Four days after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, a clearly frustrated President Barack Obama called on President Vladimir Putin to exercise his influence over Russian separatists who are preventing an investigation of the crash that killed almost 300 people.
“Given its direct influence over the separatists, Russia — and President Putin in particular — has direct responsibility to compel them to cooperate with the investigation. That is the least they can do,” Obama said in a statement outside the White House Monday, noting Russia had “urged on” the separatists, trained them, armed them, and that many key leaders are Russian citizens.
Obama said he had been assured by Putin that the Russian leader supported a full and fair investigation at the crash site. “I appreciate the words but they must be supported by actions.” Obama said it was time for Russia to “get serious” about trying to resolve the hostilities that have gripped Ukraine since early this year.
Over the weekend, Russian separatists trying to break away from Ukraine fired weapons into the air as international investigators approached the crash site. They have removed bodies of the victims and evidence from the site.
“All of which begs the question: What exactly are they trying to hide?” said Obama.
Russian and Ukrainian leaders continue to criticize each other for promulgating the conflict, which is hindering the recovery efforts and investigation into the crash of the Malaysian airplane. Putin blamed Ukraine for not taking “responsibility” for its citizens, while Ukrainian officials said Russia is aiding separatists.
Obama’s speech came ahead of the U.N. Security Council’s vote on a resolution that could condemn the downing of the plane and hold the responsible parties accountable.
The United States and Ukraine have pointed a finger at Russia for facilitating separatists believed to be involved in the crash. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that the Ukrainians unequivocally did not have a weapons system anywhere near the site that was capable of downing the plane.
“My preference continues to be finding a diplomatic resolution within Ukraine. I believe that can still happen,” Obama said. “But if Russia continues to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and back these separatists and threatens not only to the people in Ukraine but the international community, then Russia will only further isolate itself and the costs for Russia’s behavior will only continue to increase.”