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WASHINGTON — President Obama accused Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine of obstructing the international investigation into the missile attack on a Malaysia Airlines flight last week and demanded, "Stop tampering with evidence."

Separatists have fired warning shots as investigators have approached the crash site, Obama said, They've removed evidence, and even made off with the remains of some of the 298 victims, Obama said.

"Which begs the question, what exactly are they trying to hide?" Obama said from the south lawn of the White House Monday, four days after the disaster.

U.S. officials say they believe a surface-to-air missile battery controlled by separatists shot down the passenger jet over Ukrainian territory they control. Their case is based largely on news reports and social media accounts: Russia has provided the separatists with SA-11 systems capable of shooting down a jet at that altitude and trained them to use it, and such systems have been seen moving back into Russia.

"Russian claims to the contrary are getting both more desperate and much harder to believe," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday.

Obama called on Russia to put pressure on the separatists to adhere to a cease-fire and let the investigation proceed.

"Given its direct influence over the separatists, Russia — and President (Vladimir) Putin in particular — has a direct responsibility to compel them to cooperate with the investigation. That's the least they can do," Obama said. "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," Obama said. "The world deserves to know exactly what happened, and the people of Ukraine deserve to determine their own future."

The attack that took down the jetliner happened the day after the U.S. and the European Community escalated sanctions against Russian banks, energy companies, defense industries and individuals.

Senior administration officials are already in discussions with European counterparts to discuss new measures to ramp up the pressure on Russia, Earnest said. "It is clear that Russia has not changed course, and this is why additional sanctions or additional costs remain on the table," he said.

Follow @gregorykorte on Twitter.

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