While a U.S. official said Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 was shot down by a missile supplied by Russia to separatists in eastern Ukraine, Russian media reported that President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the need for an objective investigation.
It is confirmed that Russia supplied sophisticated missile launchers to separatists and then sought to move them back across to Russia after the Malaysian plane crashed Thursday, a U.S. official told The Washington Post Saturday.
"We do believe they were trying to move back into Russia at least three Buk [missile launch] systems," the anonymous official was quoted as saying.
The source added that U.S. intelligence was "starting to get indications . . . a little more than a week ago" that the missile launchers had been moved into Ukraine.
A top Ukrainian counterintelligence official has made a similar claim.
The flight, with 298 people and crew members aboard, crashed near the town of Torez in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. The plane, Boeing 777, was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, and flying at about 33,000 feet when it was hit by a missile.
The region where the flight crashed has been troubled by fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia militants seeking to declare the area an independent republic.
There were 193 people from the Netherlands – including 1 dual Netherlands/USA citizen – on the flight, the airline said in a statement Saturday evening. Also aboard were 43 citizens of Malaysia; 27 from Australia; 12 from Indonesia; 10 from the United Kingdom; 4 each from Germany and Belgium; 3 from the Philippines; and one each from Canada and New Zealand.
British Prime Minister David Cameron and U.S. President Barack Obama agreed an independent investigation should start as soon as possible, BBC reported Saturday, adding the two also discussed possible new sanctions on Moscow.
The U.S. envoy to the U.N., Samantha Power, told an emergency session of the UN Security Council Friday that the jetliner was likely shot down by an SA-11 surface-to-air system, which originated from inside territory controlled by separatists in eastern Ukraine with a possible involvement of Russian personnel.
"Because of the technical complexity of the SA-11 it is unlikely that the separatists could effectively operate the system without assistance from knowledgeable personnel, thus we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel in operating the system," The Independent quoted Power as telling the Council.
Ukraine and Malaysia Airlines, among others, are investigating the accident at the site, with the help of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Cameron and his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott agreed the two countries should apply "further pressure" at the U.N. Security Council "for swift and unhindered access to the crash site," according to BBC.
Meanwhile, Russian President Putin and German Chancellor Merkel spoke on the telephone about the plane crash and "stressed the importance of a thorough and objective investigation of all the circumstances of the tragedy," the press service of the Kremlin said in a statement, according to RIA Novosti.
"The discussion of the crisis in Ukraine continued, including in the context of the Malaysia Airlines plane crash in the Donetsk Region. Both sides stressed the importance of a thorough and objective investigation of all the circumstances of the incident," the statement said.
It claimed that Merkel commended Russia's readiness to send a representative to participate in the investigation. Merkel also agreed that the investigation "must be conducted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) involving all interested parties."
The two leaders also allegedly underlined the need for "an early cessation of hostilities in the southeast of Ukraine and the initiation of peace talks."