By Justin Sink - 07/18/14 12:35 PM EDT
The United States on Friday said it believed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was taken down by a surface-to-air missile from territory controlled by Russian militants battling the Ukrainian government.
President Obama described the incident as a "global wakeup call," suggesting the U.S. is ready to press its partners to put more pressure on Russia to rein in militants operating in Eastern Ukraine.
Attention turned Friday to the crash site near Ukraine's border with Russian, as the U.S. demanded that international investigators be given full access to the wreckage.
About 30 members of the Geneva-based Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe arrived at the crash site via helicopter, but were unable to properly survey the wreckage, officials told Reuters.
The State Department said it was concerned that officials were only given 75 minutes at the crash site.
“Those who say they are going to participate in or welcome this investigation need to give unfettered access, and obviously we didn't see that when these individuals were there for 75 minutes,” State Department press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday.
New details also emerged Friday on casualties from the plane crash that killed 298 people. Obama said one American, Quinn Lucas Schansman, 19, was among the dead.
A number of researchers traveling to a conference on HIV/AIDS in Australia were also among those killed.
Obama and other U.S. officials strongly signaled they believed Russian militants backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin's government were responsible for shooting down the plane.
Obama also blamed Russia’s government for doing too little to control militia groups in Ukraine, saying violence in the region had been “facilitated… in large part because of Russian support.”
“Time and again, Russia has refused to take the concrete steps necessary to de-escalate the situation,” Obama said.
At a United Nations Security Council meeting on Friday, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said the Malaysian jet “was likely downed by an SA-11 missile, operated from a separatist-held location in eastern Ukraine.”
Power said that the U.S. “cannot rule out” that Russian personnel provided technical assistance to Ukrainian separatists suspected of attacking the plane, noting the “technical complexity” of the surface-to-air missile system.
Power characterized the incident as “fueled by Russian support for separatists” and said Moscow “must rein in what is has unleashed.”
At the Pentagon, officials said it "strains credulity" that the missile system could have been used by separatists "without some measure of Russian support and assistance."
Separatists have denied charges from Ukraine that they are responsible for the downed plane but Ukrainian officials believe the plane was shot down with a Russian-built Buk anti-aircraft system, which is capable of downing planes flying as high as 72,000 feet.
Power and Obama also noted that the Malaysian jet is not the first aircraft to be shot down in Eastern Ukraine.
“Over the last several weeks Russian-backed separatists have shot down a Ukrainian transport plane and a Ukrainian helicopter, and they claimed responsibility for shooting down a Ukrainian fighter jet,” Obama said. “Moreover, we know that these separatists have received a steady flow of support from Russia.”
The Obama administration has struggled to win support for tougher European sanctions against Russia. If Russian separatists are behind the plane crash, it is possible countries in Western Europe, which has closer economic ties to Russia, could agree to stronger sanctions.
Obama said his administration would work to move tougher sanctions on Russia.
"Not because we're interested in hurting Russia for the sake of hurting Russia, but because we believe in standing up for the basic principle that a country's sovereignty and territorial integrity has to be respected," he said.
Power told the Security Council that the U.S. had “repeatedly” provided evidence “in the last few weeks” that Russia was accelerating its support for separatists within Ukraine.
“Russian support for separatists has fueled this crisis,” Power said.
She also declared that the U.S. would “continue to impose costs” against Russia if it did not work to deescalate the situation.
Earlier Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his "concern and sadness” over the tragedy and called for a cease-fire to allow an international investigation into the incident.
“Direct talks between the opposing sides must be established as soon as possible. All sides in the conflict must swiftly halt fighting and begin peace negotiations,” Putin said, according to Reuters.
But on Thursday, Putin said the government in Kiev bore responsibility for the crash.
“I would like to note that this tragedy would not have occurred if there were peace in that country, or in any case, if hostilities had not resumed in southeast Ukraine,” Putin said. “And certainly, the government over whose territory it occurred is responsible for this terrible tragedy.”
— This story was posted at 7:20 a.m.and updated at 5:28 p.m.