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US: New intelligence underscores Russian responsibility for downed plane

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The United States accused Russia on Tuesday of creating the conditions for the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, and said the Kremlin was continuing to send weapons and vehicles to militants in Ukraine.

The Obama administration offered new intelligence indicating the Malaysian jetliner was likely shot down by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile that came from territory in Ukraine held by Russian-backed militants fighting Kiev’s U.S.-backed government.

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The new intelligence did not include evidence of direct Russian involvement, and officials have concluded that the pro-Russian separatists most likely shot down the plane by mistake.

But the overall message from the administration was that Russia was at least partly to blame for the incident that left 298 people dead, and that it should be punished.

Russia “bears responsibility for the support they provided to these separatists … and a general unstable environment they created in Ukraine,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said during an appearance on CNN. [WATCH VIDEO]

He also said Russia has continued to provide help from the militants since the plane was shot down.

“There has been a steady flow of heavy weapons across the border from Russia,” Rhodes said.

Separately, CNN reported that intelligence indicates that as many as 20 weapons systems were dispatched from Russia to Ukraine on Tuesday, even as leaders in Europe met to discuss additional sanctions over Russia's support.

Rhodes indicated the separatists would not likely be able to operate the surface-to-air missile system without government support. Training on the system "tends to take" multiple days, and satellite evidence suggests that the Russian military has established a training camp just across the border from Ukraine.

The officials said their information was based on intercepts, satellite photos and social media posts by separatist leaders. Some of that information, they said, had been authenticated by U.S. experts.

The assessment largely confirms early reports that rebel leaders believed they had shot down a Ukrainian military cargo plane, only to discover it was actually a commercial jet.

Separatist commander Igor Strelkov reportedly bragged about shooting down an aircraft on the social media website Vkontakte before deleting the post.

“In the district of Torez an An-26 was just shot down,” he reportedly wrote in the post. “It crashed somewhere near the Progress mine. We warned them not to fly in our skies.”

The revelations came as the United States is attempting to rally support for stronger sanctions against Russia in the aftermath of the jetliner crash. 

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the evidence would be “more effective in drawing a more conclusive case” about what happened with the crash.

“We certainly would welcome additional steps from the international community, principally our allies in western Europe, that would impose additional economic costs in Russia,” Earnest said. “We, for rather obvious reasons, think that those additional costs are justified.”