Obama urges Russia to permit access to Ukraine crash site

President asks what pro-Russian separatists want to hide by tampering with evidence

US president Barack Obama after speaking on the Ukraine situation outside the Oval Office of the White House on Monday. He said it was   time for the Russian leader to “get serious” about trying to resolve the hostilities in Ukraine. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images

US president Barack Obama after speaking on the Ukraine situation outside the Oval Office of the White House on Monday. He said it was time for the Russian leader to “get serious” about trying to resolve the hostilities in Ukraine. Photograph: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Mon, Jul 21, 2014, 18:18

President Barack Obama heaped further pressure on Russia on Monday, urging the country’s leader Vladimir Putin to stop Moscow-backed separatists in Ukraine interfering with evidence at the site of shot-down Malaysian Airlines jet and grant investigators immediate access to the area.

Speaking at the White House, Mr Obama said he appreciated the support of Russia’s president Vladimir Putin for a full and fair investigation into the shooting down of the passenger jet that killed 298 people on board, but said that his words had to be supported by actions.

“The burden now is on Russia to insist that the separatists stop tampering with the evidence, grant investigators who are already on the ground immediate, full and unimpeded access to the crash site,” said Mr Obama.

“The separatists and the Russian sponsors are responsible for the safety of the investigators doing their work.”

Mr Obama accused separatists in control of the area around the crash site of repeatedly blocking international investigators from gaining access to wreckage, of firing shots in the air when investigators approached and of removing evidence from the crash site.

Their actions raised the question - “what exactly are they trying to hide?” he said.

Separatists were removing bodies from the crash site without the care that should be expected after such a tragedy, he said.

“This is an insult to those who have lost loved ones. This is the kind of behaviour that has no place in the community of nations.”

The Obama administration has pointed the finger of blame at Russian separatists for the shooting down of the civilian airliner and tied Moscow to the tragedy, claiming that separatists alone could not have the technical capacity to shoot down the plane using sophisticated military weaponry without some assistance from Russia.

Mr Obama didn’t present any new evidence to support the US case that the separatists were responsible with support from Moscow during his seven-minute address.

He urged Mr Putin to “pivot away from this tragedy” to find a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine and to respect the country’s sovereignty and the right of its people to make their own decisions.

He said that it was now time for the Russian leader to “get serious” about trying to resolve the hostilities in Ukraine.

The shooting down of the airplane in territory controlled by Russian-backed separatists showed how they had become “more and more dangerous” not just to Ukrainians but to the broader international community,” he said.

The president warned that if Russia did not change its position in Ukraine, it would further isolate itself internationally and that the “costs for Russia’s behaviour will only continue to increase.”

He urged Russia and the pro-Moscow separatists to allow families recover relatives killed in the crash, noting the “extraordinary influence” over that Russia and Mr Putin has over the separatists.

He said the Russian leader had “direct responsibility” to compel separatists to co-operate with the international investigation.

“Time is of the essence,” said Mr Obama. “Our friends and allies need to be able to recover those who were lost. That is the least we can do. That is the least that decency demands.”

At the start of his address, the president expressed “serious concerns” at the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and loss of Israeli lives in the two-week conflict, calling for an immediate ceasefire.

Mr Obama has dispatched secretary of state John Kerry to the Middle East to restore the November 2012 ceasefire agreement bween Israel and Islamic group Hamas in Gaza.

“The work will not be easy - obviously there are enormous passions involved in this and some very difficult strategic issues involved,” he said.

“Nevertheless I have asked John to do everything he can to help facilitate a cessation of hostilities. We don’t want to see any more civilians getting killed.”