WASHINGTON, July 21 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama spoke from the South Lawn of the White House on Monday regarding the situation in Ukraine.
Four days after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over restive eastern Ukraine, Obama urged Russia to use its influence over the Russian-backed separatists who control the crash site area to allow investigators in and not to impede the investigation.
"Our immediate focus is on recovering those who were lost, investigating exactly what happened, and putting forward the facts. We have to make sure the truth is out, and that accountability exists."
A team of international investigators is on the ground but have encountered problems "gaining full access to the wreckage" because of Russian-backed separatists who have blocked them, fired weapons into the air, and removed both evidence and bodies from the crash site.
"What they need right now is immediate and full access to the crash site. They need to be able to conduct a prompt and full and unimpeded, as well as transparent, investigation. And recovery personnel have to do the solemn and sacred work of recovering the remains of those who were lost."
Obama acknowledged Russian President Vladimir Putin's expressed support for an "independent investigation" but added Putin's words "have to be supported by actions."
Citing Russia's influence over and sponsorship of the separatists, Obama urged "Russia, and President Putin in particular... to compel them to cooperate with the investigation." Russia is in a position "to insist that the separatists stop tampering with the evidence, grant investigators who are already on the ground immediate, full and unimpeded access to the crash site."
"Now is the time," Obama stated, "for President Putin and Russia to pivot away from the strategy that they've been taking and get serious about trying to resolve hostilities within Ukraine in a way that respects Ukraine's sovereignty and respects the right of the Ukrainian people to make their own decisions about their own lives."
Should Russia fail to take those steps and instead continue to escalate tensions with Ukraine, "Russia will only further isolate itself from the international community and the costs for Russia's behavior will only continue to increase."
"Time is of the essence. Our friends and allies need to be able to recover those who were lost. That's the least we can do, that's the least that decency demands. Families deserve to be able to lay their loved ones to rest with dignity. The world deserves to know exactly what happened and the people of Ukraine deserve to be able to determine their own future."