Russia says Ukraine had 15-minute warning on PoW flight; Kyiv demands international probe By Reuters

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© Reuters. A vehicle of Russian Emergencies Ministry drives along a road near the crash site of the Russian Ilyushin Il-76 military transport plane outside the village of Yablonovo in the Belgorod Region, Russia January 24, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer

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MOSCOW/KYIV (Reuters) – A senior Russian lawmaker said 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 on Wednesday.

Russia accuses Ukraine of downing the plane, killing all 74 people on board, including 65 captured Ukrainian soldiers en route to be swapped for Russian POWs. Ukraine has neither confirmed nor denied Russia’s assertion, but has demanded an international investigation.

“The Ukrainian side was officially warned, and 15 minutes before the plane entered the zone they were given complete information, which they received and the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ukrainian Armed Forces confirmed receipt of,” Andrei Kartapolov told fellow lawmakers, according to the ruling United Russia party.

“We all know very well what happened next,” added Kartapolov, a former general with close links to the defence ministry who now heads Russia’s parliamentary defence committee.

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

Conflicting narratives from both sides are a daily feature of a war now nearing the end of its second year. But the stakes are especially high in relation to Wednesday’s incident, the deadliest of its kind to take place on Russia’s own internationally recognised territory.

Moscow has framed the downing of the Ilyushin-76 military transport plane in Russia’s southwestern Belgorod region, near the border with Ukraine, as a Ukrainian “terrorist act”.

INVESTIGATION

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

He called for an international investigation, an appeal echoed on Thursday by Ukraine’s ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets.

“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. They will not hand over any materials for analysis and will simply blame Ukraine,” Lubinets told national television.

Russia has sole access to the site of the crash, where TV pictures showed debris scattered over snowy fields. Its state news agency TASS said the plane’s black boxes had been recovered and would be flown to Moscow for examination at a defence ministry laboratory.

Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence agency confirmed on Wednesday that a PoW swap had been due to take place, but said it had not been told how Russia would bring the prisoners to the handover point.

It also said Ukraine had not been asked to ensure airspace security around Belgorod – unlike the arrangements for previous swaps.

The United Nations Security Council was due to convene at 2200 GMT on Thursday in response to a Russian call for a meeting to establish “the reasons behind the Ukrainian criminal act”.

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