Obama pressures Putin

Obama says the burden is now on Moscow to insist that separatists stop tampering with the crash site.

FILE: US President Barack Obama. Picture: AFP.

WASHINGTON - United States (US) President Barack Obama piled pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday to force pro-Russian separatists to stop blocking an international investigation into the shooting down of a passenger jet last week.

In remarks at the White House, Obama said Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine have kept investigators away from the site of the downed Malaysian Airlines plane, at times firing their weapons into the air.

"What are they trying to hide?" he said.

Obama said Putin and Russia have a direct responsibility to compel separatists to cooperate with the investigation and that the burden is now on Moscow to insist that separatists stop tampering with the investigation.

There were no survivors from Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, a Boeing 777.

The United Nations said 80 of the 298 aboard were children.

The loss was the second devastating blow for Malaysia Airlines and the country this year, following the disappearance of Flight MH370 in March with 239 passengers and crew on board on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

RUSSIA CHALLENGES ACCUSATIONS

Russia's Defence Ministry on Monday challenged accusations pro-Russian rebels were to blame for shooting down the Malaysian airliner and asked the United States to produce satellite images to support its assertions.

At a briefing in which generals used flashing radar images on big screens in a state-of-the-art conference room, the ministry said a Ukrainian fighter jet had tracked the airliner despite Kiev's assertions that no aircraft were nearby.

The ministry also denied supplying the separatists in east Ukraine with SA-11 Buk anti-aircraft missile systems, known as "Gadfly" in NATO or "any other weapons".

The hi-tech presentation appeared a direct response to video and audio recordings used by Ukrainian security officials to back up their accusations of Russian and rebel involvement - recordings the ministry's comments suggested were fabricated.

"Russian air space control systems detected a Ukrainian Air Force plane, presumably an SU-25 [fighter jet], scrambling in the direction of the Malaysian Boeing ... The distance of the SU-25 plane from the Boeing was from 3 to 5 kilometres," Air Force Lieutenant-General Igor Makushev said.

"Earlier, Ukrainian officials said that on the day of the Boeing 777 crash there were no military aircraft in the region - as you can see this does not appear to be true."

Another officer, Lieutenant-General Andrei Kartopolov, said that, "whether it is a coincidence or not", a US satellite had been monitoring the area at the time.

"We also have some questions for our US partners," he said. "According to the US declarations, they have satellite images that confirm the missile was launched by the rebels. But nobody has seen these images."

"If the American side has pictures from this satellite, then they should show the international community."

PROPAGANDA WAR

Russia and Ukraine have been waging a fierce propaganda war over the crisis in eastern Ukraine, where the rebels rose up in April against Kiev's rule.

In an echo of the US State Department's use of lists to debunk what it calls "misinformation" in the Ukraine crisis, Russia issued its own list on Monday of 10 leading questions it wanted Kiev to answer about the downed passenger jet.

Putin has pointed the finger at his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko, saying the disaster would not have happened if Kiev had not ended a ceasefire with the separatists.

Putin, looking drawn, made brief televised comments on the crisis that signaled a new determination to get Russia's version of events across, although they were first released in the middle of the night.

He said the downing of the airliner must not be used for political ends, but did not respond directly to the accusations of Russian involvement by supplying arms to the rebels.

Monday's military briefing was the first detailed comment by Russia - which has radar stations and military bases near the border with Ukraine - since the passenger plane came down on Thursday in territory controlled by the rebels.

At the presentation, the officers said the Malaysian airliner was one of three civilian aircraft in the skies over eastern Ukraine at the time.

Kiev later said it stood by its accusations.

"There is evidence that the missile which struck the plane was fired by terrorists, who received arms and specialists from the Russian Federation," said Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine's Security Council.