Russia’s Putin says ‘obvious’ Ukraine shot down plane over Belgorod

Moscow and Kyiv trade blame after Ilyushin Il-76 plane crashed, reportedly killing 65 Ukrainian POWs said to be on board.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
'What happened is a crime,' Russian President Vladimir Putin said, as Moscow and Kyiv trade blame for the attack [Gavriil Grigorov/Sputnik/Kremlin via Reuters]

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Ukrainian air defences shot down the Russian military plane that crashed near its border with Ukraine this week.

In his first comments about Wednesday’s crash, Putin said that the results of Moscow’s investigation would be published in two to three days, but preliminary results suggested that the missiles that hit the plane were either American or French.

Putin also accused Ukraine of knowing that the Ilyushin Il-76 plane was carrying 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war.

“I don’t know if they did it on purpose or by mistake, but it is obvious that they did it,” Putin said in televised comments on Friday.

“In any case, what happened is a crime. Either through negligence or on purpose, but in any case, it is a crime.”

The Russian defence ministry said six Russian crew members and three Russian soldiers were also on board the flight to undertake the latest prisoner swap with Ukraine.

Ukraine has not confirmed nor denied whether it shot down the plane and has challenged Moscow’s account of who was on board and what occurred.

Kyiv has refuted Moscow’s claim that it was warned that a plane carrying Ukrainian POWs would be flying over Russia’s Belgorod region at that time.

It also said there were discrepancies in a list of names published by Russian media of the 65 Ukrainians who were reportedly on board.

However, Putin said the plane could not have been brought down by Russian “friendly fire” since its air defence systems have safeguards in place to prevent them from attacking their aircraft.

“There are ‘friend or foe’ systems there, and no matter how much the operator presses the button, our air defence systems would not work,” he said.

Trading blame

On Thursday, Ukraine called for an international investigation into the blast.

“Regarding an international investigation, I believe that we will do our part to make it happen. But I am convinced that … the Russians will make loud statements but will not allow anyone in,” Dmytro Lubinets, the Ukrainian parliament commissioner for human rights, told national television, adding he would send letters to the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“They will not hand over any materials for analysis and will simply blame Ukraine,” he added.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also called for an emergency session of the UN Security Council to discuss the downed plane on Thursday.

At the session, Moscow and Kyiv both sought to pin the blame on the other.

“All of the information that we have today shows that we are dealing with a premeditated, thought-through crime,” said Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Dmitry Polyanskiy, adding that Ukraine’s leaders “knew the route very well, knew about the way the soldiers were going to be transported to the place of exchange”.

He accused Kyiv of sacrificing its own troops “to Western geopolitical interests”.

Ukraine’s Deputy Ambassador Khrystyna Hayovyshyn in turn rejected the accusation, saying that “Ukraine was not informed about the number of vehicles, roads and means of transportation of the captives”.

“This alone may constitute intentional actions by Russia to endanger the lives and safety of the prisoners,” she said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies