Key Republican sees signs of Russian cover-up at crash site

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Saturday said groups on the ground in Ukraine appear to be trying to cover up the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said he suspects a Russian separatist group in Eastern Ukraine shot down the jet, killing all 298 people aboard.

He blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for supplying arms to Russian militants, saying the Russian government bears responsibility for the incident.

“I think what’s happened is a rather poorly trained separatist group here probably inadvertently have shot down an airliner and are now trying to cover this up, and that’s the part you see on the ground today,” Royce said in an interview on CNN with Michael Smerconish.

There have been widespread reports Saturday of worries about the crash site, including reports that people may have been looting it.

CNN reporter Chris Cuomo, speaking from the site, said Saturday, “there is no question this scene has been corrupted. Anyone who says otherwise is misstating the facts.”

Royce said the U.S. knows Russia was training separatists in Eastern Ukraine, and that heavy equipment including tanks and anti-aircraft equipment had been sent in recent days. He said the Russian government was moving equipment into Ukraine because it was worried Kiev’s new president, Petro Poroshenko, was beginning to consolidate support across the country, including in regions dominated by ethnic Russians.  

“They’re panicked to move quickly because Poroshenko has been consolidating support in the East,” Royce said on "Smerconish."

“And so as people move towards the Ukrainian government, they are rather desperate to set back the advances made by the Ukrainian elected government.”

He said the downing of the plane was an “unfortunate consequence” of the Russian actions.

Royce also said Russia was managing Eastern Ukraine with “KGB agents or the current equivalent” on the ground.

“So you can see how it’s being micromanaged from Russia,” he said.

Royce predicted international anger over the incident will now build on Putin.

“The degree of anger in east Asia, in Europe, in Central Asia towards the downing of this airliner will probably consolidate world opinion behind the peace plan put forward by President Poroshenko and put enormous pressure right now on the Russian government to back off,” he said.