President Obama spoke Friday that the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile launched from an area inside Ukraine controlled by Russian-back separatists; although "no definitive judgment" has been reached on who was responsible for this "catastrophe," he said Russia is largely responsible for the ongoing violence in Ukraine.
"Nearly 300 innocent lives were taken - men, women, children, infants - who had nothing to do with the crisis in Ukraine," the President said during a press conference at the White House, calling the incident an "outrage of unspeakable proportions." He said the United States will stand with those nations that have lost citizens on board the plane in "absolute determination to get to the bottom of what happened."
Obama said that the FBI and National Transportation Safety Board are on their way to offer support to investigate. He said the U.N. Security Council has endorsed a credible international investigation, which the U.S. will hold "all its members - including Russia - to their word." The parties involved in the Ukrainian conflict must "adhere to an immediate cease-fire," "must not tamper with evidence," and engage in the "solemn task of returning" the victims' bodies to their loved ones immediately.
The President confirmed that the only facts that U.S. "have confidence" in are "that a surface-to-air missile was fired and that's what brought the jet down," and that "shot was taken within the territory that is controlled by the Russian separatists." He said that so far conclusion has been reached on who shot the plane until additional information surface in the next 24 hours, 48 hours, week, and a month. The National Transportation Safety Board and FBI are on their way to assist with the investigation.
Ukraine has blamed the Russian-backed separatists, and Russia and the separatists are blaming the Ukrainian military. While every party denied responsibility for downing the Boeing-777, images of fallen bodies, jet parts, and scattered luggages and the grisly, yet tragic reports by journalists from the crash site point to one truth, and Obama called upon all to ensure that those committed this crime are brought to justice.
"We don't have time for propaganda," he said, "We don't have time for games."
Detailing the events that led up to this "global tragedy," the White House said the passenger plane carrying nearly 300 civilians, including 100 AIDS researchers and activists heading to an AIDS conference in Australia. Obama said that the Ukrainian government had abided by a cease-fire and reached out to engage in negotiations, including the separatists, who have rebuffed the attempts to restore peace.
Over the last few weeks, the separatists have shot down a Ukrainian transport plane and a Ukrainian helicopter, and claimed responsibility for shooting down a Ukrainian fighter jet. President Obama said the "violence that's taking place there is facilitated in part - in large part - because of Russian support."
"It is not possible for these separatists to function the way they're functioning, to have the equipment that they have - set aside what's happened with respect to the Malaysian Airlines - a group of separatists can't shoot down military transport planes or, they claim, shoot down fighter jets without sophisticated equipment and sophisticated training. And that's coming from Russia."
Obama said that Russia has also failed to use its influence to press the separatists to abide by a cease-fire, such as stop allowing heavy armaments and flow of fighters into Ukraine across the Ukrainian-Russian border.
"[Russia] has the ability to move those separatists in a different direction," he said, adding that they have the "most control over the situation, and so far, at least, he has not exercised it."
Before MH17 was brought down by a missile, the United States has ratcheted up sanctions against Russia in an ongoing attempt to force Russia to comply in taking the necessary actions to "de-escalate" the Ukraine-Russia crisis. The sanctions have drawn concerns from the Russian officials and the markets on the impact that it will have on the nation's economy.
While Putin have shown "improved languages at times over the last month," Obama said that Russia has not shown any "actual transition and different actions" that would assure U.S. of their agreement to bringing a diplomatic end to the conflict. He said the United States will "continue to make clear" that "we have the capacity to increase the costs that we impose of them," and thereby causing harm "if Russia agrees to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and continues to support the separatists."
Obama said Putin has to make a decision: "Are they going to continue to support violent separatists whose intent is to undermine the government of Ukraine? Or are they prepared to work with the government of Ukraine to arrive at a cease-fire and a peace that takes into account the interests of all Ukrainians?"
When asked about tougher sanctions in Europe, Obama said that this tragedy is a "wake-up call for Europe and the world" that the escalating conflict in eastern Ukraine is not going to be "localized" or "contained" as in one country alone, 150 or more of its citizens were killed. He concluded with the urge for America to "stay firm" in resolve in the support of Ukraine to bring about a "just cease-fire" and "move towards a political solution."
The full transcript of Obama's remarks can be found here.