Ukraine crisis: Kiev pledges to punish 'terrorism' that threatens the stability of the nation

New Poroshenko government promises to hit back after shooting down of military aircraft which killed all 49 on board

The shooting down of a military transport plane in Ukraine yesterday, killing all 49 people on board, prompted threats of a renewed government offensive on pro-Russian separatists in the country’s violent eastern regions.

President Petro Poroshenko has promised action against separatists who shot down the transport plane outside Luhansk, declaring they “must be punished” for their “acts of terrorism”. The aircraft had 40 paratroopers and nine crew on board.

But he also scolded the country’s security service, referring to “omissions” in measures to protect military aircraft from attack. This was the latest bloody episode in the struggle between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists in the east. Clashes between the two sides in recent weeks have left more than 270 people dead, according to government officials, as Kiev tries to crush an insurgency that threatens the stability of the nation.

President Poroshenko, who was sworn in as Ukraine’s new leader last weekend, summoned security chiefs yesterday for talks. He promised an “adequate” response to the incident. Military and defence ministry officials said the plane was hit by anti-aircraft missiles and machine-gun fire in the early hours of yesterday morning. Mr Poroshenko also pledged that today would be a day of mourning for those killed. The US Secretary of State, John Kerry, expressed his condolences to those who had died. A senior State Department official said Mr Kerry had called the Ukrainian Prime Minister, Arseny Yatseniuk ,and “underscored the commitment of the US and G7 partners to raise the costs for Russia if it does not end the flow of weapons across the border and break with separatists”.

The Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office said it had opened a criminal investigation into the incident under anti-terrorism laws. If the death toll is confirmed, it would mark the largest single loss of government troops since Kiev’s “anti-terror” operation began in April.

Parts of the tail section of the plane and other elements of scorched wreckage were scattered across a field near the village of Novohannivka, about 12 miles south of Luhansk. The aircraft was said to have been coming into land at the city’s airport when it was shot out of the sky. The airport has been under the control of government troops, despite much of the rest of the city being held by the separatists.

“All those involved in cynical acts of terrorism of this magnitude must be punished,” Mr Poroshenko said. His statement came as reports suggested that a bomb containing grenades and metal nuts had been found outside the President’s headquarters overnight on Friday.

President Poroshenko was sworn in as Ukraine's new leader last weekend President Poroshenko was sworn in as Ukraine's new leader last weekend (AFP)

The military campaign has become a protracted affair with skirmishes between separatists and government troops a daily occurrence across the eastern regions. The latest bloodletting came a week after Mr Poroshenko used his inaugural address to speak of a peace deal – aimed at calming the tensions that threaten to tear Ukraine apart. He said during his address that the fighting must end “this week”.

On Friday, Ukrainian troops launched an offensive to take back Mariupol, a key port which has changed hands between the insurgents and government troops several times in the past two months. There have also been recent clashes in Luhansk and Slovyansk.

Separatists previously launched assaults on Luhansk airport, as well as military outposts, with some success. Slovyansk has had a number of pitched battles, with fighting sometimes going on for hours. It was also where separatists shot down a military helicopter, killing 12 troops.

The possible use of heavy artillery by the separatists has again raised questions about Russia’s role in the unrest. It was a suspension of a potential trade deal with the European Union, which would have pushed Ukraine further from Russian influence, that sparked protests and the fall of the country’s previous president, Viktor Yanukovych.

Western nations, along with the government in Kiev, have long held the view that the Kremlin has helped to stir the unrest with the intention of ensuring Russian influence over its neighbour. On Friday night, the US State Department claimed that Russia had sent heavy weaponry into Ukraine, after Arsen Avakov, the Ukrainian Interior Minister, claimed that three tanks had entered the Luhansk region from Russia. The insurgents claim the tanks came from a Ukrainian military stockpile.

“We assess that separatists in eastern Ukraine have acquired heavy weapons and military equipment from Russia, including Russian tanks and multiple rocket launchers,” Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement. Ms Harf also told a briefing that a convoy of three T-64 tanks, several BM-21 rocket launchers and other military vehicles had crossed from Russia into Ukraine in recent days. Russia denies this.

But Nato released satellite images yesterday that, it said, raised serious questions about Russia’s actions. One image, dated 30 May, showed a Russian unit deployed near the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don as part of a build-up of tens of thousands of troops close to Ukraine’s border, but no tanks were present, Nato said. Another image, from 6 June, showed the Russian unit had left as part of a broader withdrawal from the border area. But while other vehicles had pulled out, the image showed that eight main battle tanks had arrived.

The movements raised “questions concerning Russia’s role in facilitating instability in eastern Ukraine and its involvement in the movement of military equipment from Russian territory into Ukraine”, said Nato, adding the tanks had no markings or camouflage paint like those used by the Ukrainian military. “In fact, they do not have markings at all, which is reminiscent of tactics used by Russian elements involved in destabilising Crimea.”

The Kremlin has said that it is committed to finding a peaceful solution to the crisis in Ukraine and, as a goodwill gesture, talks were set for last night aimed at solving a gas-pricing dispute between the two nations before a deadline to cut off supplies to Kiev, which falls tomorrow.

“We condemn the shooting down of the Ukrainian military plane and continue to be deeply concerned about the situation in eastern Ukraine, including by the fact that militant and separatist groups have received heavy weapons from Russia, including tanks,” said Laura Lucas Magnuson, a White House spokeswoman.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth with Tess Daly in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
tvLouis Smith wins with 'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor


Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there