As the world continued to react to the crash of a Malaysian airliner over war-torn eastern Ukraine, Russia's president called Friday for an immediate cease-fire, while his foreign minister warned that Russia may respond in kind to cross-border shelling from Ukraine.
"We proceed from the fact that peace should prevail on Ukrainian soil as soon as possible, that direct contacts between all parties to the conflict must be established as quickly as possible," President Vladimir Putin said Friday about the conflict between Ukraine's government and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
After Thursday's crash of the Boeing 777, which Kyiv says was shot down by pro-Russian militants, Putin put the blame on Ukraine's government. He said the incident "would not have happened had Kyiv not, in his words, "renewed hostilities" in southeastern Ukraine. He added that the state on whose territory the incident occurred was, in his words, "responsible for this awful tragedy."
An "act of terrorism"
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko said Thursday that the airliner was brought down by an "act of terrorism," hinting at the involvement of separatists. Late last month, Poroshenko renewed a military offensive against the rebels in eastern Ukraine after a 10-day unilateral cease-fire, charging that rebel forces had used the time to regroup and had launched numerous attacks during that truce in which Ukrainian servicemen were killed.
Kyiv, along with Washington and its European allies, have accused Russia of allowing arms and fighters to flow across its border to the separatists.
And on Friday, the head of Ukraine's security service, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, claimed that monitored conversations between separatists showed that the Buk anti-aircraft missile system used to shoot down the Malaysian airliner was manned by a crew of three Russian servicemen who had crossed into Ukraine before that attack.
U.S. officials also say the plane was brought down Thursday by a surface-to-air missile. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said Friday that the missile system was likely operated from a "separatist-held location in eastern Ukraine," and that technical assistance from Russia to those who fired it cannot be ruled out.
The rebels have denied responsibility for downing the airliner and blamed government forces.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a state television channel that Russia might launch strikes against military "firing positions" inside Ukraine if they are involved in "deliberate" cross-border attacks.
On Sunday, Russia threatened Ukraine with “irreversible consequences” after a man in a Russian border town was killed by a shell fired from Ukraine. Kyiv called the accusation its forces had fired across the border “total nonsense” and suggested the attack could have been the work of rebels trying to provoke Moscow to intervene on their behalf.
Earlier this week, the rebels claimed responsibility for shooting down a Ukrainian military An-26 transport plane and Su-25 fighter, as well as damaging another Su-25. Rebels also claimed in social media reports posted around the time the Malaysian airliner crash Thursday that they had shot down another An-26. They said the shoot-down had occurred in the same area where the airliner crashed, leading to speculation that they had downed the Boeing 777 thinking it was a Ukrainian military plane.
The Ukrainian government released what it said was intercepted phone calls between rebels, and between a rebel commander and a Russian intelligence officer, in which the downing of the plane was discussed, with some of those in the conversation reporting that it was a civilian aircraft.