Stop MH17 evidence from being stolen: Richardson

Russia needs to immediately help international investigators get access to the site of the downed Malaysia Airlines jetliner, former Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson told CNBC on Friday.

"There has to be immediate access to the black boxes to the technical information, and it needs to happen really soon before somebody tries to steal some of this evidence," he said in a "Squawk Box" interview. "This is where Russia can make a difference."

Pro-Russian separatist rebels who control the eastern Ukraine area were giving conflicting reports Friday on whether any flight data recorders have been recovered.

Richardson, who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008, called the downing that killed all 298 people aboard the Boeing 777 an "unspeakable tragedy" but cautioned against jumping to conclusions before all the facts are in. "Who provided the missile, who shot the missile," are key areas of inquiry.

Russia has provided the rebels in eastern Ukraine with missiles, he said, but were the weapons sophisticated enough to shoot down a plane? "There has to be a very broad international coalition to investigate what happened."

Read MoreTimelineof MH17 tragedy

The wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 after it was shot down near the town of Shaktarsk, in rebel-held east Ukraine.
Dominique Faget | AFP | Getty Images
The wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 after it was shot down near the town of Shaktarsk, in rebel-held east Ukraine.

Flight MH17 was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when the plane was shot down. The victims included 173 Dutch, 44 Malaysians and 28 Australians. Two of the victims were infants.

"What's happened with this tragedy is it's internationalized the situation [in Ukraine]. Now we're talking victims from many countries in Europe and around the world," said Richardson, former governor of New Mexico.

"American leadership is critically important," he continued, "You [need to] ratchet up the diplomatic effort to investigate."

It's too early to increase any sanctions against Russia, Richardson said. "I would leave the sanctions we imposed on right now."

Read MoreEx-Obama official expects new EU Russia sanctions

A day before the crash, the United States imposed tougher sanctions against Russia for its role in destabilizing eastern Ukraine. The new measures targeted two major Russian energy firms, a pair of powerful financial institutions, eight weapons companies and four individuals.

On Wednesday, European leaders also stepped up their sanctions on Russia, but they didn't go nearly as far as the U.S., instead focusing on blocking loans to Russia.

Whether Europe takes a harder line against Moscow depends on Germany, said Richardson, a former Energy secretary. "They're the ones most affected by Russia's natural gas. … One third of Russia's natural gas goes into Europe."

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—By CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere. The Associated Press contributed to this report.