Russia denies downing Malaysian plane

Ukraine says its fighter jets and defense systems did not operate in the crash site on Thursday

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The Russian defense ministry on Friday denied responsibility for downing a Malaysia Airlines jet in eastern Ukraine, whose emergency teams said they have found two black boxes at the MH17’s crash site.

“On July 17, air defence systems of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation were not working in the area. The aircraft of the Air Force of the Russia were not performing any sorties on July 17 in the regions bordering on the Donetsk region,” the defence ministry said in a statement on its website.

Infographic: Malaysian Airliner shot down in eastern Ukraine
Infographic: Malaysian Airliner shot down in eastern Ukraine

“This information is fully confirmed by means of objective control,” the statement added.

Pointing at possible involvement of Ukraine, the Russian defence ministry said: “there are units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces on the disaster area; the units are armed with anti-aircraft missile systems Buk-M1.”

The Buk-M1 systems, according to the defence ministry, are capable of detecting air targets at distances of up to 160 kilometres (about 100 miles) and striking them at all altitudes at a range of over 30 kilometres (18 miles).

“Moreover, in the skies over the Donetsk region, aircraft of the Ukrainian Air Force equipped with different types of missiles are constantly present. This is an undeniable fact,” the Russian defence ministry said.

“Statements from official Kiev saying that those complexes or aircraft did not open fire on air targets raise serious doubts,” the ministry added.

But Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council Information Center, said the Malaysian plane was outside the range of Ukrainian air defense systems and no Ukrainian fighter jets were operating in the area at the time of the crash.

“No Ukrainian aircraft operated near the plane crash site at the relevant time and that isn't their usual operational height,” said Lysenko.

On Thursday, Ukraine's U.N. ambassador said the Malaysian airliner would not have crashed if Russia hadn't given pro-Russian separatists a sophisticated missile system that can hit planes.

Yuriy Sergeyev told The Associated Press in an interview that Russia bears responsibility for the crash, along with the separatists, whom he called “terrorists.”

“It could not have happened if Russia has not supplied the terrorists with sophisticated weaponry, with tanks, with artillery and with this missile system,” Sergeyev said.

Sergeyev was responding to Russian President Vladimir Putin's statement that Ukraine bears responsibility “for this tragedy.”

NATO 'concerned'

Meanwhile, NATO said Friday it was concerned by the “increasing sophistication” and number of weapons deployed by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, following the crash of a Malaysian Airlines jet there.

“We are concerned about the growing number of heavy weapons being operated ... as well as the increasing sophistication of these systems,” a NATO official said, according to AFP.

“We have seen that Russia continues to allow mercenaries and heavy weapons to flow across its borders into Ukraine,” the official added.

Asked about what the U.S.-led military alliance knew of the circumstances of the crash of flight MH17 with the loss of nearly 300 lives, the official said he could not comment on intelligence matters.

However, the official said NATO did have two AWACS surveillance aircraft on patrol over Poland and Romania at the time of the incident.

“Their flights records are currently being reviewed,” but given their distance from the crash site, “we do not expect that our aircraft recorded the incident,” the official said.

The AWACs planes were sent to the region earlier this year as NATO sought to bolster its allies, and especially Poland, who were unnerved by a newly-assertive Russia.

NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen called Thursday for an international inquiry into the crash amid suspicions that the rebels shot down flight MH17 down using missiles.

[With AFP]