MH17: Ukraine rebels hand over remains, black boxes

In two breakthroughs in the aftermath of the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines MH17, Ukraine rebels have agreed to hand over recovered bodies and the black box flight recorders.

But as new fighting broke out across the region between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia separatists, President Barack Obama reiterated his demand that Russian President Vladimir Putin compel the rebels to clear the way for investigators to access the crash site.

In overnight developments:

  • Recovered bodies to be delivered to Dutch authorities for identification
  • Malaysians receive Boeing 777-200’s black box recorders
  • President Obama demands rebels allow access to crash site
  • More calls for tougher sanctions on Russia
  • President Putin responds to growing pressure

Remains head for the Netherlands
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak says he has reached agreement with rebel leader Alexander Borodai for an international team to be allowed full access to investigate the crash site.

The agreement also calls for the flight-data and cockpit-voice recorders to be handed over to Malaysian aviation authorities.

The remains of some 200 passengers and crew, now in Torez, in eastern Ukraine, will be transferred to Dutch representatives and flown to Amsterdam.

There they will be identified and returned to their families around the world. All 298 passengers and crew died when the aircraft was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile.

Obama pressures Putin
President Obama called for “immediate and full access to the crash site” and warned Russia that it would face additional sanctions if President Vladimir Putin does not act. 

“Now’s the time 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,” Mr Obama said in comments at the White House. “And time is of the essence.”

He also said the blocking of access to the crash site by pro-Russian separatists “begs the question: What exactly are they trying to hide?”

The US has said intelligence shows pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine used a missile system provided by Russia to shoot down MH-17.

But on Monday, Russia’s Defence Ministry offered an alternative conclusion, saying Russian radar had spotted a second aircraft in the vicinity of the Malaysian Airlines jet shortly before the crash and that satellite imagery showed Ukraine had moved missile systems into the area before the incident.

Calls for more sanctions
Growing anger over the attack and the handling of the crash site has led some European leaders to join Mr Obama in threatening broad new measures against Moscow.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said Europe should consider imposing new “hard-hitting” economic sanctions on Russia.

“The only thing that will influence Russia’s strategic thinking about Ukraine is a sense that the rest of the world is actually going to team up and put in place sanctions that will damage Russia’s economy,” he said in parliament.

“In the end, Russia needs Europe and America more than America and Europe need Russia…it’s not acceptable to destabilize Ukraine.”

Putin pledges end to conflict
Meanwhile, in a statement published on the Kremlin website at 1:40am Moscow time on Monday, Mr Putin called on "all the people who are responsible for the security in the region to raise their responsibility for their people and the people of the countries whose citizens perished in the accident.”

"Russia will do everything possible to shift the current conflict in eastern Ukraine from today's current military stage to the state of discussion at the negotiation table and the resolution by exclusively peaceful and diplomatic means," he said.

Mr Putin didn't put a direct blame on the Ukrainian leadership, but said the downing of the plane was a consequence of renewed hostilities after a failed cease-fire June.