Pressure mounts on Moscow as war of words breaks out over shot jet

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International pressure on Russia has intensified over the apparent shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 as it was confirmed the British death toll had risen to 10.

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A woman walks at the site of a crashed Malaysia Airlines passenger plane near the village of Rozsypne, eastern Ukraine

A woman walks at the site of a crashed Malaysia Airlines passenger plane near the village of Rozsypne, eastern Ukraine

David Cameron insisted that those responsible for bringing down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 over Ukraine must be “brought to account” amid deepening tensions with Moscow.

The Prime Minister described the catastrophe, in which 298 people were killed, as an “absolutely appalling, shocking, horrific incident” that “cannot be allowed to stand”.

The response came as the United Nations Security Council approved a statement calling for a “full, thorough and independent international investigation” into the crash.

The Ukrainian government has blamed rebels using Russian-supplied surface-to-air missiles for the tragedy, while the Kremlin has accused Kiev of failing to agree a ceasefire.

Flowers are laid outside the Dutch Embassy in London

Flowers are laid outside the Dutch Embassy in London

Mr Cameron is expected to speak to Russian president Vladimir Putin by telephone later and national security adviser Sir Kim Darroch was leading a meeting of officials from across Whitehall to discuss the UK’s response.

At an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council called by Britain, the UK’s ambassador Sir Mark Lyall Grant said “searching questions” had to be asked about Russia’s links with armed separatists and called for Moscow to issue an “unequivocal condemnation” of their actions.

He said without Russian support the armed groups would “wither” and claimed three Russian citizens were leading figures in the separatist Donetsk People’s Republic.

Sir Mark said: “We have to ask searching questions about why we are now confronting this tragic situation. Russian officials have claimed that armed separatists in eastern Ukraine represent a spontaneous local insurgency.

Flowers and football shirts around the Sir Bobby Robson statue outside Newcastle football ground after two fans died on board flight MH17

Flowers and football shirts around the Sir Bobby Robson statue outside Newcastle football ground after two fans died on board flight MH17

“We know that this is not the case. We know that the three leading figures of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic are Russian citizens and have come from outside Ukraine. We know that weapons, equipment and logistical support has been systematically provided to armed separatist groups by Russia.”

Those weapons included tanks, artillery pieces and up to 100 man-portable surface-to-air missiles - although these are not the weapons believed to have been used to bring down MH-17.

Sir Mark said: “The United Kingdom urges Russia to reflect carefully on the situation they have created. We urge Russia to cease its policy of supporting armed separatist groups and their violent actions, of destabilising a neighbouring country, of generating displacement and social and economic hardship.

“Let us hear today clear and unequivocal condemnation from Russia of the actions of these armed groups. These armed groups do not represent the people of Ukraine. Without Russian support, they would wither.”

He said the Security Council should demand that the armed separatists lay down their weapons and that the flow of arms across the border with Russia is halted.

“In the light of yesterday’s tragedy, any other course of action would be unconscionable,” he said.

Sir Mark’s US counterpart Samantha Power said Washington could not rule out the possibility that Russia offered help to separatists to launch the missile, believed to be an SA-11.

She also pointed to evidence that separatists had recently been seen in the area with an SA-11 system, which she said is capable of firing a missile at a plane travelling at 33,000ft.

US president Barack Obama described the event as a “global tragedy” and called for an immediate ceasefire.

He said: “We know that these separatists have received a steady flow of support from Russia. This includes arms and training, it includes heavy weapons and it includes anti-aircraft weapons.

“Here’s what must happen now: this was a global tragedy - an Asian airliner was destroyed in European skies filled with citizens from many countries, so there has to be a credible international investigation into what happens.

“The UN Security Council has endorsed this investigation and we will hold all its members, including Russia, to their word.

“In order to facilitate this investigation Russia, pro-Russian separatists and Ukraine must adhere to an immediate ceasefire.”

He added: “Violence and conflict inevitably lead to unforeseen consequences. Russia, the separatists and Ukraine all have the capacity to put an end to the fighting.”

Among the British victims were Newcastle United fans John Alder and Liam Sweeney, who were travelling to New Zealand to watch the football team’s pre-season tour.

Glenn Thomas, 49, a press officer at the World Health Organization (WHO) and former BBC journalist, Loughborough University student Ben Pocock, and Leeds University student Richard Mayne, 20, from Leicestershire, were also on board.

Another victim was reportedly helicopter rescue pilot and father of two Cameron Dalziel, who is understood to be South African but travelling on a British passport.

Around a hundred of those killed were delegates on their way to an international conference on Aids in Melbourne, Australia - including world-renowned researcher Joep Lange.

According to the airline, as well as the Britons there were 154 Dutch passengers, 45 Malaysians, including 15 crew, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, four Germans, four Belgians, three Filipinos and one Canadian on board. Three infants were among the dead. Mr Obama said a US national was on board.

Details of those killed will be formally confirmed once next of kin have been notified, the airline said.

The Boeing 777-200 was flying on an established route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur that had been declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organisation. Witnesses have described seeing it hit by something before crashing into territory held by rebels in eastern Ukraine.

All flights have since been diverted from the troubled region but questions have been raised about why it has taken this disaster for the authorities to act, given that the rebels had been targeting Ukrainian military aircraft for some time.

As well as chairing a meeting of the Government’s Cobra emergency committee, Mr Cameron has been involved in an intensive round of telephone diplomacy. He has discussed the issue with Australian premier Tony Abbott and UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and is due to speak to US president Barack Obama and Mr Putin later.

“We’ve got to get to the bottom of what happened, and how this happened,” Mr Cameron said.

“We have some information but we need to find more information.

“It is an absolutely shocking incident. It cannot be allowed to stand.

“Until we know more, it’s not really possible to say much more but we will be working very hard to get to the bottom of this.”

Following a request from Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, a British police team will be assisting the Dutch in the recovery and repatriation of the bodies of the victims.

A team from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch is also on standby to fly to Ukraine to assist with the investigation if required.

The Duke of Cambridge expressed his “deep sadness” over the disaster at an event in London, describing it as a “particularly cruel tragedy” so soon after the disappearance of another Malaysia Airlines plane, thought to have crashed in Australian waters in March.

Mr Abbott said Russian-backed rebels seemed to be behind the crash, adding: “As it stands, this looks less like an accident than a crime.”

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko called it an “act of terrorism”, with the country’s security services producing what they said were two intercepted telephone conversations showing rebels were responsible.

In the first call, the security services said, rebel commander Igor Bezler tells a Russian military intelligence officer that rebel forces shot down a plane.

In the second, two rebel fighters - one of them at the crash scene - say the rocket attack was carried out by a unit of insurgents about 15 miles north of the site.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign secretary who chairs the intelligence and security committee, said sanctions against Moscow should be dramatically toughened if it was found Russian-supplied weaponry brought down the plane.

Mr Cameron spoke to President Poroshenko, who welcomed the UK’s offer of support to the team of international investigators and agreed that the UK and Ukrainian authorities would work closely to recover the bodies of those who had died.

In a separate conversation with Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, they agreed that the international community “must make clear to the Russian separatists who are in control of the local area that safe and unhindered access must be given to the investigation team”, Downing Street said.

Mr Obama said the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile from an area controlled by Russian-backed rebels and noted that separatists had shot down Ukrainian planes in the region.

He said: “Set aside what’s happened with respect to the Malaysian airliner, a group of separatists cannot shoot down military transport planes or, they claim, shoot down fighter jets without sophisticated equipment and sophisticated training and that’s coming from Russia.

“We don’t yet know exactly what happened with respect to Malaysia Airlines, although obviously we are beginning to draw some conclusions given the nature of the shot that was fired. There are only certain types of anti-aircraft missiles that can reach up 30,000 ft and shoot down a passenger jet.

“We have increasing confidence that it came by areas controlled by the separatists.

“But without having a definitive judgment on those issues yet, what we do know is the violence taking place there is facilitated in large part because of Russian support and they have the ability to move those separatist in a different direction.

“If Mr Putin makes a decision that we are not going to allow heavy armaments and the flow of fighters into Ukraine, across the Ukrainian-Russian border, then it will stop.”