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Malaysian Airliner Shootdown Investigation Continues; UN Ambassador Power Addresses Security Council Meeting; Israeli Ground Assault Detailed

Aired July 18, 2014 - 10:30   ET


SAMANTHA POWER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UN: Separatist leaders also boasted on social media about shooting down a plane, but later deleted these messages. Because of the technical complexity of the SA-11 it is unlikely that the separatists could effectively operate the system without assistance from knowledgeable personnel. Thus we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel in operating the systems. The Ukranians do have SA-11 systems in their inventory. However, we are not aware of any Ukranian systems in the area of the shoot down and more importantly since the beginning of this crisis, Ukranian air defenses have not fired a single missile despite several alleged violations of their airspace by Russian aircraft. This also follows a pattern of actions by Russian-backed separatists.

On June 13, separatists shot down a Ukranian transport plane carrying 40 paratroopers and 9 crew. On June 24, as this council was meeting to welcome Ukraine's unilateral cease fire, we received word that separatists downed a Ukranian helicopter, killing all 9 on board. On July 14, separatists claimed credit for the downing of a Ukranian military cargo plane flying at 6,000 meters. And on July 16, they claimed credit for the downing of a Ukranian fighter jet.

If indeed Russian-backed separatists were behind this attack on a civilian airliner, they and their backers would have good reason to cover up evidence of their crime. Thus, it is extremely important that an investigation be commenced immediately. In the first instance, the OSCE special monitoring mission should act as a first responder, laying the foundation for efforts by other international organizations and individual nations, including those whose citizens were victims of this tragedy. Yesterday, President Obama assured Ukraine's president, Poroshenko, that U.S. experts will offer all possible assistance upon his request. The President Poroshenko has invited the independent and credible International Civil Aviation Organization to join in an investigation.

International investigators must be granted immediate, full, and unfettered access to the crash site. All those concerned, Russia, pro-Russian separatists, and Ukraine should agree to support an immediate cease fire to facilitate access by international investigators. In this regard, we look to the SMM also to reach agreement with separatists and others in the region to make this possible. All evidence must remain undisturbed and any evidence removed from the site by the Russian- backed separatists operating in the area should be promptly returned and handed over. Russia needs to help make this happen. While it may take us some time to firmly establish who shot down a plane filled with innocents, most council members and most members of the international community have been warning for months about the devastation that would come if Russia did not stop what it started. If it did not rein in what it unleashed. The context for yesterday's horror is clear. Separatist forces backed by the Russian government continue to destabilize Ukraine and undermine efforts of Ukraine's elected leaders to build a democratic Ukraine that is stable, unified, secure, and able to determine its own future.

Russia says that it seeks peace in Ukraine, but we have repeatedly provided this council with evidence of Russia's continued support to the separatists. Time after time, we have called on the Russian government to deescalate the situation by stopping the flow of fighters and weapons into Ukraine. Pressing separatists to agree to a cease fire and release all hostages and support a road map for negotiations. Time after time, President Putin has committed to working toward dialogue and peace. In Geneva in April, in Normandy in June , and in Berlin earlier this month. And every single time he has broken that commitment. Here's what we know, in the last few weeks, Russia has increased the number of tanks, armored vehicles, and rocket launchers in Southwest Russia. More advanced air defense systems have also arrived. Moscow has recently transferred Soviet era tanks and artillery to the separatists and several military vehicles crossed the border. After recapturing several Ukranian cities last weekend, Ukranian officials discovered caches of weapons long associated with Russian stockpiles including manpads, mines, grenades, MREs, vehicles, and a pontoon bridge.

Ukranian forces have discovered large amounts of other Russian- provided military equipment, including accompanying documentation verifying the Russian origin in the areas that they have liberated from separatists in recent days. Recruiting efforts for separatist fighters are expanding inside Russia and separatists have openly said that they are looking for volunteers with experience operating heavy weapons such as tanks and air defenses. Russia has allowed officials from the Donetsk People's Republic to establish a recruiting office in Moscow. Ukranian pilot Nadia Savchenko, who has long had a distinguised career in the Ukranian military, was taken by separatists in mid June. She is now being held where? In a prison in Voronezh, Russia. According to the Ukranian government she was transferred to Russia by separatists. Russia continues to re-deploy new forces extremely close to the Ukranian border. In addition, this past Monday, a Ukranian Air Force cargo plane was shot down in Ukranian airspace and on Wednesday, a Ukranian fighter jet was also shot down in Ukranian airspace.

In both instances, the Ukranian government believes that these planes were fired on from Russian territory. It is because of these continued destabilizing Russian actions that the United States imposed sanctions on the defense, energy and financial sectors of the Russian economy, including financial institutions. These measures include freezing the assets of Russian defense companies and blocking new financing of some of Russia's most important banks and energy companies. These sanctions are significant, but they are also targeted. Designed to have the maximum impact on the Russian calculus while limiting the impact on the Russian people and limiting any spillover effects on our interests or those of our allies. The European union has also announced expanded sanctions against Russia this week. The message is unified and clear. If President Putin continues to choose escalation over de-escalation, the international community will continue to impose costs on Russia. But this is not what any of us want. We and our allies remain committed to a diplomatic solution, as are the Ukranian government and the Ukranian people who have seen their neighbors, friends, and family members killed in a needless conflict.

The President Poroshenko has consistently backed up his words with actions. He proposed a comprehensive peace plan and declared a unilateral cease fire. Both of which were cynically rejected by the illegal armed groups and their backers in Moscow. President Poroshenko's plan offered amnesty to separatists who laid down their arms voluntarily and who are not guilty of capital crimes. He committed to providing a safe corridor for Russian fighters to return to Russia. He established a job creation program for the affected areas, included an offer of broad decentralization and dialogue with eastern regions, including the promise of early local elections and granted increased local control over language, holidays and customs. President Poroshenko also has reached out to the residents of eastern Ukraine and is pursuing constitutional reform which will give local region's more authority to choose their regional leaders and protect locally spoken languages. He has said he will meet with separatists at any safe location inside or outside of Ukraine. The United States' goal throughout the crisis in Ukraine has been consistent to support a stable, peaceful, and democratic Ukraine. We will not be satisfied with a temporary halt to violence. Russia must stop destabilizing Ukraine and allow all of the people of Ukraine to decide their country's future through a democratic political process.

As we sit here, the remains of nearly 300 people, of innocent infants, children, women and men are strewn across a blackened, smoldering landscape in Ukraine. Those victims came from at least nine different nations. They could just as easily have come from any of ours. We must treat all of them as our own victims. We have a duty to each and every one of those individuals, their families, and their countries to determine why that jet fell out of the sky, and to hold the perpetrators accountable. We must stop at nothing to bring those responsible to justice. This appalling attack occurred in the context of a crisis that has been fueled by Russian support for separatists through arms, weapons, and training and by the Russian failure to follow through on its commitments. And by its failure to adhere to the fundamental U.N. charter. This tragedy only under scores the urgency and determination with which we insist that Russia immediately take concrete steps to deescalate the situation in Ukraine, support a sustainable cease fire and follow the path toward peace that the Ukrainian government has consistently offered. This war can be ended. Russia can end this war. Russia must end this war.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): That was the U.S. ambassador, Samantha Power making a very strong statement, an indictment of Russia for bearing responsibility for the plane that came down in eastern Ukraine.

(END VIDEOCLIP) COSTELLO (on camera): I want to bring back in Richard Roth, CNN's United Nations correspondent and also Bob Baer, who is former CIA and intelligence and security analyst for CNN. Richard, I don't know if you could see the Russian ambassador's face while Ms. Power was speaking, but could you?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: No, not from our vantage point but I would expect the rhetoric to escalate when Ambassador Churkin speaks unless, noting the horror of what has happened, he keeps things rather low key. But, as events have gone at the council table, there has usually been a very terse exchange, raising the volume level. Also, an update here, we expect Netherlands, which lost the most people on board that Malaysian jet, is expected to speak at the council table along with Malaysia, which are two late additions among other countries that will join Ukraine in speaking towards the end of this session. As you heard, Ambassador Power blaming, in effect, Russia for all of this. Saying the perpetrators must be brought to justice. The U.K. ambassador earlier saying a dark moment for the international community, monstrous events, and all countries including Russia have issued a statement saying there should be an independent, transparent investigation of the air crash. But events on the ground may block success in that area. May be too soon to tell at this moment. Carol?

COSTELLO: And Bob, Ambassador Power said that the people who launched this surface to air missile that brought down this plane had to have some technical assistance from Russia. Is there any doubt in your mind that she's right or wrong?

BOB BAER, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: I think she's absolutely right. This is a complicated missile system. It took a large crew. It's got multiple missiles as we've seen and locking on radar, firing at the right time, checking out targets. The rest of it, you need a trained crew. It wasn't a pick up team and most of these weapons have been coming out of Russia and there's good information that there are Russian officers on the ground working, with the dissidents, and so when you see a strong indictment like this, I think we've got pretty good evidence to back it up, and I reemphasize it was strong.

COSTELLO: It was a very strong statement. I also understand that a CD was handed out in this U.N. Security council meeting. What did that CD contain, Richard?

ROTH: Well, I'm not sure if it's been formally been handed out yet. Ukraine said it's going to present evidence. Now maybe in person at the table we will see a more graphic demonstration, but I think privately they are giving evidence, likely the audiotape that they have been playing purportedly of communications between someone in Russia and people on the ground who might have fired the fatal missile. So this -- we've seen in history, as you know, dramatic moments, so certainly the Cuban missile crisis. U.S. ambassador Adlai Stevenson presenting aerial reconnaissance. (inaudible) of missiles in Cuba aimed at the U.S. I don't think we're place yet in history, but I would think Ukraine may come ready to play something. The other day we saw the Israeli ambassador play an audiotape of sirens wailing in Jerusalem. Its almost getting kind of like the U.S. Congress. COSTELLO: This recording that Richard is talking about, Bob Baer, I'm sure you've heard it. It's supposedly rebels communicating with Russian intelligence, telling them about this aircraft. You can hear as the conversation goes on the slow realization that this wasn't enemy aircraft. This was a passenger plane. My question to you, being former CIA, why would the rebels immediately call Russian intelligence officers?


BAER (voice-over): Exactly. They are under some sort of control of Russia and they realize they had made a mistake and I think this was a mistake. It's neither in the dissident's interests nor Moscow's to shoot down a civilian airliner, obviously They probably mistook it for a transport plane, a Ukrainian one. In panic like this, people get on the phone and say things they shouldn't be. It just happens over and over again. I listened to the recording in the original, it doesn't sound staged to me. It's another damning piece of evidence against Russia.


BAER (on camera):I think this conflict is going to take a very sharp turn now.

COSTELLO: Richard Roth, Bob Baer, we'll get back to you. Thanks so much. I haveto take a break. I'll be back with much more in the NEWSROOM.


COSTELLO: In Gaza, Israeli troops are now on the ground.


COSTELLO (voice-over): As part of an effort to destroy tunnels Israel says are used by Hamas to launch attacks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is saying previous airstrikes were not enough to damage those tunnels moving to today's actions. Hamas is condemning the move, calling it a dangerous step and vowing to make Israel pay. Wolf Blitzer is in Jerusalem. Hi, Wolf.


COSTELLO: Prime Minister Netanyahu says the Israeli offensive could expand. What does he mean?

BLITZER: Well, they are not just going to go after tunnels. They have other military targets as well. They want to destroy as many as Hamas's rockets and missiles as they possibly can. They want to destroy other military hardware that they have. They have got all sorts of, they say, intelligence where it might be located. They are going to go after the tunnels. They are going to blow those tunnels up. They are going go after warehouses. So far, Hamas has launched more than a thousand rockets and missiles into Israel over the past ten days. But Israeli intelligence believes that they have about 10,000. So they have got a big agenda there if they're going to try to destroy as much of those rockets and missiles in the warehouses or wherever they happen to be stored. The problem is, as you know, Carol, Gaza is very small. It's heavily populated. About 1.7 or 1.8 million people in a relatively small area. A lot of these warehouses, a lot of these storage units are in these populated areas, so inevitably there's going to be more civilian casualties. The Israelis say they are trying to be careful and they're trying to be precise, but they themselves acknowledge there will be civilian casualties, because where this military hardware is located happens to be in heavily populated areas.

COSTELLO: At what point will Israel feel it's won?

BLITZER: I think with the Israelis are going to try to do as much damage to Hamas as they can and then they'll get out. They don't think, they say they have no desire to re occupy Gaza. They occupied Gaza until 2005, then they pulled out. They dismantled Jewish settlements in Gaza. They got out. Unfortunately, the situation between Israel and Gaza has not turned out the way a lot of people had hoped it would turn out. The Israelis say they have no desire to go back in and reoccupy the place. They wouldn't mind if Palestinian authority took charge, Hamas was removed. They're not holding out hope that's going to happen either. They say this is strictly a military objective right now -- destroy that Hamas military capability and then go home. That's what they say.

COSTELLO: Wolf Blitzer reporting live from Jerusalem. Many thanks.

Still to come in the NEWSROOM, the very latest on the investigation into flight 17. President Obama set to speak at 11:30 Eastern Time. We also have new information on who may be responsible for that missile attack. We'll talk about that next.



SAMANTHA POWER, US AMBASSADOR TO UN: He insists that Russia immediately take concrete steps to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine, support a sustainable cease fire and follow the path toward peace that the Ukranian government has consistently offered. This war can be ended. Russia can end this war. Russia must end this war.


COSTELLO: Very strong words from America's UN ambassador, speaking earlier this hour at a meeting of the UN Security Council. In just about a half hour, we'll hear from President Obama on the situation in Ukraine. That will come as U.S. intelligence suggests it was pro- Russian separatists inside eastern Ukraine who fired the missile that took down Malaysia Airlines Fight 17. We still have no conformation that any Americans were on that flight.

Aviation correspondent Rene Marsh joins us now with more infomation.

Good morning. RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Carol.

We just got the news from the NTSB. We do know they are sending at least one investigator. That will be Senior Accident Investigator Bill English. He was in charge of investigating Aseana Flight 214. It's unclear what his specific duty will be at this point. You can bet it will include the things that the NTSB are experts in -- examining wreckage and identifying airplane parts. We know the administration is dictating a lot of what he will and will not able to do.

Also an indication of the ongoing security concern. The FAA has expanded U.S. flight restrictions to include the entire area of eastern Ukraine. We also know that Ukraine has closed a large number of routes in that airspace, but the question still remains, who shot down this plane? We don't have those answers as yet, but there are some concrete data points about Flight 17's final moments in the air.


MARSH (voice-over): Officials are one again investigating the loss of a Malaysian flight. This time MH-17. The Boeing 777 wreckage in a field in eastern Ukraine.

NAJIB RAZAK, MALAYSIAN PRIME MINISTER: We must and we will find out precisely what happened to this flight. No stone will be left unturned.

MARSH: The flight left Amsterdam at 6:15 am Eastern time, just past noon local time, bound for Kuala Lumpur with 283 passengers and 15 crew members. Still no word if American citizens were on board.

JEN PSAKI, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKEPERSON: We've seen the public reports. I spoke to our team right before I came out here. We don't have any additional details at this point on American citizens.

MARSH: 8:11 am, one flight-tracking website detects MH-17 for the last time. After four hours in the air, Ukrainian air traffic control reported they lost contact with the plane.

RAZAK: The aircraft did not make a distress call.

MARSH: Then images and amateur video of what appears to show the plane crashing, just 20 miles away from the Russian border. Relatives of passengers aboard MH-17 gathered at airports in Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur awaiting word about the flight. At 11:36 am, Malaysia Airlines tweeted they had lost contact with MH-17 from Amsterdam. The last known position was over Ukranian airspace. More details to follow.

The skies over the region now silent with a flight tracking website showing planes diverting around the airspace over Ukraine. The FAA in April issues a warning to US airlines to avoid the region due to safety concerns over the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, saying flight operations are prohibited until further notice in the airspace over Crimea, the Black Sea, and the Sea of Azov.


MARSH (on camera): All right. And Carol, again, NTSB, we know they are going. Still waiting to hear from the FAA, and Boeing says they are on stand by when they are invited.

COSTELLO: Understand. Rene Marsh, many thanks.

Thank you for joining me today. I'm Carol Costello. @This Hour with Berman and Michaela after a break.