President Vladimir Putin defied international anger over Russia's alleged role in the shooting down of a Malaysian jetliner as the U.S. and Europe threaten further sanctions against his increasingly isolated country.
As leaders from London to Washington signaled Putin risks becoming a pariah, the Russian leader suggested they were playing politics. At the site of the crash in eastern Ukraine, armed pro-Russian rebels are preventing the departure of refrigerated train cars carrying corpses and body parts of crash victims, according to the government in Kiev.
"Nobody should and no one has the right to use this tragedy to achieve selfish political aims," Putin said in a video posted on the Kremlin's website after a series of phone calls yesterday with world leaders about the crash. "Such events should unite, not divide people."
Russia's relations with the rest of the world are deteriorating four months after his annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region sparked Europe's biggest geopolitical crisis since the end of the Cold War.
Putin will hold a regular weekly meeting of his Security Council tomorrow to discuss "matters related to ensuring the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation," the Kremlin said in an e-mailed statement.
The Malaysia Air crash site at Grabovo, less than 60 miles from Russia, has become a focus of international outrage as armed rebels hover over the investigation, making reclamation of wreckage and corpses more difficult.
A total of 282 bodies have been found, the Ukrainian government said today. Ukraine's state emergency service website said 251 bodies and 66 parts of human remains had been brought to refrigerated train wagons in Torez as of 7 a.m. local time. Rebels continue to prevent the departure of the train, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told reporters today in Kiev. The plane was shot down on July 17 killing all 298 passengers and crew.
"Our top priority for now remains the repatriation of the bodies," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said during a briefing in parliament in The Hague today. "In the case that access remains insufficient in the coming days, all political, economic and financial measures are on the table for those that are directly or indirectly responsible for this."
Peter van Vilet, leader of a Dutch forensic team sent to eastern Ukraine, told journalists in Donetsk that it's not possible to "do the identification of victims" at the current site and that he wants the train with victims' remains moved to another location.
Putin again blamed the downing of the plane on the Ukraine conflict and said that international investigators should have full access to the wreckage. Russia will "do everything it can" to seek a negotiated settlement of the Ukraine conflict, he said. The leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, Alexander Borodai, today repeated that his rebels didn't shoot down the plane.
Russia's Micex Index dropped 1.7 percent to 1,399.04 by 3:23 p.m. in Moscow, while the ruble was little changed against the dollar. OAO Gazprom, the nation's biggest natural gas exporter, fell 2.3 percent, while OAO Lukoil, the nation's second-biggest oil producer, dropped 2.3 percent.
Putin, already facing sanctions over Crimea and Russia's role in backing the rebels in Ukraine, is confronting worldwide scorn over the crash as evidence mounts that Russia provided the missile used to down the jetliner.
U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday that he agreed with his French and German counterparts that Europe should be ready to impose further sanctions on Russia at a meeting of European Union foreign ministers tomorrow in Brussels. Britain wants sanctions against the entire Russian defense industry, a U.K. official said.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a Twitter posting that "this is perhaps the last opportunity for Russia to show that they are seriously interested in finding a solution." Hans-Peter Bartels, who heads the German parliament's Defense Committee, said "time is slowly running out for Putin" and that further economic sanctions aimed at Russia are likely unless there's a clear shift in Kremlin policy.
"There's a build-up of extraordinary circumstantial evidence," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press" program. "We picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing."
Putin didn't address the allegations in the video, saying "one can say with certainty that if the fighting hadn't been resumed on June 28 in eastern Ukraine, this tragedy for sure wouldn't have happened."
Separatists had at least three Russian-made surface-to-air missile systems, known by their NATO designation SA-11 Gadfly, Ukraine state security official Vitaliy Nayda said on July 19. Three of the systems were transported back to Russia just hours after the plane was shot down, he said. Nayda displayed photos that he said showed them on the road to the Russian border.
The Gadfly, known locally as the Buk-M, is a radar-guided weapon that can locate a target at a range of 140 miles and reach altitudes as high as about 72,000 feet, according to the army-technology.com website.
Yatsenyuk told reporters today that Ukraine's armed forces haven't fired surface-to-air missiles, that the rocket used to down the plane came from Russia and that those who fired it had received training in Russia. He said the Netherlands and Ukraine's international partners should lead the investigation into the crash.
The conflict in east Ukraine is raging on, even as the eyes of the world focus on the crash. There is fighting today in both Donetsk and Luhansk.
An intense fire-fight is taking place around the Donetsk airport and also in the western part of the city, according to a statement on the Donetsk Regional State Administration's website. There's also fighting in the suburb of Avdiyivka as well as in Dzerzhynsk, Starobeshiv and Yasynuvata districts, according to the statement.