MOSCOW — -- Russia is calling for the United Nations Security Council to approve a U.N.-led investigation into what brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
“We believe that such an inquiry must begin as quickly as possible under the U.N. aegis,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on Monday. "To that end the Security Council must make yet one more decision. We are alarmed that some of our partners have been trying to steer practical efforts to organize the inquiry into separate bilateral contacts with the Ukrainian authorities."
The United States has accused pro-Russian rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine of shooting down the plane. Russia, however, has dismissed the accusations and suggested that Ukrainian authorities were responsible.
“I do not want to attack with accusations too soon, but I hope no one will be trying to cover tracks,” Lavrov said of an investigation facilitated by Kiev.
In the wake of the Flight 17 disaster, Western countries have increased pressure on Russia to end what they say is an attempt to covertly support pro-Russian rebel fighters in eastern Ukraine.
Investigators have had trouble visiting the site of the downed plane because of nearby fighting. So far, only a small team, led by the Netherlands, has visited the site. The international monitors at the site have raised concerns that significant portions of the wreck have been altered and cut apart, perhaps during the search for remains -- but potentially also to hide evidence.
British intelligence sources told the BBC last week that they had intercepted phone calls suggesting rebels in the area wanted to give the black box fight recorders to Russia. Those recorders were eventually handed to investigators and sent to the United Kingdom for analysis.
On Monday, Lavrov seemed to confuse the U.S. intelligence images published over the weekend, suggesting they were about Flight 17 when they were about accusations Russia fired into Ukraine last week.
“It appears some images have just been published. Ten days later. We do not know what they did to these images, whether or not they were prepared,” he said, calling the images a “pretext to punish Russia.”
The images, released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Sunday, purportedly show evidence that “Russian forces have fired across the border at Ukrainian military forces, and that Russian-backed separatists have used heavy artillery, provided by Russia, in attacks on Ukrainian forces from inside Ukraine.”
One slide provided by U.S. intelligence allegedly showed evidence of “self-propelled artillery only found in Russian military units” aimed at Ukrainian targets.
In what appeared to have been a contentious phone call Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry urged Lavrov “to stop the flow of heavy weapons and rocket and artillery fire from Russia into Ukraine, and to begin to contribute to deescalating the conflict,” according to a State Department statement.
The unusually blunt statement added that Kerry “did not accept Foreign Minister Lavrov’s denial that heavy weapons from Russia were contributing to the conflict.”
Ukrainian authorities and the United States have sounded the alarm about fighters, weapons and funding crossing into Ukraine from Russia. The White House has warned that unless the Kremlin halts the flow it will face more sanctions. Today, Lavrov said Russia will allow OSCE observers to monitor a few border crossings with Ukraine.
Lavrov said he was confused by Western demands that Russia change its policies or face consequences.
“I don't know what they mean by policy changes,” he said, adding defiantly that Russia will adapt to sanctions.
“We will overcome the difficulties that will arise in certain parts of our economy. Maybe, we will become more self-reliant and more self-confident. This, too, is useful,” he said.
Lavrov said Russia will not go “eye for an eye” with the West over sanctions because it’s not “worthy of a big country.”