Russia, Ukraine Trade Blame Over Downing Of Jet With 298 On Board

A file picture from March 2014 shows a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 airplane sitting on the tarmac at the Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, China. A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with more than 280 passengers on board has crashed in eastern Ukraine, Russian and Ukrainian news agencies report. EPA/DIEGO AZUBEL (Archive)

By John Grafilo and Nikolaus von Twickel

KUALA LUMPUR/KIEV (DPA) — Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for the downing of a Malaysian plane with 298 onboard as several countries marked a day of national mourning Friday and world leaders demanded an international investigation.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH017, which was bound for Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam, was "blown out of the sky," according to US Vice President Joe Biden, who said it was "not an accident."

The airlines confirmed that 173 of the 283 passengers on board were Dutch. There were 44 Malaysians, including 15 crew members, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, nine Britons, four Germans, four Belgians, three Filipinos and one each from Canada and New Zealand.

A Ukrainian Foreign Ministry official confirmed that 181 bodies have been found at the crash site in eastern Ukraine, between the rebel stronghold of Donetsk and the Russian border.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko accused separatists and their "big brother" Russia for the downing of the plane over the country's east.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Ukraine bears the sole responsibility for the tragedy, while separatist leaders and Russian media suggested that the Ukrainian army shot down the Boeing 777-200.

"Today, the whole world has seen the true face of the aggressor, for the downing of the civil aircraft is an act of international terrorism," Poroshenko said.

He said that a purported recording of a militant leader boasting about the downed aircraft with a Russian military intelligence officer proved that both Moscow and the Kremlin-backed separatists are to blame.

The alleged phone call was published by Ukraine's security service on YouTube which said it had intercepted it.

Poroshenko said the insurgents had already shot down two Ukrainian military planes in the region this week.

Putin told a Kremlin meeting early Friday that the crash "would not have happened if there were "no fresh hostilities" in eastern Ukraine.

"Undoubtedly, the state on whose territory this happened is responsible for this terrible tragedy," he said.

In a condolence message to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Putin later demanded a thorough investigation into the crash.

"The tragedy once more shows that it is necessary to find a peaceful solution to the bitter crisis in Ukraine," he said.

Putin also offered "deep condolences" to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose country is still recovering from the March 8 disappearance of another Malaysia Airlines plane, carrying 239 people bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.

Najib offered condolences to the victims' families and friends and vowed that "no stone will be left unturned" in the investigation.

"We must – and we will – find out precisely what happened to this flight. If it transpires that the plane was indeed shot down, we insist that the perpetrators must swiftly be brought to justice," Najib said.

Malaysia said that it will dispatch a 62-member team to eastern Ukraine to help in the retrieval of bodies and plane wreckage.

The Ukrainian government gave assurances that it will create a safe corridor to move the Malaysian team to the crash site, Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said.

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded an independent investigation into the crash and said those responsible for the plane's shooting have to be brought to justice.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who was chairing a meeting of the government's emergency Cobra committee, said: "If, as seems possible, this was brought down, then those responsible must be held to account and we must lose no time in doing that."

US President Barack Obama, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton led calls by world leaders for an international investigation.

The crash could mark a dramatic turning point in the conflict, which erupted after Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in March.

Separatist leaders and experts on Russian state TV blamed the Ukrainian army, arguing that only it had the weapons and the personnel to shoot down a liner at cruising height.

Ukrainian Interior Ministry official Anton Gerashchenko alleged that the plane was downed using a Russian-made Buk surface-to-air missile system supplied to the rebels by Russia.

Shortly before the crash, rebels reported they had downed a Ukrainian government transport plane in the area.

Ukraine's Prosecutor General Vitaliy Yarema told the Ukrainskaya Pravda online newspaper that the separatists did not possess Buk missile systems stemming from the Ukrainian military.

Andrei Purgin, a Donetsk-based separatist leader, told Interfax that the insurgents were ready to discuss a ceasefire with Ukrainian authorities to let rescue workers to the crash site.

However, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said in Kiev that the separatists were not letting Ukrainian investigators through to the wreckage, the Interfax Ukraine news agency reported.

Rebels said they had found the plane's flight recorder, which they would hand over to Russia.