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Sens. Shaheen, Ayotte: Russia is the problem

MANCHESTER — U.S. Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen both called upon Russia on Friday to take responsibility and end the violence in eastern Ukraine, where a surface-to-air missile brought down an airliner and killed 298 people.

International investigators reported having only limited access to the remote site where armed men were guarding the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

“It will be very important for the U.S. to step up and lead on this if we confirm where the evidence points right now — that Russian backed separatists took down this plane,” Ayotte told the New Hampshire Union Leader Friday. “I believe that our intelligence community will be able to identify who’s responsible for this in the coming days.”

Ayotte was in Ukraine for the country’s election in May and recalled how she and thousands of other international monitors did not go to the eastern areas under separatist control because of safety concerns. She said the evidence then and now about the unrest points to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Vladimir Putin can end this conflict tomorrow by stopping funding and giving weapons to these violent separatists,” Ayotte said. “He has really created the dynamic in eastern Ukraine that exists right now.”

Shaheen issued a statement calling for an immediate cease-fire in the area so a thorough, independent investigation can determine what happened to Flight 17.

Shaheen was more direct when asked about the Ukrainian tragedy during an unrelated event in Hooksett.

“The fact is Russia needs to take some responsibility for what has happened here,” Shaheen said. “It seems clear that those are weapons that have been given to the opposition groups in Ukraine by the Russians. That’s why we need an investigation. We need to see exactly what happened there and hold those responsible and accountable.”

Ayotte said economic sanctions President Obama called for on Russia on Wednesday may need to be strengthened if Russian involvement is confirmed.

“Those sanctions were an important first step,” Ayotte said. “It seems to me that this should be a wake-up call for Europe. The sanctions the President issued the other day, our European counterparts did not join in those sanctions.”

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