The Russian military has challenged widespread accusations that separatist rebels were responsible for bringing down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 and said it had proof a Ukrainian fighter jet had been close to the airliner when it crashed into fields outside of Donetsk.
In a briefing in Moscow, Russia’s Defence Ministry called on the US to back up its allegations that pro-Russian rebels had downed the Boeing 777 and provided radar imagery of its own. It said it was evidence that a Ukrainian SU-25 fighter had been tracking the civilian airliner.
“Russian air space control systems detected a Ukrainian Air Force plane, presumably an SU-25, scrambling in the direction of the Malaysian Boeing,” said Air Force Lieutenant-General Igor Makushev, according to Reuters. “The distance of the SU-25 plane from the Boeing was from three to five kilometres.”
The claim, which was promptly dismissed by Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, was apparently Russia’s first official dismissal of Western claims. Previously, President Vladimir Putin has pointed the finger at his Ukrainian counterpart, saying the disaster would not have happened if Kiev had not ended a ceasefire with the separatists.
The claim from Moscow came as it was announced the rebel forces had given permission for train carriages containing the remains of 282 of the 296 passengers and crew from MH17 to set off from Torez to the city of Kharkiv, controlled by the Ukrainian government.
After Malaysian officials brokered a deal with rebel leader Alexander Borodai, the train carriages left at around 7.30pm local time. Earlier, Dutch experts had examined some of the bodies in the carriages, located around 10 miles from the crash site. “I think the storage of the bodies is of good quality,” said team leader Peter van Leit.
Malaysia’a Prime Minister Najib Razak said the bodies would be taken to Kharkiv and placed in the custody of a team from the Netherlands.
The remains will then be flown to Amsterdam on board a C130 Hercules, together with a six-strong team of investigators from Malaysia.
The Malaysian Premier said Mr Borodai had also agreed to hand over the two black box recorders collected from the crash site and that the instruments were scheduled to passed to Malaysian investigators on Monday evening. He said Mr Borodai had also agreed to grant full access to international investigators.
“I must stress that although agreement has been reached, there remain a number of steps required before it is completed,” he said in Kuala Lumpur. “There is work still to be done, work which relies on continued communication in good faith. Mr Borodai and his people have so far given their cooperation.”
This flurry of developments came as parts of Donetsk were rocked by clashes between rebel fighters and Ukrainian troops that left at least three people dead. In the early afternoon, loud booms could be heard coming from the area close to the railway station and the airport, which is controlled by the Ukrainians.
Mr Borodai, Prime Minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, claimed the Ukrainian forces had launched the attacks.
One woman in the city’s Kievsky district, where some of the clashes took place, quickly hurried inside her apartment. “You can see what is going on here. Right now they are shooting at the industrial stuff,” she shouted. “Everything will be destroyed.”