Ukrainian rebels may have tampered with the crash site of the Malaysian airliner MH17, it has been alleged, with black boxes removed from the crash site and sent to Moscow, and the leader of the separatists pictured at the scene.
It comes as Ukraine's security services released three intercepted phone calls purportedly involving rebel fighters, where they appear to admit downing the jet.
The self-proclaimed "Prime Minister" of the pro-Russian separatist militant group "Donetsk People's Republic" Alexander Borodai, arrived near the town of Shaktarsk where the downed plane carrying 298 people from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur crashed. He came surrounded by camouflage-wearing bodyguards, holding rifles.
Self-proclaimed Prime Minister of the pro-Russian separatist 'Donetsk People's Republic' Alexander Borodai (C) stands as he arrives on the site of the crash
Ukraine's rebels control access to the crash site. Yesterday it was reported that separatist leader Igor Girkin had claimed credit for shooting down MH17, posting a boast on the VK social media site, which was later removed. It appears to have mistaken the plane for a Ukrainian army plane.
“The plane has just been taken down somewhere around Torez. It lays there behind the Progress mine. We did warn you – do not fly in ‘our sky'."
“And here is the video proving another ‘bird’ falling down. The bird went down behind the slagheap, not in the residential district. So no peaceful people injured. There is also information about another plane shot,” he added.
Although not independently verified, Ukraine's intelligence agency has released the transcript of an intercepted phone call it says is between two militants nicknamed “Major” and “Greek”, as well as a call from Igor Bezler, allegedly a commander with the Donetsk People's Republic, to Vasili Geranin, who is said to work for the intelligence headquarters of the Russian army.
Igor Bezler: We have just shot down a plane. Group Minera. It fell down beyond Yenakievo (Donetsk Oblast).
Vasili Geranin: Pilots. Where are the pilots?
IB: Gone to search for and photograph the plane. It's smoking.
The second recorded conversation is between two anonymous militants, translated by the Kyiv Post.
“Major”: These are Chernukhin folks who shot down the plane. From the Chernukhin check point. Those cossacks who are based in Chernukhino.
“Greek”: Yes, Major.
M: The plane fell apart in the air. In the area of Petropavlovskaya mine. The first “200” (code word for dead person). We have found the first “200”. A Civilian.
G: Well, what do you have there?
M: In short, it was 100 percent a passenger aircraft.
G: Are many people there?
M: Holy shit! The debris fell right into the yards (of homes).
G: What kind of aircraft?
M: I haven’t ascertained this. I haven’t been to the main sight. I am only surveying the scene where the first bodies fell. There are the remains of internal brackets, seats and bodies.
G: Is there anything left of the weapon?
M: Absolutely nothing. Civilian items, medicinal stuff, towels, toilet paper.
G: Are there documents?
M: Yes, of one Indonesian student. From a university in Thompson.
The final conversation is between an unidentified militant and an alleged Cossack commander, Nikolay Kozitsin, which the Kyiv Post has translated.
Militant: Regarding the plane shot down in the area of Snizhne-Torez. It’s a civilian one. Fell down near Grabove. There are lots of corpses of women and children. The Cossacks are out there looking at all this. They say on TV it’s AN-26 transport plane, but they say it’s written Malaysia Airlines on the plane. What was it doing on Ukraine’s territory?
Nikolay Kozitsin: That means they were carrying spies. They shouldn’t be fucking flying. There is a war going on.
Borodai denied having a single Buk missile, though he added "unfotunately" because it was something the rebels desired. Speaking to Kommersant FM and blaming the Ukrainian army, the rebel leader added: “Preliminary investigation showed that the airliner had been shot down—it is obvious. The plane crashed practically on the front line, you need to understand that. We only have artillery that can hit a target at 2,500 meters.”
Nine Britons are now known to have been on board Malaysian flight MH17. Officials from Malaysian Airlines confirmed that 298 people were on board the Boeing 777-200, which was downed over the war-torn state. The original estimate was 295.
The plane was shot down over Ukraine by a long-range surface-to-air missile on Thursday, a type of weapon owned both by the Russian and Ukrainian armies. The Ukrainian government has said that the weapon was captured by pro-Russia rebels who control the country's east.
The “black box” flight recorder from the airplane has traveled to Moscow “for investigation,” according to Russian radio station Kommersant FM.
The separatists have imposed martial law and a night time curfew across Donetsk, the Kyiv Post reported.
“Due to the urgent need that arose because of the threat to Donetsk as a city surrounded by fighting, and to avoid various incidents and save civilian lives, as a measure to strengthen law and order, the militia command hereby imposes martial law and a curfew."
The missile which is reported to have been used, a Buk-M2E "is designed to destroy tactical and strategic aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles, and other aerodynamic aircraft at any point in their range of operation, along with tactical ballistic and aircraft missiles, and smart air bombs in conditions of heavy enemy counter fire and radio jamming; as well as to attack water and ground surface contrast targets."
First-aid workers and self-proclaimed Prime Minister of the pro-Russian separatist 'Donetsk People's Republic' Alexander Borodai gather
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called on world powers at a press conference on Friday morning to bring to justice "those bastards who committed this international crime".
Russian media is also reporting the plane crash could be a false flag attack by the Ukrainian army, and even that it was an intended assassination of President Vladimir Putin, who Ukrainians allegedly believed was travelling through the area on his presidential plane, according to an Interfax report.
“A few years ago, Ukrainians shot down a Russian passenger plane of Sibir airline—they denied it was their fault for a long time. It is all their fault again,” Russian Duma deputy Andrei Artemyev said on Thursday night.
Ukraine said a military transport plane was shot down on Monday by a missile fired from Russian territory. Security Service chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko said he had "unconditional evidence" that Russia was involved in downing that aircraft.
Putin said on Friday said Ukraine bore responsibility, saying it would not have happened if Kiev had not resumed a military campaign against separatists.
"This tragedy would not have happened, if there had been peace on that land, or in any case if military operations in southeastern Ukraine had not been renewed," he said.
"And without doubt the government of the territory on which it happened bears responsibility for this frightening tragedy," he said.
"We will do everything that we can so that an objective pictured of what happened can be achieved," Putin added. "This is a completely unacceptable thing."
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07/25/2014 11:29 PM EDT
Document: EU Extends Russia Sanctions
A document shows that EU sanctions ar targeting Russian businesses, the AP reports:
A European Union document shows that among those targeted by the EU-wide asset freeze and travel ban are Alexander Bortnikov, head of the Russian Federal Security.
Also targeted is Sergei Beseda, head of the FSB service that oversees international operations and intelligence activity.
07/25/2014 5:21 PM EDT
AP Journalists Saw Rebels With BUK Missiles Hours Before MH17 Crashed
Associated Press journalists in Ukraine saw a BUK missile system -- the type that the US says downed Flight MH17 -- in rebel hands just hours before the plane was shot down, the news agency says in detailed account of the day's events. AP says that while the rebels officially deny responsibility, "the denials are increasingly challenged by accounts of residents, the observations of journalists on the ground, and the statements of one rebel official." Further, one rebel official told AP that they were behind the plane tragedy.
More from the AP story:
A highly placed rebel, speaking to the AP this week, admitted that rebels were responsible. He said a unit based in the hometown of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, made up of both Russians and Ukrainians, was involved in the firing of an SA-11 from near Snizhne. The rebel, who has direct access to the inner circle of the insurgent leadership in Donetsk, said that he could not be named because he was contradicting the rebels' official line.
The rebels believed they were targeting a Ukrainian military plane, this person said. Instead, they hit the passenger jet flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. All 298 people aboard were killed.
Read the full account here.
07/25/2014 2:59 PM EDT
White House: Russia 'Culpable' For Downed Jet
In a briefing on Friday, the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said there has been a "steady flow" of weapons from Russia into Ukraine, and emphasized the position that Russia played a role in the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal's Marketwatch reports.
Russia 'culpable' for Malaysia Air jet downed in Ukraine: White House http://t.co/bJR9bYh7js— MarketWatch (@MarketWatch) July 25, 2014
The Pentagon said on Friday that the transfer of missile systems from Russia to separatists in Ukraine appeared to be imminent. On Thursday, the U.S. claimed that Russia had fired on Ukrainian military positions.
07/25/2014 1:54 PM EDT
Ukrainian Security Release Tape Of Rebels Allegedly Discussing MH17
Ukraine's security service, SBU, on Friday released a recording it said was of a phone call between pro-Russian separatists discussing a plane overhead, minutes before the Malaysian Airlines jet was shot down over east Ukraine. “I see… Roger... Report it upstairs,” the rebel commander says, according to a translation.
Writing for Mashable, Christopher Miller notes that the recording has not been authenticated and the commander "stops short of giving the order to shoot down Flight 17," however the implication is clearly to build a case that the rebels shot down the plane.
07/25/2014 1:14 PM EDT
Russia Accuses U.S. Of 'Smear Campaign' Over Ukraine
Responding to U.S. officials assertion that Russia was firing artillery on Ukrainian military positions across the border, Russia on Friday countered by calling the claim a baseless "smear campaign,"AFP reports.
A statement from the Russian foreign ministry said, "Due to the smear campaign against us that the US Administration has begun... we reject the unfounded public insinuations that US deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf is spreading on a daily basis," adding that Harf has used "a basketful of these anti-Russian cliches," to influence perceptions of Russia. The statement refuted the U.S. State Departments claim on Russia targeting Ukraine military, saying "There are no facts or specifics about these falsehoods."
More from AFP.
-- Andrew Hart
07/25/2014 1:06 PM EDT
U.S. Ambassador: 15,000 Russian Troops At Border
#BREAKING: More than 15,000 Russian troops amassed along border with Ukraine: U.S. ambassador to NATO— Reuters Top News (@Reuters) July 25, 2014
07/25/2014 12:58 PM EDT
More On The Remarks Out Of The Pentagon
The Pentagon said on Friday the transfer of heavy caliber multiple launch rocket systems from
Russia to Ukrainian separatists appeared to be imminent, with the arms close enough to the border they could be handed over "potentially today."
"We have indications that the Russians intend to supply heavier and more sophisticated multiple launch rocket systems in the very near future," said Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, adding that the weapons were in the over-200mm range.
Warren indicated the weapons had been seen getting closer to the border and the Pentagon believed a transfer was imminent and "potentially today."
"We believe that they are able to transfer this equipment at any time, at any moment," he said.
07/25/2014 12:45 PM EDT
Pentagon Says Russia Is Readying Weapons For Transfer To Ukraine Rebels
Pentagon: Russia readying powerful weapons for rebels in Ukraine, transfer could happen any time. http://t.co/xZnfkBUWSV— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) July 25, 2014
07/25/2014 11:34 AM EDT
Australia To Send 100 Additional Police and Personnel To Secure Crash Site
(Reuters) - Australia will send 100 additional police and some defense force personnel to Europe to join a planned Dutch-led international security force to secure the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crash site, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Friday.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers, some of whom will be armed, will join a contingent of 90 AFP officers already in London waiting for a deal with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to be approved by Ukraine's parliament.
"This is a humanitarian mission, with a clear and simple objective," Abbott told reporters. "I expect the operation on the ground in Ukraine, should the deployment go ahead, to last no longer than a few weeks."
Read the full story here.
07/25/2014 11:03 AM EDT
Russian Newspaper Runs Front Page Apology For MH17
A leading Russian newspaper has issued an apology on its front page, asking for forgiveness from the people of the Netherlands who lost their loved ones in the Malaysian Airlines plane crash. The front page of Novaya Gazeta on Friday featured the words "Vergeef ons, Nederlands" (Forgive Us, Netherlands) in bold above a heartbreaking image of the line of hearses carrying MH17 victim's bodies.
Read the full story on the Huffington Post here.