Russia says Ukraine had 15-minute warning on POW flight

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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.

Ukraine denied the assertion by Andrei Kartopolov, a former general with close ties to Russia’s defense ministry, and called for an international investigation.

Moscow accuses Kyiv of downing the Ilyushin Il-76 plane in Russia’s Belgorod region, 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 that assertion, but challenged details of Moscow’s account.

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“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,” Kartapolov told lawmakers, according to the ruling United Russia party.

“We all know very well what happened next,” added Kartapolov, who heads Russia’s parliamentary defense committee.

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

Ukrainian military intelligence spokesperson Andriy Yusov, in comments to Reuters, reiterated on Thursday 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.

At 11.33 a.m. on Wednesday, the Russian defense ministry published a report of a Ukrainian drone being shot down by air defenses in the region. Reports of a plane crashing emerged on social media minutes later.

Yusov, who recalled the Russian defense ministry report, said Ukraine had been using reconnaissance drones in the area, and that Russia had launched attack drones to try to bring down the Ukrainian drones. There was “no confirmed information” that Ukraine had hit any targets, he said.

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“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 earlier.

High stakes

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 recognized territory.

Fragments of what appears 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.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy 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.

“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. TASS said the plane’s flight recorders had been recovered and would be flown to Moscow for examination at a defense ministry laboratory.

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.”

France, a permanent member of the Security Council, said it was in no position to tell whether Russia’s assertions about the incident were true.

However, deputy foreign ministry spokesperson Christophe Lemoine told a weekly briefing that the international community was used to Russia ”lying on these matters.”

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