Russia, Ukraine argue over warning about PoW flight


Ukraine has neither confirmed nor denied its forces shot down a plane in Russia’s Belgorod region.
Ukraine has neither confirmed nor denied its forces shot down a plane in Russia’s Belgorod region.

Ukrainian military intelligence had been given a 15-minute warning before a Russian military transport plane carrying Ukrainian prisoners of war entered an area where it was shot down, killing all on board, a senior Russian MP says.

Moscow accuses Kyiv of downing the Ilyushin Il-76 plane in Russia’s Belgorod region, killing 74 people on board, including 65 captured Ukrainian soldiers en route to be swapped for Russian PoWs.

Russia’s Investigative Committee said on Thursday the plane was struck by a Ukrainian-made surface-to-air missile.

Ukraine denied it was given a warning. It has neither confirmed nor denied that its forces downed the plane but has challenged details of Moscow’s account and called for an international investigation.

“The Ukrainian side was officially warned, and 15 minutes before the plane entered the zone they were given complete information,” Andrei Kartopolov, a former general with close ties to Russia’s defence ministry, told MPs, according to the ruling United Russia party. 

United Nations Security Council meeting
The United Nations Security Council met at the request of Russia to discuss the downed plane. (EPA PHOTO)

He said Ukraine’s military command confirmed receipt of the warning.

His assertion contradicted statements by Ukrainian military intelligence that Russia had not informed it about the flight arrangements.

Ukrainian military intelligence spokesman Andriy Yusov, said that contrary to practice before previous PoW swaps, Kyiv had received no requests from Russia to refrain from attacks in the airspace where the plane was downed.

He challenged Moscow’s version of events.

“No evidence has been provided for the charges … Nothing has been shown to prove the wreckage and the presence of people on board,” he said on national television on Thursday.

Conflicting narratives from both sides are a daily feature of a war now nearing the end of its second year.

In this case the stakes are especially high as it is the deadliest incident of its kind on internationally recognised Russian territory since Russia’s February 2022 invasion.

The United Nations Security Council met on Thursday at the request of Russia to discuss the downed plane. 

The UN was not in a position to verify the circumstances of the crash, UN political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo told the council.

“What is clear is that the incident took place in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and ongoing war,” she said.

“To avoid further escalation, we urge all concerned to refrain from actions, rhetoric, or allegations that could further fuel the already dangerous conflict.”

The Russian defence ministry on Wednesday said its air defences were active earlier in the morning and had shot down a Ukrainian drone in the region.

Yusov said Ukraine had been using reconnaissance drones in the area, and Russia had launched attack drones. 

There was “no confirmed information” that Ukraine had hit any targets, he said.

“Unfortunately, we can assume various scenarios, including provocation, as well as the use of Ukrainian prisoners as a human shield for transporting ammunition and weapons for S-300 systems (being used in the war),” he told Radio Svoboda.

Fragments of what appeared to be a missile have been found at the site where the plane crashed in Russia’s southwestern Belgorod region near the border with Ukraine, the TASS state news agency cited emergency services as saying on Thursday.

In a statement on Telegram, Russian investigators said their “preliminary” conclusion was the plane had been hit by an anti-aircraft missile from the Zenit rocket family, and a criminal investigation had been opened.

Ukraine said it had opened its own investigation into a potential violation of the rules of war.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said greater clarity was needed, particularly when it came to who was on board, and he accused Russia of “playing with the lives of Ukrainian prisoners”.

Ukraine’s human rights commissioner Dmytro Lubinets told Reuters he believed the incident was a planned Russian misinformation campaign. 

He said a list of Ukrainian PoW casualties, which was shared after the crash by Russian media, included soldiers already returned in a previous swap.