There are more questions than answers following another enigmatic Russian jet disaster

The cause of the Wednesday crash of a Russian military transport plane in the Belgorod region close to the Ukrainian border is still unknown; it may have been a missile or experienced a severe technical malfunction. But Russian authorities claim that every one of the 74 passengers on board died. The initial photos of the wreckage on the ground are not very convincing; one video captures the final moments of the aircraft as it crashes into the earth, just before a massive fireball bursts into flames. However, the Russian government has asserted that the Ilyushin Il-76’s crew of six and three Russian troops, as well as 65 of their own prisoners of war, were all killed by Ukrainian missiles.


According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the aircraft was destroyed by an anti-aircraft missile system that was placed about 50 miles (80 kilometers) from the site of the crash in the Kharkiv region of Ukraine. It stated the rockets had been picked up by radar technology. At the Kolotilovka checkpoint on the Russian border with the Ukrainian region of Sumy, the Defense Ministry further asserted that “the Ukrainian leadership knew very well that, according to established practice, today Ukrainian military personnel would be transported by military transport aircraft to the Belgorod airfield for exchange.” The military command of Ukraine responded by declaring that it saw Russian military planes approaching Belgorod as valid targets, albeit it did not admit that it had fired at a Russian transport plane.


The majority of Ukrainian ground-to-air missile systems would not be able to reach the 50-mile distance between Liptsy and the crash location. While acknowledging that a prisoner exchange was scheduled for Wednesday, a Ukrainian defense intelligence officer denied any knowledge of the Russian side of the arrangement’s technical specifics. According to a second Ukrainian military source, the aircraft was carrying Russian missiles, not hostages.


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