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US urged to take tougher action on Russia after MH17 crash

Observers say the downing of Malaysia Airlines MH17 plane is a game changer in other ways and the Obama administration must take firmer and tougher action on Russia as a result.

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama has said evidence indicates that the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 was caused by a surface to air missile, launched from areas in Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists.

Obama also announced that one American was among those on board the plane. He called for an immediate ceasefire in the area as the Pentagon indicated there may have been some measure of Russian involvement.

Obama said very little about the fate of MH17 on the day the tragedy unfolded - only that his thoughts and prayers were with the families of the passengers, but on Friday, he was more forthcoming and more aggressive, accusing pro-Russian separatists of firing the missile that downed the plane.

Obama said: "Evidence indicates that the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile that was launched from an area that is controlled by Russian-backed separatists inside of Ukraine. We also know this is not the first time a plane has been shot down in eastern Ukraine. Over the last several weeks, Russian-backed separatists have shot down a Ukrainian transport plane and a Ukrainian helicopter, and they claimed responsibility for shooting down a Ukrainian fighter jet.”

And the more assertive US line was also taken by Obama's ambassador to the UN Samantha Power at a meeting there on Friday.

"Because of the technical complexity of the SA11, 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," said Power.

Many in Washington hope this incident will now be the catalyst for wider international action, led by the White House.

John Kun, Vice President of US-Ukraine Foundation, said: "If there's a positive result from this, it'll be international focus - a greater focus - on the situation, and to put pressure on Putin and the Russian government to end this. Sadly, it sometimes takes an event of this sort to galvanise other governments, other leaders to see through this situation that this is not a Ukrainian civil war. This is a war created and instigated by Putin, by the Russian government, led by Russian covert operations. Their proxies are doing this and they can end this war. That's been the US position from the start."

Others say the downing of the plane is a game changer in other ways and the Obama administration must take firmer and tougher action as a result.

Dr Stephen Blank, senior fellow for Russia, American Foreign Policy Council, said: "I still don't think the sanctions, although they're more meaningful, are enough. I think that the West really has to grab a hold of the escalation ladder and make it clear to Putin that under no circumstances will he be allowed to invade or seize territory in Ukraine and under no circumstances will these thugs be given political representation in Ukraine. I think until that lesson is grasped by Western leaders, not just in Washington but in London, Paris, Berlin, we're going to see continuing Russian probes and escalation."

Obama has joined calls for a ceasefire and an international investigation into what happened to flight MH17, strongly hinting that pro-Russian separatists may be responsible.

As the facts about what happened to the plane become clearer over the coming days, it's likely there'll be calls for more concrete action from the White House.

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