Crashed IL-76 was not carrying Ukrainian PoW nor it was shot down, IL-76 transport aircraft crashed: analysis

At least 63 feared dead as Russian Il-76 military plane crashes in massive fireball near border with Ukraine, ,

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Wednesday that Russia was “playing with the lives of Ukrainian prisoners” after Moscow accused Kyiv of downing a military plane carrying dozens of its own captured soldiers.

Moscow said 74 people died – 65 of them Ukrainian prisoners of war being flown to a scheduled exchange – when a Il-76 military transport plane was shot down earlier on Wednesday.

Footage showed the aircraft flying at a low altitude before hitting the ground and exploding into a fireball in the Belgorod border region around 20 miles from the border with Ukraine.

“It is obvious that the Russians are playing with the lives of Ukrainian prisoners, with the feelings of their relatives and with the emotions of our society,” Mr Zelensky said in an evening address on the incident.

He did not confirm or deny Russia’s claims, but said it had been a “very difficult day.”

“We need to establish all the clear facts. As much as possible, given that the downing of the plane occurred on Russian territory, which is beyond our control,” he said in a video published on social media.

He also called for an international investigation into what brought down the plane.

In a series of carefully-worded statements, various military agencies in Kyiv confirmed a prisoner exchange had been scheduled to take place and said Russia was responsible for protecting Ukrainian POWs in its custody, while vowing to continue targeting Russian military facilities and planes in the Belgorod region.

But Kyiv is yet to say whether Ukrainian POWs were killed in the crash or if the plane was downed by Ukrainian weapons.

Mr Zelensky said he had instructed various state agencies to investigate the crash.

Ukraine initially remained silent about the incident but later said it did not have “reliable and comprehensive information” on who was on board.

Its military intelligence agency also suggested Russia may have intentionally flown prisoners of war close to Ukrainian air defence systems to create a “provocation”.

It said Moscow could have been secretly transporting the captive troops in a breach of protocol ahead of the planned prisoner swap.

Ukraine accused of ‘act of terror’
Russia’s defence ministry said everyone on board, including six crew members and three unnamed passengers, had been killed in the crash in the Belgorod region. They provided no verifiable evidence.

They accused Ukraine of an “act of terror” and called for a UN security council meeting.

If confirmed, it would be the second time in recent weeks that Ukraine has shot down a large Russian military plane, likely with Western-supplied air defences that are being moved around the country to test Russian aerial security.

Russia and Ukraine have been exchanging prisoners since the start of the war, through deals negotiated via third parties, such as Turkey or the United Arab Emirates.

The deals are complex and often include details on how captured soldiers are transported to the exchange point.

Ukraine’s military intelligence agency took over exchange negotiations after a long pause that was triggered by Russian anger over the release in Turkey of five Ukrainian commanders taken prisoner from the Azovstal steel plant.

Moscow accused of breaking protocol
Ukraine’s intelligence agency responded to Russian claims about the aircraft downing by accusing Moscow of breaking the protocols of the latest exchange.

“Landing a transport aircraft in a 30km war zone cannot be safe and should in any case be discussed by both sides, because otherwise it puts the entire exchange process at risk.

“Based on this, we may be talking about planned and deliberate actions of the Russian Federation with the aim of destabilising the situation in Ukraine and weakening international support for our state.”

The plane crashed near the village of Yablonovo, in the Korochansky district
The plane crashed near the village of Yablonovo, in the Korochansky district
But on Wednesday night Ukraine had still not confirmed whether it had downed the Russian transport plane with a surface-to-air missile, although Kyiv sources had claimed a success earlier in the day.

Its General Staff wrote on Facebook that its forces would “take measures to destroy delivery vehicles and control the airspace to eliminate the terrorist threat” to stop missile launches from Belgorod.

Since receiving US-made Patriot batteries in spring last year, Ukrainian forces have been secretly moving the air defence system around the country to down Russian jets as they encroached the war-torn country’s borders.

It was immediately clear whether the Russian plane was not brought down by a missile as there were not tail smoke of the missile. The smoke was coming from the aircraft before the crash it was a crash.

If the plane was hit by a missile it would have exploded in mid-air rather the plane exploded on the ground.

Initial video shared on social media appeared to show the plane crashed near the village of Yablonovo, in the Korochansky district.

Photographs from the scene showed the wreckage of the aircraft scattered across a snow-laden field.

Russian Il-76 military plane crashes in massive fireball near border with Ukraine.

There are no bodies or other signs that anyone had been travelling on the transport plane when it crashed.

Early reports by the Ukrainskaya Pravda website reported, citing Ukrainian military sources, that the aircraft had been brought down because it was carrying S-300 intended for an attack on the north-eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

But the outlet soon revised its article removing any reference to a long-range attack by Kyiv’s forces.

Soon after, Andrey Kartapolov, a Russian MP and retired general, told parliament that the Il-76 had been downed by Ukrainian forces using three American or German air defence missiles.

Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the Russian parliament, said: “Ukraine shot down their own soldiers in mid-air.

“Their mothers, wives and children were waiting for them. They took a decision and shot down our defenceless pilots on a military transport plane, who were carrying out a humanitarian mission, with American and German rockets.”

They did not provide any evidence for their claims or the sources of their information.

To bolster the claims, Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of Russia Today, who is sanctioned by the UK, US and EU as a Kremlin propagandist, shared what she claimed was a list of the 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war on board.

Pro-Kremlin war bloggers said Moscow should have gone further by providing footage of the captive soldiers being loaded onto the plane or details of the transport method shared with Kyiv to prove the allegations.

Anton Gerashchenko, an interior ministry adviser, said Moscow had accused Kyiv of downing an aircraft with prisoners of war on board to “save face”.

“Russia is actively conducting information special operations against Ukraine aimed at destabilising Ukrainian society,” Ukraine’s co-ordination headquarters for the treatment of PoWs said.

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