Ukrainian military transport plane shot down along eastern border

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2014, 1:45am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 July, 2014, 1:45am

A Ukrainian military transport plane was shot down yesterday along the country's eastern border with Russia, the defence minister said, adding the rocket may have been fired from Russia.

While rebels in conflict-wracked eastern Ukraine claimed responsibility for downing the Antonov-26, Ukrainian Defence Minister Valeriy Heletey said it might have come from across the border.

He said the plane was flying at an altitude of 6,500 metres, which he said was too high to be reached with the weapons used by the separatists fighting government troops. All eight people aboard managed to bail out safely, the defence ministry said.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, meanwhile, accused Russian army officers of fighting alongside separatists in the east of the country and said Moscow was once more building up its troops on the joint border.

Poroshenko held an emergency meeting of his security chiefs after a weekend of Ukrainian air strikes on rebel positions near the border with Russia and charges by Moscow that Kiev killed a Russian man with a cross-border shell.

The war of words between Kiev and Moscow and intense fighting, in which Ukrainian forces say they inflicted heavy losses on the rebels, marked a sharp escalation in the conflict.

"Information has ... been confirmed that Russian staff officers are taking part in military operations against Ukrainian forces," Poroshenko said.

Poroshenko told his security chiefs that government forces, which lost 23 men in a rocket attack on an army camp last Friday, were now facing a new Russian missile system and there would have to be a change in tactics. He gave no details.

Accusing Russia of embarking on a course of escalation in Ukraine's eastern regions, National and Security Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists: "In the past 24 hours, deployment of [Russian] units and military equipment across the border from the Sumy and Luhansk border points was noticed. The Russian Federation continues to build up troops on the border."

Nato said Russia had increased its forces along the border and now had 10,000-12,000 troops in the area.

Moscow's response to the cross-border shelling and the Ukrainian reports of Russian troops being moved up to the border raised again the prospect of Russian intervention, after weeks in which President Vladimir Putin had appeared intent on disengaging, pulling back tens of thousands of troops he had massed at the frontier.

In the last two weeks, the Ukrainian government has halved the territory held by pro-Russia separatists, who have been forced back into strongholds around Luhansk and Donetsk.

Fighting intensified yesterday around Luhansk as government forces stepped up efforts to disrupt rebel lines and reclaim more territory from the faltering insurgency.

Associated Press, Reuters