(Adds U.S. intelligence assessment)
By Matt Spetalnick and Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON, July 20 Secretary of State John
Kerry on Sunday laid out what he said was overwhelming evidence
of Russian complicity in the downing of a Malaysian airliner in
eastern Ukraine as he made the U.S. case against Moscow in the
most emphatic and explicit terms yet.
Delivering his points in a blitz of U.S. morning news shows,
Kerry demanded that Russia take responsibility for actions of
allied separatists suspected of shooting down the passenger
plane and he expressed disgust over the rebels' "grotesque"
mishandling of victims' bodies at the crash site.
Kerry threatened further sanctions against Moscow and called
on European partners, who have lagged behind Washington in
imposing penalties over the Ukraine crisis, to take Thursday's
plane downing as a "wake-up call" to get tougher with Russia. He
also raised the prospect of increased assistance to Ukraine's
embattled pro-Western government.
But despite the angry rhetoric, Kerry offered no specific
new plans to force Russian President Vladimir Putin, accused by
the West of trying to destabilize Ukraine, to back down.
President Barack Obama's Republican critics responded by
accusing the administration of being too restrained and called
for broader "sectoral" sanctions on Russia's energy and banking
industries, something Washington has avoided so far because of
the potential damage to the European and global economies.
Kerry's words added to a chorus of outrage from Western
powers over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, which
killed all 298 people on board, and the subsequent problems
gaining access to the crash site in an area of eastern Ukraine
controlled by pro-Russian rebels.
While stopping short of placing direct blame on Moscow,
Kerry put forth the most detailed U.S. accusations so far, based
on the latest U.S. intelligence assessments. He said that Russia
provided pro-Moscow insurgents with the sophisticated
anti-aircraft systems used to down the plane.
He said the United States has seen major supplies moving
into Ukraine from Russia in the last month, including a
150-vehicle convoy of armored personnel carriers, tanks and
rocket launchers transferred to the separatists several weeks
He also said the United States intercepted conversations
about the transfer to separatists of the Russian SA-11
radar-guided SA11 missile system it blames for the plane
U.S. authorities have seen a video of a missile launcher -
with a least one rocket missing from its battery - moving back
into Russia from a rebel-held area, Kerry said.
"There's (an) enormous amount of evidence, even more
evidence that I just documented, that points to the involvement
of Russia in providing these systems, training the people on
them," Kerry said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
Moscow denies involvement and has accused the Ukrainian
military in the shootdown.
A U.S. official familiar with Washington's assessments of
the incident said Russia was believed to have decided to
reinforce the rebels with more advanced weaponry because of
concern that Ukrainian government forces had been making gains.
RUSSIA AND THE SEPARATISTS
Kerry laid out the evidence of a Russian connection that
tracked closely with an official unclassified U.S. intelligence
summary released over the weekend. It said intelligence analysts
confirmed the authenticity of an audiotaped conversation
provided to the press by Ukrainian authorities of a known
separatist leader boasting of downing the plane.
"We also have information indicating that Russia is
providing training to separatist fighters at a facility in
southwest Russia" that includes missile systems, it said.
The plane downing is widely seen a potential turning point
in the Ukraine crisis that has taken relations between Russia
and the West to a post-Cold War low. Kerry, who spoke to his
Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, by phone on Saturday, called
on Moscow to use its influence and publicly seek responsible
action from the separatists, including access to the crash site.
"It is clear that Russia supports the separatists, supplies
the separatists, encourages the separatists, trains the
separatists. And Russia needs to step up and make a difference
here," Kerry said on NBC's "Meet the Press" program.
He said foreign investigators have been given only limited
access to the crash site. "Drunken separatists have been piling
bodies into trucks and removing them from the site ... What's
happening is really grotesque and it is contrary to everything
President Putin and Russia said they would do."
U.S. officials have expressed hope that European anger over
the plane downing would help unify the 28-member EU bloc, which
stands to lose more by punishing Russia since it does 10 times
more trade with Russia than the United States does.
Kerry challenged the Europeans to become assertive.
"It would help enormously if some countries in Europe that
have been a little reluctant to move would now recognize this
wake-up call and join the United States and President Obama in
taking the lead, and also stepping up," he said.
ALL OPTIONS 'ON THE TABLE'
American lawmakers also called on Putin to take action, with
Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein saying on CNN, "Putin, you
have to man up."
Kerry's sharpened charges against Moscow suggest that
Washington could move faster to expand its sanctions. But the
consensus in Washington is the next phase, if it comes, will
involve further surgical targeting of Russian oligarchs and
others close to Putin, not sweeping curbs on entire sectors.
"The president is prepared to take additional steps," Kerry
told Fox News. "We are discussing with the Ukrainians right now
what they need, what else we can do." He said all options were
"on the table" except sending in U.S. troops.
South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on NBC
that Washington should arm Ukraine "so they can defend
themselves." Obama has been wary of creating a proxy war.
(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu, Jim Loney, Ayesha
Rascoe, Jason Lange; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Frances Kerry and