KIEV, Ukraine — As about 1,000 relatives of the dead from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 gathered Wednesday to meet the first bodies returned to the Netherlands, European anger at Russia’s involvement in the months-long conflict in eastern Ukraine appeared to grow and the pro-Russian separatists in the region reportedly shot down two more military jets.
The first 40 bodies, still unidentified, of the 298 dead from the MH17 were flown from Ukraine to Eindhoven, Netherlands. The ill-fated flight left from Amsterdam, and 193 of the dead were Dutch. The solemn crowd that gathered in Eindhoven included relatives of the dead as well as the Dutch king, queen and prime minister.
As they were mourning, German officials indicated they’d run out of patience with the lack of progress by Russia in clearing the way for an investigation into the crash.
The German Foreign Office issued a statement saying: “Now it’s enough.” And a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that she is troubled by the lack of progress being made by Russia in the Ukrainian crisis. The spokesman, Georg Streiter, said Merkel now believes that tougher sanctions are required. Russia is not adequately supporting the investigation of the crash, Streiter said.
And Guenther Oettinger, the European Union energy commissioner and a career German politician, was quoted by European media criticizing Russian inactivity and saying that Europe should consider pulling its technical assistance to Russia in developing its Arctic oil and gas fields.
“If they don’t try for peace in the east of Ukraine,” he told reporters, “if they don’t decisively try to do something to prevent escalation, then there is no reason for us to help promote the growth of their industry and develop new resources for gas and oil and therefore to put this equipment on the list of sanctions.”
German pressure on Russia is seen as pivotal in the effort to force a Russian response, as Germany has been seen to be hesitant to date because of deep business ties with Russia. Just this weekend, in The Sunday Times of London, British Prime Minister David Cameron wrote an opinion piece that was seen as highly critical of Germany’s soft stance on Russia thus far in the Ukraine crisis.
In a phrase that seemed to be aimed at Merkel’s government, Cameron noted there is “anger that some in the West, instead of finding the resolve to deal with this issue, have simply hoped it would go away.”
He went on to write: “In Europe we should not need to be reminded of the consequences of turning a blind eye when big countries bully smaller countries. . . . We should not need to be reminded of the lessons of European history.”
In Ukraine on Wednesday, Russian separatist fighters said they had downed two more Ukrainian fighter jets. The jets, SU-25s, were shot down over a village about 16 miles from the crash site of MH17.
The type of anti-aircraft weapon used to take them down was not immediately available, as officials described the weapons only as “missiles.”
Ukrainian military spokesman Vladislav Seleznev said they were shot down by a “missile system” and that “the pilots took evasive action.”
Before news of the jets broke, Col. Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, told reporters in Kiev that “we know that they still possess anti-aircraft weapons.”
A week ago, Ukrainian officials accused Russian fighter jets of downing yet another SU-25. According to the military web site GlobalFirepower, Ukraine is thought to have started this conflict with a total of 116 fighter jets. Russian separatists are known to have shot down at least one Ukrainian transport plane and to have hit and forced another to land.