UN Security Council calls for inquiry into downing of Malaysian airliner

People inspect the crash site of a passenger

People inspect the crash site of a passenger plane near the village of Hrabove, Ukraine on July 17, 2014. (Credit: AP / Dmitry Lovetsky)

The ambassadors for the 15 members of the UN Security Council condemned Friday the apparent downing of a Malaysia Airlines jet and called for a probe into who launched the attack.

The closely watched session was also seized by some ambassadors as an opportunity to cast blame for the tragedy, which is being viewed in the Security Council chamber as the culmination of rising tensions in Ukraine. The country's eastern region has been embroiled in conflict between pro-Russian and pro-Western factions since the ouster of the pro-Russian president in February.

Several diplomats, including Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, said the Russia bears much of the responsibility for the airline calamity because, if it is true that the plane was shot down by pro-Russian forces, Russia's support encouraged their hostile actions.

"The context for yesterday's horror is clear: separatist forces -- backed by the Russian government -- continue to destabilize Ukraine and undermine the efforts of Ukraine's elected leaders to build a democratic Ukraine that is stable, unified, secure, and able to determine its own future," she said. "This war can be ended. Russia can end this war. Russia must end this war."

Since then, residents of the pro-Russia peninsula of Crimea in eastern Ukraine voted in a referendum, which the United States has called illegal, to join Russia. And pro-Russian groups in eastern Ukraine have clashed in escalating skirmishes with forces of the pro-Western government in the capital, Kiev. All the while, Russian troops have amassed on Ukraine's borders.

Jeffrey Feltman, UN Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs, briefed the Security Council of behalf of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon before the ambassadors' statements and said that the UN stands ready to assist with any investigation.

"The Secretary-General strongly condemns this apparently deliberate downing of a civilian aircraft," he said. "This horrifying incident serves as the starkest reminder of how dire the situation in eastern Ukraine has become."

Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, said aviation authorities in Ukraine erred in granting passage to a passenger jet into a war zone. He also said that the provocative actions by the government in Kiev and its backers, including the United States, share responsibility for the plane becoming a target.

"We many times warned about the danger of a forceful solution to the political crisis in Ukraine and called for inclusive dialogue reciprocally respectful between all political forces, Kiev and the region," he said. "However, at a crossroads moment, Kiev chose the wrong path and their western colleagues supported them -- and of course I am talking about the U.S. here. They actually pushed them to escalate the crisis. They are trying to lay the blame for the catastrophe caused by this on Russia."

Ukraine's UN ambassador, Yuriy Sergeyev, called the downing of the plane "an act of terror," adding that snippets of conversations between pro-Russian forces in Ukraine suggest they were responsible for and even bragged about the attack on social media.

"This tragedy would not have been possible if Russia did not support the terrorists and did not provide sophisticated anti-aircraft missile system," he said.

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