18 July 2014

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The burnt out wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 near Donetsk, Ukraine. Photograph: ITAR-TASS/Barcroft Media

Wars always take the lives of the innocent, but there are certain terrible incidents which suddenly dramatise the iniquity of what is going on, demanding investigation and the assignment of blame. The sinking of the Lusitania off Ireland in 1915, the downing of an Iranian airliner in the Gulf by the USS Vincennes in 1988, and the Amiriyah shelter bombing in Baghdad in 1991 are sad examples from the past.

The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine belongs in this category. The lives of nearly 300 people were snuffed out in one vicious moment by men on the ground who were too careless, too inexperienced or too stupid to hold their fire while they checked on the identity of the aircraft in their sights. These were people who had nothing to do with the conflict over which the trajectory of their plane was taking them, and some of them, like the Aids experts on board, followed careers specifically devoted to the saving of lives.

This should be a moment for shame, for reflection, and for reconsideration. But, of course, what we have instead is a rush to avoid responsibility, a flood of disinformation, and a chorus of denials. The pro-Russian rebels say it was not their doing, in spite of much circumstantial evidence that it was. President Vladimir Putin, slyly skirting the question of where the arms and munitions sustaining the rebels are coming from, says that the fault must lie with the state over whose territory the incident occurred, thus blaming the Ukrainian government for the hostilities in the eastern part of that country while making no mention of his own continued military meddling in the same region. Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, says that the crash should be investigated as "an act of terrorism". That seems tendentious since, by definition, terrorist acts have to be intentional, and nothing about the fate of the Malaysian plane suggests that those who shot it down intended or wanted to kill civilians.

The first requirement must be for an unfettered investigation, with an immediate local ceasefire to allow experts access to the crash site, and the return of any instrumentation that may have been taken from the wreckage. There are formal rules for the investigation of air crashes and this is a case where they must be followed to the letter. But the world does not have to wait for the outcome of what may be a lengthy inquiry to pay urgent attention again to the crisis which led to this tragedy.

Other emergencies have in recent weeks obscured the fact that the conflict in eastern Ukraine has not been winding down since Mr Poroshenko became president, as some had hoped, but has been getting worse, as Ukrainian forces have tried to take rebel strongholds and the rebels, with assistance from over the border, have fought back. Heavier weapons, higher casualties and increased Russian troop levels have been the result. Earlier in the week, the United States and the EU increased sanctions on Russia. These are still relatively limited, but that could change if Russia obstructs the inquiry or if there is new evidence of Russian support for the rebels. Certainly, Russian behaviour will now be under greater scrutiny.

But what is more likely is that this tragedy will lead to a reduction in hostilities, at least for a while. Could such a reduction prove permanent? Neither the Ukrainian nor the rebel side will want to be seen as rushing to resume the fighting. In Moscow, presumably, they will want to sit back and consider what they should do with separatist groups in Ukraine which look to them for support but are not easy to control. It is possible that the military phase of the struggle over Ukraine was in any case moving toward an end. On the Ukrainian side, the danger of more civilian casualties tended to constrain further escalation while, on the Russian side, the limits of what could be done to help the rebels while preserving a degree of deniability and preventing further rounds of sanctions were becoming evident.

As ground-to-air missiles brought down Ukrainian military planes this last week, there may well have been a sense on both sides that the fight was getting too big. The downing of the Malaysian airliner will reinforce that view, so we may see an emphasis on the negotiating track. But it would be foolish to believe that an end to the basic conflict is in sight. The US and the EU want to preserve and extend their influence in Ukraine, and so does Russia, and there are many ways it can use its leverage, particularly its economic leverage, to do so. The middle way, a way which would allow Ukraine to look both east and west, has been crushed between these millstones. Nevertheless, it is to be hoped that the shock of this outrage could now provide an opportunity for new thinking.

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/18/guardian-view-shooting-malaysian-airliner-ukraine

 

MH17: rebels block access to part of site of crash as evidence against them grows
First OSCE investigators to the scene retreat after hour-long standoff with armed separatists who fired warning shots
Shaun Walker in Kiev, Harriet Salem in Grabovo, Dan Roberts in Washington and Philip Oltermann in Amsterdam
The Guardian | 18 July 2014

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A pro-Russia fighter holds up a toy found among the debris at the crash site of the Malaysia Airlines jet, where OSCE investigators were denied access. Photograph: Dmitry Lovetsky/AP

President Barack Obama threatened to "increase the costs" on Russia if Moscow fails to deescalate the situation in Ukraine, as US and other western officials said there was mounting evidence that a missile fired by Russia-backed separatists downed the Malaysia Airlines jet which crashed in eastern Ukraine on Thursday.

All sides have called for a thorough and impartial investigation into what caused the crash, which killed all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board MH17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. However, the first group of international investigators on the scene were involved in a tense standoff with the armed separatists who control the crash site at Grabovo.

A unit of heavily armed rebels blocked the 30-strong team from the OSCE, cordoning off a large part of the crash site. The inspectors retreated after an hour-long standoff, having been unable to gain access. They were sent on their way by warning shots fired by the rebel unit commander.

"We will keep coming back tomorrow and the next day and the next day," said spokesman Michael Bociurkiw. "Tomorrow will be a crunch day. There are a lot of experts from the Netherlands and Malaysia gathering in Kiev as well as relatives. The bodies are starting to bloat and decay. An expert team is clearly needed. There is a lot to be done in a short amount of time."

In Washington, Obama called for a full, impartial investigation and said the tragedy should cause people to "snap their heads together" and stop playing games in Ukraine. In veiled criticism of the lack of European support for US-led economic sanctions against Russia, Obama said the loss of so many European lives should serve as a "wake-up call" for Europe.

Obama said while it was too early to be completely sure who was responsible and what their motives were, the US was sure that a missile fired from within territory controlled by Russian separatists brought down the jet.

He stopped short of directly blaming Moscow for the tragedy, but said it was down to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to end the violence that has plagued Ukraine for months.

"It is not possible for the separatists to function the way they’re functioning, to have the equipment they have … without sophisticated equipment and training, and that is coming from Russia," said Obama. "If Mr Putin makes a decision that we are not going to allow heavy armaments and the flow of fighters into Ukraine … then it will stop."

Russia, however, did not appear eager to disown the rebel movement to which it has been publicly sympathetic and privately supplied logistical and military backing, or at least turned a blind eye to its provision across the Russia-Ukraine border.

Russia’s ambassador to the UN, while not addressing the specific claim of how MH17 was shot down, said that Russia "fully blames Kiev" for all violence in the region. In Moscow, the foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, dismissed claims from Kiev that Russia was behind the attack, saying that he had "hardly heard a single true statement come from Kiev in the past few months".

Lavrov’s deputy, Sergei Ryabkov, accused the Americans of having made their minds up without studying the facts, and insisted that it was in fact the US who was to blame. Washington, said Ryabkov, was responsible for "stirring up political instability, provoking an anti-constitutional seizure of power and supporting anti-Russian politicians … The US should think about the consequences of its actions".

Russia’s state-controlled media suggested that a Ukrainian jet or missile system had shot down the plane, with a source in Russia’s defence ministry claiming that Moscow had picked up missile radar activity on Thursday coming from Ukrainian bases. Other more fanciful conspiracy theories were floated, including the idea that the attack was carried out by the Ukrainian army in error, thinking it was Putin’s plane. Rebel websites suggested that the bodies discovered at the crash site were "long dead" and speculated the plane could have been MH370, which went missing earlier this year, hidden and then re-used to stage a "provocation".

While even Obama admitted that the US does not know exactly what happened, amid the ludicrous theories the circumstantial evidence did appear to point more and more to an accidental attack by separatists, who thought they were shooting at a Ukrainian military jet.

If the missile was fired by rebels, it is unclear if they obtained the launch system from Russia, or if it was seized from a Ukrainian army base. Video posted on YouTube claiming to show part of a Buk system being on the move towards the Russian border on Friday could not be verified. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, however, insisted that recordings released by Ukraine’s SBU security services on Thursday of separatist fighters admitting they had downed a passenger liner were "absolutely genuine".

Elsewhere in the east, the fighting between Kiev forces and separatists continued. There were reports that at least 20 civilians had been killed by shelling in the city of Luhansk.

The 298 people aboard MH17 came from nearly a dozen nations, with at least 189 of the dead Dutch citizens. A large number were heading to a conference on HIV/Aids.

"Truly beautiful, inspiring, committed, smart and compassionate people have been brutally taken away from us," said Murdo Bijl, a Dutch Aids advocate who knew many of those on board MH17. "The world and the Aids field will miss these brilliant doctors, advocates, researchers and friends."

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, who on Thursday night had sounded caution about jumping to conclusions, was also calling for consequences by Friday afternoon: "Let us be clear: if it becomes clear that it was an attack, the perpetrators must be found and punished", the Dutch PM said at a press conference at the ministry of security and justice. "That is something the victims and those they leave behind are entitled to."

Yet overall the reaction to the tragedy in the Netherlands has been remarkable restrained. On Friday morning at 8am, passengers were queuing up to check into another Malaysia Airways flight bound for Kuala Lumpur. One couple in their 20s, who didn’t want to give their names, said they felt "sad" about what had happened, and admitted they were a little bit scared about boarding their flight. But they were determined not to give up on their holiday, a trip around Indonesia.

Erik Elsenaar, an IT consultant waiting at Schiphol for his midday flight to Kuala Lumpur, told the Guardian he was feeling very calm: "This is something that never, never happens, and it’s unlikely to happen again. It is a tragedy, but it doesn’t look like the attack was either directed at Holland or Malaysia Airlines. You can see here that they’ve already doubled the security at check-in. They will probably triple the checks for bombs. It’s definitely safer to travel now than it was to travel the day before yesterday."

There were also nine UK citizens among the dead. A British diplomat in Kiev said if any of the relatives of the nine UK citizens killed in the crash came to Ukraine, they would be given all assistance required, even as far as attempts to journey to the crash site, "within the limits of what is safe, possible and accessible".

A video-conference took place on Thursday evening between the separatists and the Ukrainian president’s representative, the former president Leonid Kuchma, which included mediation from the OSCE and the Russian ambassador to Ukraine, agreed that the separatists would grant access to the crash site for international investigators. However, Friday’s stand-off with the OSCE shows that unfettered access could be tricky to achieve, and the logistics of issues such as retrieving and properly storing bodies, as well as sifting through the evidence, remain unclear.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/18/mh17-crash-pro-russia-rebels-block-access-ukraine

Fueling the Fire in Ukraine

Interviewee: Steven Pifer, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
Interviewer: Robert McMahon, Editor
CFR.org | July 18, 2014

The crash of a Malaysian passenger jet over eastern Ukraine on July 17 that killed 298 people could sharply escalate tensions involving Ukraine, Russia, and pro-Russian separatists. It is crucial at this stage for an international investigation to be launched, with neutral participants, to withstand charges of bias, says Steven Pifer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. But the international community, particularly the United States and Europe, should be prepared to ramp up sanctions against Russia in the event evidence linking separatists to the crash is firmed up, he says.

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Armed pro-Russian separatists stand at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. (Photo: Maxim Zmeyev/Courtesy Reuters)

Details are still murky in this incident involving the Malaysian airliner but it comes at a time of increasing clashes in eastern Ukraine, including aircraft downed by pro-Russian separatists. Can you talk about the separatists capabilities in this area?

The separatists over the last three weeks have had some success in bringing down Ukrainian military aircraft, usually more at lower altitudes and the suspicion is they have used Stinger-like missiles. But by all accounts the Malaysian airliner was flying at an altitude of about 30,000 feet. Shoulder-fired systems could not reach that altitude but there have been some reports that the separatists do have access to the ‘Buk’ missile system. It is a large missile mounted on a truck and it would have the capabilities to reach that altitude.

What about Ukrainian government forces’ air capabilities?

The Ukrainians do have some air defense capabilities including against high altitude targets but as far as we have seen there has been no use so far in this conflict in eastern Ukraine by the Ukrainian military of surface-to-air missiles because the separatists do not have aircraft.

The crash area is on contested ground. How should authorities, both local and international, best respond in a situation like this?

The most important thing is to have an international group with representatives of the Ukrainian government, Malaysia [and] Boeing should be there because it’s a Boeing aircraft. It’s also important to bring in some neutral observers from places like Finland, Austria, and Switzerland because at the end of the day you will want an investigation that is as credible as possible and be able to withstand concerns expressed by different sides that it’s slanted one way or another. This will be the big first test: are the separatists prepared to allow that sort of investigation to take place in an area where they appear to have some significant forces?

What is the relationship between Russian authorities and these separatist rebels?

There have been a lot of reports over the last three or four weeks, including by the U.S. government and NATO, of weapons and supplies flowing across the Russian border into Ukraine, including heavy weapons such as tanks. So, if it turns out that the separatists did in fact shoot down the aircraft the question will arise: who provided the separatists in eastern Ukraine with the capabilty to shoot down that airliner at that kind of altitude? Even yesterday there was reporting that seems to have a fair degree of credibility of rockets being launched from inside Russia, about three miles inside Russia, into Ukraine. So there’s a lot of evidence here that the Russians have been very supportive of the separatists.

There is a separate question, which is how much control do they have over the separatists. You have a number of locals who were involved in the separatist groups but there is also a fair suspicion that there are Russian military or perhaps Russian intelligence personnel involved at least in some of these operations. Particularly at the beginning [of the crisis in Ukraine] you saw people who looked very much like professional Russian military personnel in some of the original takeover of buildings in Donetsk and Luhansk back in April.

This comes a day after tougher sanctions announced by the US and EU against Russia. They fell short of sectoral sanctions. Are they having any impact yet?

The sanctions that were applied even before the sanctions announced yesterday were having an economic impact on Russia. For example, Bloomberg reported about a month ago that in 2013 Russian companies were able to place about $43 billion in foreign currency bonds. In January and February this year it was about $6 to $7 billion, since March it’s been zero.

What it hasn’t yet done is cause Russia to change its course on Ukraine and become part of the solution rather than part of the problem. The sanctions announced [this week] by the United States and European Union look to be a bit more serious. You now have the U.S. government blocking lending to some very big Russian companies and Russian financial institutions. The Europeans are blocking all lending to Russia by the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. So the questions is will these sanctions begin to have an impact on Russian policy?

http://www.cfr.org/ukraine/fueling-fire-ukraine/p33260

 

Air Disaster Strains Moscow’s Competing Strategy on Ukrainian Rebels
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR and ANDREW E. KRAMER
NYT | JULY 17, 2014

MOSCOW — The double game that the Kremlin has been accused of playing in eastern Ukraine for weeks — publicly endorsing peace talks while surreptitiously supporting the separatists with arms and men — suddenly appeared less crafty than possibly disastrous on Thursday after the crash of a civilian jetliner in a Ukrainian field.

What brought Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 tumbling out of the sky, killing all 298 people aboard, remained uncertain. But given the immediate suspicions raised in Kiev and Washington that a sophisticated missile ripped it apart, the crash brought the question of who was responsible right to the doorstep of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

“It is an extremely awkward moment for the Kremlin,” said Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center. “Everyone in the West and in Ukraine is already pointing their fingers at the Kremlin. They are not waiting for an inquiry — they are blaming Russia today.”

Mr. Putin himself pointed the finger at Ukraine.

During a late cabinet meeting on economic matters, according to a statement on the Kremlin website, he said, “Definitely, the country over whose territory this happened bears the responsibility for this horrible tragedy.”

Mr. Putin, without saying what might have caused the crash, said that “this tragedy could have been avoided” had Ukraine not resumed combat operations in the southeast. A shaky cease-fire lasted 10 days at the end of June.

The Russian president said he had instructed all military and civilian agencies to give all possible assistance “in the investigation of this crime.”

“We shall do everything, at least everything in our power, so that the objective picture of what happened becomes available to our public, the public of Ukraine and the entire world,” he said.

Russia has flatly denied supplying the rebels with men or weapons. But with each passing week, as the bloodshed escalated, new questions were raised about the involvement of the Russian security services. The United States imposed new, tougher economic sanctions against a few Russian banks and its oil industry on Wednesday, in the process accusing Moscow of continuing to arm the separatists.

The Russian military had already denied this week that it had shot down a Ukrainian military AN-26 cargo plane near the border on Monday with a missile fired from its territory. Ukraine’s defense minister said that plane had been flying at more than 21,000 feet, well beyond the reach of the shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles the rebels have been known to use.

The charges of Russian involvement were being repeated in the case of Flight 17, which was flying higher than 21,000 feet.

Even Russian analysts have scoffed at claims by Mr. Putin and the Russian government that it was pursuing solely a diplomatic end to the crisis in Ukraine, prompted in February by the popular overthrow of a Russian ally in Kiev who had rejected a closer alliance with Europe.

“It is a game for Putin,” said a former senior Russian government official this week, speaking anonymously to avoid damaging his relationship with Mr. Putin, who was once an intelligence officer. “He likes to say that he is a peacekeeper from one hand, while from the other he is sending the rebels arms. It is typical K.G.B.”

The United States, and to a lesser degree European nations, have accused Russia of sending soldiers and weapons across the border for months now, in a barely veiled flow of evermore elaborate weaponry.

On the Ukrainian side, the separatists have similarly refuted receiving much help from Russia, even as their arsenal has come to include tanks, howitzers, shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles, ground-to-ground multiple-rocket launchers and other heavy weapons. Officials in the Donetsk and Luhansk separatist governments, many of them Russian citizens, said the arsenal was pilfered from Ukrainian bases they had captured.

Initially, militia fighters were coy about their more sophisticated weaponry; men on barricades showed little more than Kalashnikov rifles.

But later, one militant brigade, the Vostok Battalion, invited reporters to photograph fighters unpacking wooden crates holding new-looking Russian-made Igla, or Needle, shoulder-carried antiaircraft missiles. With planes and helicopters being shot down regularly, there seemed no point in hiding anything.

In June, Ukrainian officials said three tanks crossed border points with Russia controlled by rebels and rolled into Ukraine. Other columns followed. Videos appeared of tanks and armored personnel carriers towing artillery along roads near the border.

In addition to accusing Russia of sending Grad rocket launchers into Ukraine, Kiev also charged that the Russian military had fired them across the border at its troops. After initial expressions of concern in Western capitals, the flow of weapons became almost routine.

For some, the crash of Flight 17 was reminiscent of one of the worst incidents of the Cold War, when on Sept. 1, 1983, Soviet air defense forces shot down a Korean Airlines Boeing 747 that had strayed into Soviet airspace. All 269 people on board were killed. Moscow stonewalled the investigation for 10 years, until after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Others pointed to Ukraine accidentally shooting down a Siberian Airlines passenger jet over the Black Sea in 2001 during a military training exercise.

Immediately after Thursday’s crash, the Kremlin issued a short statement summarizing what it called a previously scheduled telephone conversation between Mr. Putin and President Obama. “The parties had a detailed discussion about the crisis in Ukraine,” the statement said.

Mr. Putin repeated the need for an immediate cease-fire, objected to what he said was Ukrainian army fire striking inside Russia, and “expressed his disappointment” at the latest round of sanctions.

The only reference to the crash came in one sentence at the end: “The Russia leader informed the U.S. president of the report received from air traffic controllers immediately prior to their conversation about the crash of a Malaysian airplane over the Ukrainian territory.”

But that might have been because Mr. Putin himself was in the air over Eastern Europe late Thursday afternoon, state-run television reported, flying home from Brazil after a six-day Latin American tour.

The official line, echoed by state-run television and analysts close to the Kremlin, included plenty of speculation that Ukraine was at fault. Experts interviewed on Rossiya 24, a main cable news show, stressed that there was no evidence that the crash was caused by a missile.

One expert noted that Malaysia Airlines had already lost one long-range jet this year, a sign that anything could have happened to another of its aircraft, and suggested that Flight 17 might have collided with a Ukrainian military aircraft because Kiev was lax in not closing Ukraine’s airspace.

Sergei Markov, an analyst who often speaks about the Kremlin’s viewpoint when it will not, called the crash either terrible luck, a deliberate Ukrainian plot or, as he put it, “a specially organized conspiracy by the Kiev junta.”

He favored the accident theory, but noted that a civilian airliner should not have been flying over the region.

“There is a war in the air” over eastern Ukraine, Mr. Markov noted, so if an air traffic controller deliberately cleared the pilot to enter that zone, then the fault lies with Ukraine.

The reason would be “so that it is easier to send foreign troops to Ukraine,” he said. “We see that the junta is doing everything to achieve that.”

Robert A. Schlegel, a member of Parliament in the ruling United Russia party, said the downing of the Boeing 777 would resonate in Russia and in the West in different ways. In Russia, he said, many criticize the government for having done too little to arm the pro-Russian groups in Ukraine; the crash is unlikely to change that view.

“There are a lot of questions of why this airplane was flying over this region, and whose missiles shot it down,” Mr. Schlegel said. “This type of equipment doesn’t lie around in the road.”

No matter what the Kremlin says or does, the idea that only someone with military training would have been able to operate the technically complicated air defense system needed to fire a missile to such height will undoubtedly keep the spotlight focused on Moscow.

“Vladimir Putin kept raising the stakes,” when it came to military support, said Kirill Rogov, an economic analyst and political commentator in Moscow. “In my view, he kept making mistakes, but to cover them he raised the stakes even higher. This was a dangerous strategy, and now we see the results.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/18/world/europe/air-disaster-strains-moscows-competing-strategy-on-ukrainian-rebels.html

The Downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17: Russia in the Dock

By Dr Jonathan Eyal, International Director and International Studies Director
RUSI Analysis | 18 Jul 2014

Did Russian rebels in Ukraine mistakenly shoot down the Malaysian airliner? Russian President Vladimir Putin will try to deny any responsibility, but at the very least his country bears a moral culpability for the episode, and Russia will pay a heavy diplomatic price for this tragedy.

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As befits his previous intelligence training – albeit not at a very high rank – Russian President Vladimir Putin is a master of obfuscation, and clearly hopes to brazen out the crisis surrounding the destruction of Malaysian Airlines’ flight MH17 in the same manner he has dealt with many of his previous crises: by implying that Russia is not responsible, while at the same time giving nothing away which could be subsequently refuted by any evidence to the contrary which could emerge. ‘I want to note that this tragedy wouldn’t have occurred if there had been peace on this land’, Mr Putin told a hurried meeting of his country’s ministers yesterday, before adding that ‘of course, the government on whose territory this occurred is responsible’. Or, put slightly differently ‘who did it is less important than the fact that it happened, and it happened on someone else’s turf’.

Yet it is unlikely that Russia will be able to maintain this position much longer. For evidence into who supplied and operated the precision weapons used in shooting down the civilian airliner is sure to accumulate in the days to come. And, awkwardly for Mr Putin, evidence continues to mount that local rebels tied to Moscow were responsible for the destruction of the MH17 flight.

Civilian aircraft at a regular cruising altitude of 10 kilometres – as the MH17 was at the time when it was brought down, almost two hours into its flight out of Amsterdam in the Netherlands – are not easy targets. They cannot be hit by shoulder-held missiles or anti-aircraft artillery which are out of range, they are only vulnerable to precision weapons such as the BUK missile batteries which are in the Russian military service, but which were also supplied to all of Russia’s neighbours. And, while the BUK missiles are mobile and do have their own operating radar, they rely on more integrated radar systems to hit a faraway target like a civilian airliner.

Since these are only available to states rather than various rebels and since the fighting in Ukraine is not officially between governments, the assumption was that global civilian aviation was safe from the internal civil war which has disfigured this country since February. That is why neither national nor regional flight control agencies, nor bodies such as the International Civil Aviation Organisation ever advised airlines to avoid fights over Ukraine; after all, no overflight ban is enforced over Afghanistan, a country which has experienced a decade of far bloodier military confrontations.

The Likely Culprits

What appears to have happened is that pro-Russian rebels mistakenly aimed at the MH17 flight, probably in the belief that it was a Ukrainian military transport jet of the kind they regularly attack. But it’s impossible to believe that they could have successfully hit their target without radar and other logistical support from the Russian military which, again, was probably unaware of the plane’s real identity. US intelligence agencies, which hold the largest quantity of electronic evidence available to piece together the final minutes of flight MH17, privately concede that this explanation is the most likely.

The race is on to collect as much evidence on the scene of the disaster as possible, and that would be the focus of the emergency UN Security Council debate which will take place today. But that, too, is easier said than done. For the area in which the MH17 place crashed is also one in which pro-Russian rebels operate, and some of them may now try to hide material evidence: there are persistent rumours in Ukraine that rebels have already spirited away key bits of evidence, such as the aeroplane’s ‘black box’ which records every action undertaken by the crew before the plane’s crash.

Still, incriminating evidence against Russia keeps popping up. Igor Strelkov, the Russian rebels’ commander in the area where the plane was hit, is on record as boasting about the downing of what he considered to be a Ukrainian aircraft at about the same time as the destruction of the MH17 flight. The Ukrainian authorities have also released a recording of a phone conversation between ethnic rebels and their patrons back in Moscow, in which they appear to admit to the destruction of the Malaysian Airways’ flight. But there is no independent confirmation of the accuracy of these recordings.

A Game Change

Within days, however, the real debate will shift from one about producing the right evidence and culprits, to more about what can be saved from the rapidly-deteriorating relations between Russia and the West.

The tragedy will stain Russia’s relations with the world for years to come. Nations determined to keep on good terms with Russia – such as China or Vietnam which relies on Russian weapon supplies and wishes these to continue – will keep quiet. And there will always be some plausible deniability, giving other countries enough room for manoeuvre to avoid accusing Russia directly for this disaster. But the culprits for the crime will be pursued by international investigators and tribunals. And many Russian officials will be added to the ‘wanted’ lists of police forces around the world. The story will linger, and won’t be pretty for Russian diplomats.

Given the fact that the majority of the victims are European citizens, it is also getting increasingly difficult to see how France would be able to deliver the Mistral ships which Russia ordered for its navy, or how Britain could continue shielding Russia from financial sanctions. And, given the fact that scores of US citizens were also killed on the MH17 flight means that the US Congress will demand greater sanctions on Russia, making any improvement in relations with Washington highly unlikely.

The MH17 tragedy has, therefore, the potential to be a game-changer. But the snag is that this could go in either direction: it could either force Russia to move to a quick compromise over Ukraine, or it could precipitate a more vicious round of fighting in Ukraine which escapes anyone’s control.

Putin could decide to stop supplying weapons to the rebels, and even remove some of the higher-edge hardware supplied to them. He may also consider accepting a mission by the OSCE which will observe the border between Ukraine and Russia, in order to prevent further supplies of weapons to the separatists in Ukraine. But that will entail Mr Putin eating a great deal of humble pie, by accepting that his gamble to support the creation of a separatist army which can be permanently be relied upon to do Russia’s bidding inside Ukraine had failed.

Given Putin’s past record, it’s much more likely that he will just decide to brazen out this crisis by pretending that it has nothing to do with him. Yet, try as hard as he may, there is no escape from the conclusion that the supposed master-tactician in the Kremlin has now ended up shooting himself in the foot, that a Ukraine crisis which Putin thought he could control is now escalating in ways he never imagined.

https://www.rusi.org/analysis/commentary/ref:C53C8FCEBEBA28/#.U8mKDdhOXDe

 

Obama Points to Pro-Russia Separatists in Downing of Malaysia Airlines Plane
MICHAEL D. SHEAR, SOMINI SENGUPTA and SABRINA TAVERNISE
NYT | JULY 18, 2014

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Friday that the United States believed the Malaysia Airlines jetliner felled over eastern Ukraine had been shot down by a surface-to-air missile from an area inside Ukraine controlled by Russian-backed separatists. He demanded a prompt international inquiry as signs emerged that separatists were impeding an assessment of the crash site by outside monitors.

Mr. Obama’s remarks at the White House were the strongest public suggestions yet from the United States of who was responsible for the downing of the plane, which exploded, crashed and burned on Thursday on farmland in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 people aboard.

Mr. Obama said the loss of life was an “outrage of unspeakable proportions” and a “global tragedy.” He vowed to investigate exactly what had happened to end the lives of “men, women, children, infants who had nothing to do with the crisis” in the region. He also said that at least one American was among the dead.

“We are going to make sure the truth is out,” Mr. Obama said, referring to what he described as a trove of misinformation that had already shrouded the plane crash.

“We don’t have time for propaganda,” he said. “We don’t have time for games.”

The president said the violence in the region must not obstruct an independent investigation of the plane’s destruction, and he called on Russia, Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists to agree to an immediate cease-fire. “Evidence must not be tampered with,” Mr. Obama said. “Investigators need to access the crash site. And the solemn task of returning those who were lost onboard the plane to their loved ones needs to go forward immediately.”

While separatists guarding the crash site allowed some Ukrainian government rescue teams to enter and begin collecting bodies, they were less cooperative with a team of monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe who wanted to secure a safe route for the investigation and salvaging operations.

Reuters quoted Thomas Greminger, chairman of the O.S.C.E.’s permanent council in Vienna, as saying that armed separatists had prevented the monitors from gaining full access to the site. “In the current circumstances, they were not able to help securing this corridor that would allow access for those that would want to investigate,” he was quoted as saying.

There were reports that some separatists had fired at the monitors, but the O.S.C.E. said in a Twitter message that those claims were untrue.

Mr. Obama spoke after Samantha Power, the American ambassador to the United Nations, told an emergency Security Council meeting on the Ukraine conflict that there was “credible evidence” that pro-Russia separatists and their Russian associates in eastern Ukraine were responsible for the crash.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 — Flight 17, from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — was at a cruising altitude of 33,000 feet on a commonly used air route over eastern Ukraine when it was struck on Thursday.

Both Russia and the separatist groups deny any responsibility, and some rebel leaders suggest that Ukraine’s armed forces may have shot down the plane. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has implicitly blamed Ukraine’s government, saying it created the conditions for the separatist uprising that has escalated into a major crisis. But Mr. Putin has not denied that a Russian-made weapon may have destroyed the aircraft.

Mr. Obama resisted blaming Mr. Putin personally, saying that the United States did not know who had fired the missile. But he made clear that he held the Russians responsible for failing to stop the violence that made the downing possible.

“We know that they are heavily armed and they are trained,” Mr. Obama said. “That is not an accident. That is happening because of Russian support.” He said it was “not possible for these separatists to be functioning the way they are” without Russian support.

He said that the loss of the plane was a direct result of the fighting in the region, and that the violence had been “facilitated in large part because of Russian support.”

Mr. Obama said Mr. Putin could decide not to allow heavy armaments or troops to flow across the border from Russia into Ukraine. If Mr. Putin does that, he said, “then it will stop.”

In her remarks at the United Nations, Ms. Power said, “We assess Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 carrying these 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was likely downed by a surface-to-air missile, an SA-11, operated from a separatist-held location in eastern Ukraine.” She said the United States could not “rule out technical assistance by Russian personnel” in operating the system.

Asked later to respond to the American accusations of Russian support, Vitaly I. Churkin, Russia’s United Nations ambassador, declined to comment.

The 15-member Security Council called unanimously for a “full, thorough and independent international investigation” into the cause of the crash. Jeffrey D. Feltman, the United Nations under secretary general for political affairs, told the council that 80 children were among the dead.

Ms. Power’s assertions were echoed by two senior Defense Department officials, who said the Pentagon and American intelligence agencies had concluded that an SA-11 missile, fired from an area near the Russia border, had downed the plane.

That conclusion was based on an analysis of the launch plume and trajectory of the missile, as detected by an American military spy satellite. The analysis did not pinpoint the origin of the missile or identify who launched it. But a senior Defense Department official said the Americans believed the missile had been launched “from several kilometers inside the Ukrainian border.”

Ukrainian officials, who have called the downing a terrorist attack carried out by the separatists, have referred to the missile by a different name, Buk M1. The Ukrainian armed forces have Buk M1 missiles, which separatists may have purloined.

“The analysts are still trying to get detailed granularity on that,” a senior Pentagon official said. “Those are the million-dollar questions.”

There was also no indication on Friday of a motive, though most American analysts have concluded that the missile operators believed they were firing at a Ukrainian military plane, not a civilian jetliner.

American officials identified the lone American passenger known to have been aboard as Quinn Lucas Schansman, a dual citizen of the United States and the Netherlands.

In Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, the Foreign Ministry announced that it planned to transport the victims to a special laboratory in the northeast city of Kharkiv, outside of rebel control, and was arranging visas and free hotel accommodations in Kiev and Kharkiv for relatives of the victims, whose nationalities spanned more than nine countries.

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Source: Ukrainian Council of National Security and Defense

Ukrainian officials also said that some of the work of emergency responders at the crash site, near the mining town of Grabovo, had been hindered by the separatists, but that workers had recovered 181 bodies by midday on Friday. More than half of the passengers were Dutch.

Kostyantyn Batozsky, an adviser to the Donetsk regional governor, said in a telephone news conference that the aircraft voice and data recording devices had been recovered by Ukrainian emergency services workers whom the rebels had granted access to the crash site. But he said he did not know the current location of the devices or who had possession of them.

At the same time, Aleksandr Borodai, the pro-Russian rebel who leads the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, told reporters that his group had the so-called black boxes and intended to turn them over to officials at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which will be helping to secure the scene. Mr. Borodai said that Dutch and Malaysian officials had informally asked his group to leave the debris and bodies untouched.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatists has involved the successful use of missiles against aircraft at higher and higher altitudes.

Russia’s Defense Ministry, in denying any responsibility, noted that units of the Ukrainian Army possessed the Buk M1 air-defense missile launchers mentioned as the possible weapon that felled the jetliner. Much of the speculation surrounding the crash has focused on that system, particularly because the pro-Russian separatist forces in eastern Ukraine bragged on social media in late June that they had taken possession of a Buk system after capturing a Ukrainian military base.

The crash remained the subject of intense debate in Grabovo as residents tried to come to grips with what had unfolded in the fields where they work, just yards from their homes.

Two villagers said quietly that they had seen the flash of a rocket in the sky around the time the plane went down. A man named Victor, who said he was too afraid to give his last name, said that he had been in his garden at the time and that he had seen “the light coming from a rocket.”

He said it had come from the direction of Snizhne, a city where the Ukrainians have been bombing rebel positions frequently for more than a week. “It was a rocket, I’m sure of it,” he said.

The other villager, Sergei, 15, who also did not want to give his last name, said he had been swimming in a nearby river when he saw what appeared to be a rocket being launched into the sky. He said he had jumped out of the water, hopped on his motorbike and sped home.

As a cloudy dawn came, the full horror in the field was on display. Small white pieces of cloth dotted the grassy farmland, marking the spots of bodies.

Four rebels in fatigues wandered through the ruins, looking through people’s belongings, guidebooks and bags. Asked who was responsible for the crash, they looked incredulous and said that it had of course been the Ukrainian military.

“This wasn’t ours,” said a rebel who identified himself only as Alexei, looking at an overhead bin in the grass with a rifle over his shoulder. “Why would we do this? We’re not animals.”

The smell of flesh hung heavily near a broken hulk of metal on the road where a body lay splayed. A foot with part of a leg was on the road.

The plane appeared to have broken apart at a great height, and pieces were scattered across fields for several miles. The two wings lay akimbo, as if pushed forward on impact. The plane had been full of fuel when it crashed, and the fire near the engine was fierce, turning the twisted metal remains into molten pools that hardened by morning.

“This is direct provocation of the E.U. and the U.S.,” said a rebel, Alexander Nikolaevich, who was walking along the road near the scene. “You see our weapons,” he said, pointing to his aging gun. “We started to win the war, and the fascists did this to stop us.”

When asked if the fight would continue, he said, “A little bit.”

In Malaysia, there was mourning on a Ramadan Friday. Malaysians, shocked at the loss of a second Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 — it has been just four months since a plane disappeared en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur — wondered openly why Flight 17 had been flying over an area where increasingly powerful surface-to-air missiles were being used.

In a statement delivered before dawn in Kuala Lumpur, Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia noted pointedly that the International Civil Aviation Organization had declared the airspace safe and that the International Air Transport Association had not restricted travel there. “We must, and we will, find out precisely what happened to this flight,” Mr. Najib said.

Ukrainian and European air traffic controllers had continued to route civil flights over the contested area even as the fighting worsened, and even as flights directed by Russian controllers had apparently started to avoid it.

Ukrainian intelligence officials have pointed to a fighter named Igor Bezler, the militia leader in the eastern town of Gorlovka, saying he was heard in an intercepted phone call saying that his men had “shot down a plane” on Thursday. Several assassinations are believed to have happened under Mr. Bezler’s watch soon after his forces took Gorlovka, and he took responsibility for killing a number of Ukrainian militiamen in the town of Volnovakha some weeks ago.

According to Russian Internet sources, he was born in 1965 in Crimea and studied in Russia. He served in the Russian military but moved back to Ukraine in 2003, where he began to work as the head of security for a factory in Gorlovka. Biographies also note that he had worked in a company that performed burial services but was fired in 2012. He has been wanted by the Ukrainian authorities since April.

Mr. Bezler’s nom de guerre is Bes, which in Russian sounds like the first syllable of his last name, but also means demon. There are rumors that he does not get along with other militia leaders and that he has had street battles with the Vostok Battalion, though rebels have dismissed those allegations.

In a slickly produced video called “Heroes of Novorossii,” the name of the self-declared insurgent region, Mr. Bezler was shown wearing a light blue beret. He had blue eyes and a long mustache. In a recent interview with the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, he claimed to be holding 14 Ukrainian soldiers hostage and said the Ukrainian military had fallen apart, “much like the condition of the Russian military in the early 1990s.”

In the interview, Mr. Bezler said he was a Russian passport holder but had a residency permit in Ukraine. He said he sang the national anthem of the Soviet Union every morning and usually went to bed around 10:30 p.m. He confirmed that he had worked as head of security for the Gorlovka factory and claimed that he had been fired from the burial services company over a fight with the local mayor, who he said was demanding bribes.

The crash was another setback for Malaysia Airlines, which has already been struggling to recover from the loss of Flight 370, which vanished on March 8 during a red-eye flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The enduring mystery over that flight has severely hurt demand for Malaysia Airlines tickets, forcing the airline to offer budget-carrier prices even though it bears the costs of a full-service airline.

Michael D. Shear reported from Washington, Somini Sengupta from the United Nations and Sabrina Tavernise from Grabovo, Ukraine. Reporting was contributed by Eric Schmitt from Washington, Keith Bradsher and Christopher Buckley from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, David M. Herszenhorn from Kiev, Ukraine, Neil MacFarquhar from Moscow, and Rick Gladstone from New York.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/19/world/europe/malaysia-airlines-plane-ukraine.html

Background Briefing at White House on Ukraine, Russia Sanctions

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
Washington, D.C.
July 16, 2014

BACKGROUND BRIEFING
BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS
ON UKRAINE

Via Conference Call
4:34 P.M. EDT

MS. LUCAS MAGNUSON: Hi, good afternoon, everyone, and thanks for your patience. We have with us today some senior administration officials to talk about the situation in Ukraine and some sanctions on Russia that hopefully you will have seen or will see shortly in a few minutes from the Department of Treasury.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, everybody, for getting on the call. Today, we have moved to impose additional sanctions on Russia for its actions in violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and my Treasury colleague will speak to that.

Since the beginning of this crisis in Ukraine, we have worked at the same time to impose costs on Russia for its actions while also providing support to the Ukrainian government and people. Over the last several weeks, I think it’s important to note that the Ukrainian people have taken a number of important steps to determine their own destiny and to build their own democracy. We saw a successful election held even amidst the violation of their sovereignty and territorial integrity. The new government, under President Poroshenko, has launched important reforms that could help stabilize Ukraine’s economy and develop Ukraine’s democratic institutions. And that Ukrainian government has reached its association agreement with the European Union, which, of course, was the initial point that led to the popular dissatisfaction with the previous Ukrainian government.

We have increased our own support for Ukraine both through the provision of nonlethal assistance to their military, which has ramped up over the last several weeks, and also through our support for an economic stabilization package. The Ukrainian government has also demonstrated a willingness to de-escalate and pursue a peaceful resolution to this situation in eastern Ukraine.

But what we have seen time and again from Russia is a refusal to follow through on necessary commitments and conditions for de-escalation. We have made clear time and again that if Russia does not respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and does not in good faith follow through on necessary commitments for de-escalation that we’ll move to impose additional costs. That’s what we’re doing today.

We have also coordinated every step very closely with our European allies, in particular, and in recent days, President Obama has spoken with leaders such as President Hollande of France, Chancellor Merkel of Germany, [and] Prime Minister Cameron to discuss the situation in Ukraine. The Europeans, of course, are meeting today in Brussels, and we have been very clear in both discussing with them the types of steps that we’re taking today and coordinating our actions both in support of the Ukrainian government and in imposing costs on Russia.

And with that, I’ll turn it over to my Treasury colleague to go over the sanctions package.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Great. Thanks and good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining. Over the last several months and especially over the past several weeks, the Russian government has chosen to escalate its unlawful activities in Ukraine and has chosen to do so in the face of very clear messages that continuing down that path will lead to increasing sanctions pressure. And that is precisely what we are doing today.

We are announcing a broad-based package of actions that will affect firms across key sectors of the Russian economy — the financial services, energy, and defense sectors — while also imposing sanctions against a set of senior Russian officials in the misappropriated business in Crimea.

Let me take a moment to go into some detail about the actions we’ve taken today. First, under Executive Order 13662, Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew determined to apply sanctions against entities in the financial sector and the energy sector of Russia. And we have then imposed a set of prohibitions on two major Russian banks and two major Russian energy firms.

Executive Order 13662, which was signed by the President on March 20th of this year, allows the Secretary to identify sectors of the Russian economy as subject to sanctions and then to impose sanctions on specific persons operating within those sectors.

As I noted earlier today, Secretary Lew made a determination that persons operating within Russia’s financial services sector and energy sector may now be subject to targeted sanctions. And following that determination, Treasury imposed sanctions that prohibit U.S. persons from providing new financing to two major Russian banks — Gazprombank and VEB — and two Russian energy firms — Rosneft and Novatek — effectively limiting their access to the U.S. capital markets.

Now, with regard to the financial sector, Treasury imposed measures prohibiting U.S. persons from dealing in new equity or new debt of longer than 90 days’ maturity for the two banks I listed — Gasprombank and VEB. As a practical matter, this will close the medium- and long-term U.S. sources of financing for these banks. This is a significant step. These financial institutions are among the largest in Russia and routinely access the U.S. capital markets to finance their operations. They will no longer be able to do so.

Now, with regard to the energy sector, Treasury imposed measures that prohibit dealing in new debt of longer than 90 days’ maturity for the energy firms of Novatek and Rosneft. These firms are among the largest energy firms in Russia. Now, as with the financial institutions, we have not blocked the property of these companies, nor prohibited transactions with them beyond the specific financing restrictions I mentioned. But I do want to be clear that the steps that we have taken today to restrict access to the U.S. capital markets for these two major banks and two major energy firms is what we are doing today.

We have the capacity in our sanctions programs to expand the scope of the prohibitions and the list of the entities affected if the situation warrants. And the Secretary of the Treasury determination to open the financial sector and the energy sectors of Russia for sanctions will remain in place.

Second, Treasury today has designated and blocked the assets of eight Russian state-owned defense technology firms, pursuant to Executive Order 13661, for operating in the arms or related materiel sector of Russia. Those firms are listed in our press release, so I won’t go through each of them individually. But the designated firms are responsible for the production of a range of materiel from small arms to mortar shells to surface-to-air missiles to tanks.

Third, Treasury today designated and blocked the assets of two entities and one individual, pursuant to EO 13660, for threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine. They include the so-called Lugansk People’s Republic and the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, as well as Aleksandr Borodai, the self-declared prime minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

Fourth, we have imposed sanctions on Crimea-based Feodosiya Enterprise, which is a key oil shipping facility in the Crimean Peninsula that the separatists’ self-styled Crimean parliament nationalized. This is misappropriated assets of Ukraine. And because of this designation, no U.S. person can deal with Feodosiya Enterprise.

**Fifth and finally, Treasury designated four Russian government officials pursuant to EO 13661. They include Sergey Beseda, the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service; Oleg Savelyev, Russia’s Minister for Crimean Affairs; Sergei Neverov, the Deputy Chairman of the State Duma of the Russian Federation; and Igor Shchegolev, an aide to the President of the Russian Federation.

I want to stress the significance of the steps we’ve taken today, particularly Executive Order 13662, which authorized the Secretary to identify sectors of the Russian economy for sanctions and then to select specific targets for action. This is a broad, flexible, and potent sanctions tool, and we have used this authority today for the first time and have done so in a precise yet powerful fashion by going after these two Russian banks and two Russian energy firms and their ability to access the U.S. for financing. And as I noted, we have the ability to expand the scope of the actions we took today if Russia continues its provocative behavior.

From the very beginning, we have been thoughtful and strategic in our approach to sanctions and have carefully calibrated our steps to impose increased pressure on the Russian government while limiting the negative spillover risks to the global economy. Today’s steps will only further exacerbate Russia’s economic problems. And these problems are quite substantial. Already market analysts are forecasting significant and continued outflows of both foreign and domestic capital from Russia and a further weakening of growth prospects for this year.

The IMF has downgraded Russia’s growth outlook to 0.2 percent for this year and suggested that recession is not out of the question. Since the start of this year, Russia’s stock market has declined by 2 percent while other emerging stock markets have gained as much as 20 percent. The Russian ruble has depreciated by over 4 percent since the beginning of the year despite substantial market intervention by the Russian Central Bank and multiple interest rate hikes.

The Central Bank of Russia has spent nearly $51 billion — about 10 percent of its foreign exchange reserves — in an effort to defend the value of the ruble since the start of this year. The yield on Russia’s 10-year government bond is up almost 90 basis points. The IMF expects as much as $100 billion in capital flight from Russia this year and the World Bank put that estimate at $130 billion. So all together, the actions that we have taken thus far have had a significant impact on the Russian economy and we expect that the steps that we have taken today, including the steps against the Russian banks and the Russian energy firms, will only exacerbate that situation.

So with that, why don’t I conclude and turn it over to my colleague from the State Department.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks very much. Just to remind that at no stage has this been our preference or, frankly, the preference of the Ukrainian government to have to move in this direction. As the President has said from the beginning, there is an off-ramp here for Russia if it would choose to take it, and we have consistently supported the Ukrainians in pursuing a diplomatic path — notably when the President first met then-President-elect Poroshenko on his European trip, and during the Normandy stop when President Poroshenko first presented his peace plan.

At that stage, he was very much hoping that with a broad outreach to the Russian Federation and a diplomatic process supported by the OSCE, the U.S. and the EU, he would be able to achieve his major goals, which were to have a bilateral cease-fire between his forces and the separatists; to have a release of hostages, to have a sealing of the border monitored by the OSCE, and to have an end to the flow of weapons crossing the border.

And, in fact, when he was unable to negotiate a bilateral cease-fire within the first two weeks in office, he called a 10-day unilateral cease-fire. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian side honored that and the separatists did not. There were some 100 violations of the cease-fire. More heavy weapons found their way into Ukraine. And the Ukrainians lost three border posts to separatists during that time.

Since then, as you know, the Ukrainians have resumed their efforts to secure their country. They have made some significant gains on the ground, including the liberation of key towns, including Slavyansk and Svyatogorsk, where they are now in the process of restoring public services. But the fight goes on.

And even in the face of all this diplomacy that’s been going on and very high-level efforts by us and by key members of the European Union, notably France, Germany, the U.K., in fact, over the past month, the flow of heavy weapons and support for separatists from Russia has actually increased. You will have seen on social media over the last week convoys of Russian tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry combat vehicles, Grad rocket launchers, Howitzers, self-propelled mortars flowing into Ukraine.

On July 14th, Ukrainians lost an An-26 transport jet, which was shot down from an altitude of 21,000 feet, with eight crew on board. And only very sophisticated weapons systems would be able to reach this height. On July 15th, as you know, several bridges into Donetsk were taken by separatists, as well as continued attacks on border checkpoints. So the concern has been that not only has Russia not availed itself of the diplomatic openings to deescalate, but the support for separatists has increased.

We would also note the increasing sophistication of the military tactics that we’re seeing in recent weeks, indicating training and coordination from outside; and then, also, just to remind that the three leaders of the separatist movement — Mr. Gubarev, Mr. Strelkov, and Mr. Borodai — or supposed leaders of the separatist movement are, in fact, all Russian citizens.

So from that perspective, after more than a month of asking us, in fact, to withhold further sanctions while they tried to implement their peace plan, the Ukrainians have now urged both the U.S., Canada, and the EU to take further sanctions measures, because the Russians have not responded to the repeated diplomatic efforts led by the Ukrainians and supported by us.

One final point: The European Union is meeting at head-of-state level this evening. We do expect that they will take some action today, but they are still in their meeting. So watch that space. I will pause there.

Q Thank you very much. Is there an issue, though, despite what you expect to come from Brussels, with the fact that the Europeans are not expected to be as forceful as the U.S. has been? And to what extent do you think the tension with Angela Merkel has exacerbated this and made it more difficult for the President to get support from his allies?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’ll say a couple of things. First of all, on your last point, I would not suggest that there has been any effect whatsoever with respect to Germany’s stance on this issue and the recent revelations about certain intelligence activities. The fact of the matter is actually that Angela Merkel has been at the forefront in Europe in pressing for a strong response to Russia’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. And we believe that Germany has played a very significant and constructive role in leading Europe to, again, insist upon respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. And in fact, in their conversation just yesterday, the President was able to discuss the types of steps that we were contemplating taking and to hear from Chancellor Merkel about the types of steps that Europe is considering as well.

With respect to the broader point, we have been moving in coordination with Europe. It is the case that the United States has been very forceful in the sanctions that we have imposed. The Europeans have also moved with us in imposing sanctions against different individuals and entities. I think the broad statement of common purpose with respect to signaling to Russia a cost through broad-based sectoral sanctions for the most egregious potential escalation has served as a deterrent and remains in place.

With respect to actions that we’re taking given Russia’s ongoing support for separatists, again, we do expect the Europeans to take action. We’ve always said that we’ll take different types of actions based on our approach to sanctions, but we’re pleased that there remains close coordination. There remains coordinated support for Ukraine. And I’d note, again, that the EU reached an agreement with respect to the association agreement, which is the root of this crisis, earlier this year. So they’ve been forthcoming in their support for Ukraine, and they have moved to impose costs and pressure on Russia.

Even as it is the case that in the European Union in which you need to reach agreement among all the members, necessarily it takes time and effort to tee up different sanctions packages.

But I don’t know if my colleagues have anything to add to that.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The only thing I would add is that some of the individuals and entities at the end of our list, as outlined by speaker one, that we are sanctioning today, are entities that the EU has already sanctioned — the Luhansk People’s Republic, Donetsk, some of the Russian’s — Feodosia. So there has been a little bit of a yin-yang where at times we’re catching up with them; at times, they’re catching up with us. But I don’t want to prejudge what they’re going to decide tonight because it’s very much a work in progress.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And if I could just add one final point, which is that the financial institutions, in particular, that we sanctioned today and have cut off from equity financing from the U.S. and from debt financing of 90 days or greater maturity, they are heavily skewed in their financing and their capital structure to the dollar. And so the impact of these sanctions even if Europeans don’t match them precisely, will be quite significant because of the dominance of the dollar in the financing for those firms.

Q We wanted to ask about the significance of the debt market financing. It sounds like from what you’re saying if it’s over 90 days that it’s going to allow these companies to continue doing their business, just not get the longer-term loans. Am I correct on that? And also, to the extent of these sanctions being against Gazprom, Rosneft, et cetera, it’s just limited to the 90 days and companies like Exxon will not be prohibited from conducting business with them under this — correct?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So let me take that. The prohibition is on for the financial institutions, so for Gazprombank and VEB, on any equity financing and any debt financing over a 90-day equity.

So essentially, we’re not going after the short-term or the overnight financing, but the financing that they need as part of their capital structures to roll over on a regular basis that’s of longer than 90-day maturity in debt, they will not be able to access the U.S. markets and no U.S. person will be permitted to lend to those financial institutions. It will increase their cost of borrowing. They’ll have to look elsewhere for dollars, if they can find them. For their financing, they will likely have to turn to the Central Bank of Russia, which has dollar reserves, as a way to fill the hole that they’re not going to be able to fill when their financing needs come up as their debt rolls over.

On the energy firms, it, as you noted, applies just to debt, not to new equity infusions. How that applies in any particular circumstance we’ll let others who are involved with those firms determine. But, again, it will prohibit any debt financing for those energy firms of 90 days or greater maturity.

Q I have a couple of things. Firstly, how much of an effect do you expect all of this to have on U.S. businesses? And we all know that the U.S. businesses are against this action. And then, secondly, in terms of sanctioning the Donetsk and the Luhansk Republic, does this, in effect, amount to recognition of those entities?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’ll say a couple of things, and then my colleague may want to add. First of all, on your last question, absolutely not. It just allows us to target the individuals who are associated with the activities under the self-described names of the Luhansk and the Donetsk People’s Republic. So it has nothing to do with recognition of those entities. It has to do with targeting the individuals associated with their actions.

And I’ll turn to my colleague on the first question.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’ll actually respond to both of those questions. Just one further thought on the designation of the Luhansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic, these purported entities. It will allow us to impose sanctions on anyone who is providing support to any of those entities. So to the extent that they are seeking to solicit funding, for instance, for their activities, or individuals who are affiliated with those entities, this will go as an opportunity to take action against anyone who is financing those entities or providing other material support to those entities.

In terms of the U.S. business community, what we have heard time and again is that the U.S. business community understands the importance of a robust response to the unlawful activity of the Russian federation in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine. I think the notion that our businesses are not supportive of the U.S. government being forceful in addressing this significant threat is mistaken. They, like businesses everywhere, want the burden to be shared, but in terms of understanding that there are burdens to be borne for broader principles beyond just the bottom line, I don’t think our businesses have any difficulty with that notion.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Can I just underscore what was said at the beginning about the so-called Luhansk People’s Republic and the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic — the idea here is that the separatists are trying to create entities that behave like separate governing structures, and as such could conceivably seek outside financing or support. This ensures that we strangle those efforts.

Q I have a couple of quick ones. First of all, I think Alexey Miller, the head of Gazprom, still hasn’t been targeted. Is that right?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We have not — the list of people who we have imposed sanctions on is known. He is not on the list.

Q It seems as if you’ve gone after just about everybody but Gazprom itself. I mean, Gazprombank is obviously related, but it’s not the same thing as Gazprom. I’m wondering if the thinking there is that you don’t want to do things that would disrupt energy, energy flows to Central and Western Europe. And then, a second quick follow-up — most of us know what the FSB is, but can you explain what the fifth service of the FSB is and why it was targeted for sanctions?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We, as a general matter, don’t talk about entities that we have not imposed sanctions on and don’t speculate about who we may sanction. We talk about those who we have sanctioned, so I don’t really have any comments on Gazprom itself.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: With regard to the FSB, we sanctioned today the head of the FSB, which is playing a key role, we believe, in organizing the separatists and supporting them and funneling money to them, as well as operational expertise and supporting the recruitment inside of Russia, which has had a significant uptick of fighters and military retirees to participate.

Q Thanks so much for having this. I was just wondering about the flexibility of sector sanctions for the two banks and the energy companies –- is that the kind of thing that would likely –- would it be more likely that the Treasury would adjust the companies involved in these sectors, or is it designed to be more flexible in the types of transactions with these entities that are being targeted, which are currently limited to –-

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the financing sanctions that were broken today on those entities will certainly have a direct impact on the entities themselves. But I think as we’ve seen in our sanctions efforts throughout the course of this episode, there is broader impact in the Russian economy from steps we have taken as the market recognizes that we are quite serious when we say that we are intent on imposing costs if the Russians don’t de-escalate the situation. So I think we are anticipating both direct costs with respect to those entities and for the market to recognize the seriousness with which we’re taking the situation.

Q I wanted to ask was there any thinking — I know Brussels was announcing it — was there any thinking in announcing before they reached a decision? And just on the new banking and energy sanctions, whether those — I just wanted to clarify, those allow U.S. individuals to do business with them — restriction on their capital market?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I’ll just say one thing about the first question. We have coordinated closely with our European allies in both the substance and timing of sanctions throughout the last several weeks and months, and we have tended to see the meetings the European leaders and the European Council as important moments to check in on the status of progress and the status of conditions that have been laid out in terms of Russia’s actions. And so these tend to be natural moments for the United States to take action in coordination with our European allies.

And President Obama, in his recent conversations with the leaders of France, the United Kingdom, and Germany, has discussed both the substance and timing of the type of actions that we’re announcing here today — as recently as in his conversation with Chancellor Merkel yesterday.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: If I could jump in and fix something that I said earlier — Sergei Besesda, (inaudible) who is sanctioned today, is a top general — not the head, but a top general in Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB, and reportedly one of the main leaders within the FSB of support for separatists.

And just to build on what was said with regard to the EU, the EU tends to — in fact, in all cases with regard to Ukraine, has taken its major decisions at the level of heads during heads meetings.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And just to finish up on the last question, the prohibition extends to any transactions related to the financing for the energy firms or the banks in the fashion I indicated. So over 90 days and any equity financing for the banks. Beyond that, it does not prohibit transactions with those entities.

MS. LUCAS MAGNUSON: Thank you, everyone, again for joining. We’ll conclude the call now. Just as a reminder, all information is attributable to senior administration officials. Thank you and have a good evening.

END 5:08 P.M. EDT

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