Ukraine calls businessman and Russian defense minister ‘accomplices of terrorists’
KIEV, Ukraine (CNN) — Ukraine opened criminal cases Tuesday against Russia’s defense minister and a Russian businessman, calling both “accomplices of terrorists.”
The Ukrainian Internal Affairs Ministry accused Russian Defense Minister Gen. Sergei Shoigu of helping form “illegal military groups” in the Donetsk region, where pro-Russian rebels have declared their own government.
“The illegal military groups, which are led by citizens of the Russian Federation, make regular attacks on government institutions and other organizations that have led to multiple human deaths, destruction, and other consequences,” the ministry said in a statement.
And the ministry accused Russian billionaire Konstantin Malofeev of financing the “illegal military units.”
Russian officials have repeatedly denied involvement in fomenting violence in the region.
A June profile on Malofeev by Bloomberg News noted that the “self-proclaimed head of the unrecognized Donetsk People’s Republic and its rebel army leader have both worked for Malofeev, though the financier denies any role in the unrest.”
Earlier this month, Ukraine opened a criminal case against the head of Russia’s Border Service.
The ministry’s statement Tuesday contained no specific references to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. But it came as the remains of victims were being moved into coffins in a Ukrainian facility — and as Ukraine ratcheted up accusations that Moscow was involved.
Vitaly Nayda, Ukraine’s director of informational security, made an accusation in an interview with CNN. The person who shot down the flight was “absolutely” a Russian, he said. “A Russian-trained, well-equipped, well-educated officer … pushed that button deliberately.”
“We taped conversations” between a Russian officer and his office in Moscow, Nayda said. “We know for sure that several minutes before the missile was launched, there was a report” to a Russian officer that the plane was coming, he said.
“They knew the plane was coming with constant speed, in constant direction,” and should have known it was not a fighter jet but “a big civilian plane,” he said.
That recording is not among those that have been released.
Moscow has denied claims that it pulled the trigger. And Russian Army Lt. Gen. Andrei Kartapolov suggested a Ukrainian jet fighter may have shot the plane down.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko rejected that in an exclusive interview with CNN, saying that all Ukrainian aircraft were on the ground at the time.
Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, was asked Monday about different intercepted recordings, purportedly of pro-Russian rebels talking about shooting down a plane. Churkin suggested that if they did, it was an accident.
“According to them, the people from the east were saying that they shot down a military jet,” he said. “If they think they shot down a military jet, it was confusion. If it was confusion, it was not an act of terrorism.”
Pro-Russian rebels have repeatedly denied responsibility for the attack.
Russia: ‘Wake-up call’ for Ukraine
Russian officials insist Ukraine is to blame for the violence in the region.
Asked by CNN about reports that pro-Russian rebels were tampering with parts at the Flight 17 crash site, Churkin responded, “What we need to be disturbed by even more is the continuing of military activity of the Ukrainian armed forces,” which he insisted were blocking experts from reaching the site.
And the Russian ambassador to the European Union, in an interview with CNN, referred to the United States calling the crash “a wake-up call.”
“I agree with the U.S. administration on that,” Vladimir Chizov said. “It should serve as a wake-up call for everybody to stop instigating violence, stop supporting the Ukrainian government in its military campaign against civilians.”
But when the United States used the term, it was sending the opposite message.
“We hope that this will be a wake-up call for some countries in Europe that have wanted to sort of stand back and give this more time and worry more about the trade relationship,” Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“This is the moment of truth for Russia. Russia is supporting these separatists. Russia is arming these separatists. Russia is training these separatists. And Russia has not yet done the things necessary in order to try to bring them under control, which everybody believes they have more of an ability to do than they have exercised.”
To that end, the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council agreed Tuesday to establish a new list of entitles and individuals, including some from Russia, to face EU sanctions.
Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans said his country would seek sanctions involving various fields, including defense, high technology, the energy sector and financial services.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that his country would use its influence with Ukrainian rebels to push for a full investigation, the Reuters news agency reported.
“Nothing (Putin) said could possibly be believed,” Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said in an interview with CNN’s “New Day.”
There is “ample, overwhelming evidence” of Russian involvement in the disaster, said McCain, who serves on the Senate Armed Services and Homeland Security committees. Whether or not a Russian officer pulled the trigger, McCain added, “I guarantee you it’s (Putin’s) people who trained these people.”
Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Flight 17 victims are “completely tied up in what is one of the most disgusting discussions I’ve heard in terms of the lies that are being put forward by President Putin and the propaganda that the Russians are putting out about this.”
U.S. intelligence analysts are examining phone intercepts, social media posts and information gathered on the ground to see whether Russian officials played a direct role in the shootdown, according to two U.S. officials directly familiar with the assessment. The officials declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation.
The U.S. government also released a map of what it says was the flight’s path and the site from which the missile was fired.
And the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said one of its experts will help retrieve information from Flight 17’s flight data recorders, which are to be sent to Britain for international analysis.
Ukrainian rebels gave Malaysian officials the so-called black boxes Tuesday after repeated attempts by the Malaysian government.
“In recent days, we have been working behind the scenes to establish contact with those in charge of the MH17 crash site,” Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said early Tuesday.
British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted that Britain agreed to a Dutch request for accident investigators at Farnborough to retrieve data from the boxes for international analysis.
The voice recorder could include audio from the cockpit, which would show whether the pilots knew the plane had been hit, said Mary Schiavo, a CNN aviation analyst and former inspector general for the U.S. Department of Transportation.
And the flight data recorders will give investigators information about engine settings, pressurization and electronic communications, among other details, she said.
Who’s to blame?
But even the black boxes might not answer the two most pressing questions: who shot down the plane, and why.
U.S. and other officials have said it appears the plane was shot down by a sophisticated surface-to-air missile in rebel-held territory. Evidence supporting that conclusion includes telephone intercepts and video of a Buk missile launcher traveling into Russia with at least one missile missing.
Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and others have said the pro-Russian rebels could not have shot down such a high-flying jet without weapons and training from Russia.
Obama called on Russia to rein in the rebel fighters, who he said had treated remains poorly and removed evidence from the site. “What exactly are they trying to hide?” he said.
A brawl broke out Tuesday in Ukraine’s parliament as lawmakers voted to increase the number of troops battling pro-Russian rebels.
Nikolai Levchenko, who is from the Donetsk region and has been noticed at separatist rallies, accused the government of killing its own people. A nationalist lawmaker then ran up to him, and soon many lawmakers congregated around them, with many apparently trying to break up the fight.
Such fighting takes place frequently in the parliament.
Dutch PM: Identifying bodies could take months
Bodies from the crash were transported to Kharkiv on Tuesday. There were 298 people on board Flight 17, and officials say the remains of 282 have been recovered. Ukraine has also said 87 “body fragments” were recovered from the sprawling crash site, but it’s unclear whom they belonged to.
The bodies were transferred to a local factory, where a facility was set up to transfer them to coffins and get them on a military plane to the Netherlands for forensic investigation.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he expects the first plane carrying the remains to arrive Wednesday in Eindhoven.
As soon as the remains are identified, families of the victims will be informed. In some cases, that could happen quickly, Rutte said, but in some cases, identification could take weeks or even months.
Timmermans, the Dutch foreign minister, said bringing the victims’ remains home is his country’s top priority.
“To my dying day, I will not understand that it took so much time for the rescue workers to be allowed to do their difficult jobs,” he told the U.N. Security Council on Monday, “and that human remains should be used in a political game.”
The pro-Russian rebels’ self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic announced Tuesday that it has agreed to transfer the victims’ personal items to their home countries.
President Obama visited the Dutch Embassy in Washington on Tuesday to sign a condolence book for the 298 victims of Flight 17.
He said Americans are heartbroken about the downing of the airliner, and added that he was there “to express solidarity with the people of the Netherlands. We will work with them to make sure loved ones are recovered, that a proper investigation is conducted and ultimately justice is done.”