Kremlin tries to divert air crash blame

Russian defence ministry presents what it said is evidence that Ukrainian warplanes could be to blame

Russian president Vladimir Putin yesterday lambasted those who use the downing of a passenger jet in eastern Ukraine for “mercenary objectives”. Photograph: AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky

Russian president Vladimir Putin yesterday lambasted those who use the downing of a passenger jet in eastern Ukraine for “mercenary objectives”. Photograph: AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky

Tue, Jul 22, 2014, 01:01

President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s military top brass yesterday attempted to strike back at accusations that they had supported the pro-Russian rebels suspected of shooting down the Malaysia Airlines flight.

The Kremlin appeared to be on the defensive after western countries suggested Moscow bears some blame for the tragedy and demanded that Mr Putin take steps to end the violence.

President Barack Obama has asserted that a surface-to-air missile from rebel-controlled territory brought down the aircraft, but Russian officials and state-controlled television have focused on theories implicating the Ukrainian government or its western backers.

Speaking forcefully in televised comments on Sunday night, Mr Putin again placed responsibility for the tragedy on Kiev and hinted the west was using it for political gain. He suggested the resumption of Kiev’s military campaign in eastern Ukraine after a failed ceasefire in June had led to the downing of the aircraft.

“We can say with confidence that if military actions hadn’t been resumed in eastern Ukraine on June 28th, this tragedy probably wouldn’t have happened,” Mr Putin said.

“In addition, no one has the right and no one should use this tragedy to achieve selfish political goals.”

The Kremlin also announced the country’s security council would meet today to discuss “maintaining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation”.

Officials and pro-Kremlin pundits have protested that the west is jumping to premature conclusions about the rebels’ guilt and Russia’s involvement. Meanwhile, the media has reported on a variety of theories, many of them since debunked, alleging Ukrainian forces were trying to shoot down Mr Putin’s presidential jet or that the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 had been full of dead bodies. Over the weekend, the defence ministry released 10 questions for the Ukrainian government which implied Kiev was covering up evidence pointing to its own culpability.

At a briefing yesterday, the defence ministry presented what it said was evidence suggesting Ukrainian warplanes could be to blame, lambasted the west for “unfounded accusations” against Russia, and hinted at a possible conspiracy involving the United States.

Flight path

Lieut Gen Andrei Kartopolov, head of the military’s main operations directorate, said the aircraft had deviated from its flight path. He showed Russian satellite images which he said revealed that “three to four divisions” of Buk missile launchers, the weapon widely suspected to be involved in downing the plane, had been deployed near Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. One Buk complex had been moved from Donetsk to near rebel-controlled areas right before the tragedy, he claimed.

“Why and against whom did Ukrainian forces deploy such a powerful air defence formation near Donetsk, since it’s well known that the rebels don’t have aviation?” he said.

Lieut Gen Kartopolov also argued that a Ukrainian fighter jet, “probably an Su-25”, had been detected two to three miles away from the Malaysian aircraft before it went down.

Lieut Gen Igor Makushev, head of the air force general staff, showed a video of a radar screen in Rostov-on-Don that he said revealed an unidentified aircraft, probably a military plane, appearing in the area after the Boeing went down. “Earlier, Ukrainian authorities stated that on this day warplanes were not in the area of the incident. As you can see, that isn’t true,” he said.

– (Guardian service)