US officials are saying Russia recently supplied Ukraine separatists sophisticated missile systems that were used to shoot down Malaysian Airlines plane MH 17.
And they were moved back into Russia after the shooting to remove evidence of its complicity, said US media reports on Saturday, citing US intelligence assessments.
US intelligence learnt of the movement of Russian SA-11 antiaircraft missile systems into rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine along with other military hardware including tanks “a little more than a week ago”, said The Washington Post, quoting an unidentified official.
This tracks closely with what Ukrainian officials have been saying.
Though Russia has denied any role in the shooting, the United States has said it cannot be ruled out because the missile systems were far too complex for rebels to operate.
US permanent representative to UN Samantha Power told the Security Council on Friday that Russia could have provided technical assistance.
With Russia’s role suspect, pressure is also mounting on it for a “full, credible, and unimpeded international investigation” into the shooting that killed 295 people.
“We are deeply concerned by the Russia-backed separatists’ refusal to allow OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) monitors safe and unfettered access to the crash site,” said US state department spokesperson Jen Psaki.
They were allowed only 75 minutes at the site on Friday and for three hours on Saturday. Thus far, the separatists have only allowed monitors to have limited access to a small area.
“The site is not secure, and there are multiple reports of bodies being removed, parts of the plane and other debris being hauled away, and potential evidence tampered with,” said Psaki, adding, “This is unacceptable and an affront to all those who lost loved ones and to the dignity the victims deserve.”
And in a phone call to to his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, secretary of state John Kerry said Moscow needs to take “immediate and clear action to reduce tensions in Ukraine”.
Pro-Russia separatists must lay down arms, release political prisoners and and engage in a political dialogue to settle the dispute, Kerry told Lavrov according to the state department.