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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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Military

Russia claims Ukraine killed its own POWs after plane crash

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Ryan Robertson

Anchor, Investigative Reporter

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Russia lost another military plane in a violent crash. This time it happened near Belgorod, a city close to the border with Ukraine. Moscow said the plane was carrying Ukrainian prisoners of war and was struck by Ukrainian missiles. Kyiv didn’t immediately confirm or deny the crash.

Video of the incident showed up on Russian social media channels within minutes. The plane is seen falling from the sky in a rural area before a fireball erupts on the ground. Moscow said Ukraine shot the plane down with missiles launched near Kharkiv but offered no proof of that.

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“We’ve seen the reports, but we’re not in any position to confirm them,” U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

Video posted by Russian media claiming to be from the crash site shows wreckage in a snowy field, while emergency services personnel assess the situation. A separate video from the same source shows what appears to be the fuselage of an aircraft pitted with damage marks.

Moscow said 74 people were on the plane when it went down. Sixty-five Ukrainian prisoners of war, six crew members and three others.

A passenger manifest listing the alleged POWs on board contained names of soldiers who are already home since they were released in previous prisoner swaps. A senior U.S. official speaking to the AP on condition of anonymity said it isn’t clear whether there actually were any POWs on the plane.

Ukraine holds the capability to shoot down Russian military transports. In mid-January, Ukraine took down two command and control aircraft vital to Russia’s air defenses. One was destroyed, killing everyone on board including senior officers. The other plane was able to land but will likely never fly again. So, an unprotected transport plane probably doesn’t present much of a challenge for Ukraine’s air defenses.

The General Staff of the Ukraine Armed Forces is being tight lipped on the matter so far. However, they did say a prisoner swap was scheduled but that Russia never communicated anyone was on the plane or asked for the airspace to be kept safe during a specific time, as has been the case in past swaps. Ukraine does make a habit of targeting transports it thinks may be carrying weapons or military equipment. Especially if those planes fly near the border.

However, it’s Russia that has a reputation of shooting down passenger planes.

Russia was behind the downing of MH-17 in eastern Ukraine back in 2014. It’s the going theory of many analysts that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the strike on friend-turned-rival Yevgeny Prigozhin’s plane last year. There are more instances of Russians downing commercial airliners during the Soviet era as well.

So, while people know a plane crashed, it isn’t clear who was on the plane, how many of them there were and whether they were carrying anything other than human cargo.

Since the crash happened in Russian territory, there’s no guarantee the world will ever know the true answers to those questions.

The AP contributed to this story.

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[RYAN ROBERTSON]

ANOTHER RUSSIAN MILITARY PLANE CRASHED. THIS TIME NEAR BELGOROD, A CITY CLOSE TO THE UKRAINIAN BORDER. MOSCOW SAYS THE PLANE WAS CARRYING UKRAINIAN POWS AND WAS STRUCK BY UKRAINIAN MISSILES. KIEV DIDN’T IMMEDIATELY CONFIRM OR DENY THE CRASH.

VIDEO OF THE INCIDENT SHOWED UP ON RUSSIAN SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS WITHIN MINUTES. THE PLANE IS SEEN FALLING FROM THE SKY IN A RURAL AREA BEFORE A FIREBALL ERUPTS. MOSCOW SAYS UKRAINE SHOT THE PLANE DOWN WITH MISSILES LAUNCHED NEAR KHARKIV BUT OFFERED NO PROOF OF THAT.

STRAIGHT ARROW NEWS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS VIDEO WHICH RUSSIAN MEDIA CLAIMS IS FROM THE CRASH SITE. THE VIDEO SHOWS WRECKAGE IN A SNOWY FIELD, AND WHAT APPEARS TO BE THE FUSELAGE OF AIRCRAFT PITTED WITH DAMAGE MARKS.

MOSCOW SAYS 74 PEOPLE WERE ON THE PLANE WHEN IT WENT DOWN. 65 UKRAINIAN POWS, SIX CREW MEMBERS AND THREE OTHERS. BUT THE PASSENGER MANIFEST LISTING THE ALLEGED POWS ON BOARD CONTAINED NAMES OF SOLDIERS WHO ARE ALREADY HOME BECAUSE THEY WERE RELEASED IN PREVIOUS PRISONER SWAPS.

UKRAINE DEFINITELY HAS THE CAPABILITY TO SHOOT DOWN RUSSIAN MILITARY TRANSPORTS. IN MID-JANUARY, UKRAINE TOOK DOWN TWO COMMAND AND CONTROL AIRCRAFT VITAL TO RUSSIA’S AIR DEFENSES. SO, AN UNPROTECTED TRANSPORT PLANE PROBABLY DOESN’T PRESENT MUCH OF A CHALLENGE.

THE GENERAL STAFF OF THE UKRAINE ARMED FORCES IS BEING TIGHT LIPPED ON THE MATTER SO FAR, BUT UKRAINE DOES MAKE A HABIT OF TARGETING TRANSPORTS IT THINKS MAY BE CARRYING WEAPONS. ESPECIALLY IF THOSE PLANES FLY NEAR THE BORDER.

BUT LET’S NOT FORGET IT’S RUSSIA THAT HAS A REPUTATION OF SHOOTING DOWN PASSENGER PLANES. RUSSIA WAS BEHIND THE DOWNING OF MH-17 IN EASTERN UKRAINE BACK IN 2014, AND IT’S THE GOING THEORY OF MANY ANALYSTS THAT PUTIN ORDERED THE STRIKE ON FRIEND-TURNED-RIVAL YEVGENY PRIGOZHIN’S PLANE LAST YEAR. THERE ARE MORE INSTANCES OF RUSSIANS DOWNING COMMERCIAL AIRLINERS DURING THE SOVIET ERA AS WELL.

SO, WHILE WE KNOW A PLANE CRASHED, IT ISN’T CLEAR WHO WAS ON THE PLANE, HOW MANY OF THEM THERE WERE, AND WHETHER THEY WERE CARRYING ANYTHING OTHER THAN HUMAN CARGO.

AND SINCE THE CRASH HAPPENED IN RUSSIAN TERRITORY, THERE’S NO GUARANTEE THE WORLD WILL EVER KNOW THE TRUE ANSWERS TO THOSE QUESTIONS.