(Releads with Steinmeier comments, Kremlin statement)
BERLIN, July 19 (Reuters) - Germany’s foreign minister said on Saturday now may be Moscow’s last opportunity to prove it is serious about peace in Ukraine as Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated her call on Russia’s Vladimir Putin to use his influence over pro-Moscow separatists.
World leaders have called for a rapid investigation into the shooting down of a Malaysian passenger plane over eastern Ukraine that killed nearly 300 people on Thursday in what may be a pivotal moment for Russian and the West.
“Moscow may have a last opportunity now to show that it really is seriously interested in a solution,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Bild am Sonntag newspaper, according to a pre-publication release.
“Now is the moment for all to stop and think about what can happen if we don’t stop the escalation.”
Ukraine accused Russia and pro-Moscow rebels on Saturday of destroying evidence of “international crimes” from the wreckage of the plane that Kiev says militants shot down with a missile.
Steinmeier echoed Merkel in saying Russia had not done enough to stop the rebels, as weapons and fighters had crossed the Russian border into Ukraine in recent weeks.
Merkel spoke to Putin again on the phone earlier on Saturday and urged him to use his influence the separatists to reach a ceasefire in Ukraine, the German government said in a statement.
The two leaders agreed that the contact group of diplomats from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Russia and Ukraine should meet quickly and directly with the separatists to reach the truce.
“Both agreed that an international, independent commission under the leadership of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) should get quick access to the crash site of the Malaysia Airlines passenger plane in east Ukraine,” Berlin said in a statement.
The United States has imposed heavier economic sanctions on Moscow than the European Union. Merkel’s influence on the European Union is seen as one of the reasons why Brussels has been more reluctant than Washington to impose wider economic sanctions.
Critics say this is partly because of Germany’s strong trade links with Russia, which provides more than a third of its gas imports. (Reporting by Annika Breidthardt; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)