Downed Malaysian plane: ‘War has gone beyond Ukraine’

An armed pro-Russian separatist stands at a site of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, 17 July 2014. [Reuters]

War has gone beyond the territory of Ukraine, the country’s President Petro Poroshenko has stated following the shocking news that the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was brought down yesterday (17 July) over the territory of Eastern Ukraine close to the Russian border.

“Today, terrorists have killed almost 300 persons with one shot”, said Poroshenko in his statement. While it appears that the plane was shot down by pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine, the reaction of EU officials stopped short of pointing out at them.

Russian President Vladimir Putin pinned the blamed on Kyiv for renewing its offensive against the rebels two weeks ago after a ceasefire failed to hold.

“I would like to note that this tragedy would not have occurred if there were peace in that country, or in any case, if hostilities had not resumed in southeast Ukraine. And certainly, the government over whose territory it occurred is responsible for this terrible tragedy,” Putin is quoted as saying by the Kremlin website.

US Vice President Joe Biden said the jet was “blown out of the sky” and a US official said that while its origin was unclear, a surface-to-air missile was probably responsible.

Reportedly, the pro-Russian separatists who have been the first on the crash site have taken the airplane’s black box to Moscow.

“I have just had phone conversations with President of the USA Barack Obama, Prime Ministers of Malaysia and the Netherlands – countries passengers of which have suffered most from the terrorist act. It is unfortunate that terrorists have already claimed their willingness to cover things up and take the flight data recorder, the so-called black box, to Moscow,” Poroshenko said.

Intercepted calls: Kozytsyn’s Russian Cossacs shut down the plane

According to intercepted telephone conversations, a separatist group in Eastern Ukraine known as Kozitsyn’s Russian Cossacs have brought down the Malaysian airliner flight MH17 yesterday (17 July), killing all 295 people aboard and sharply increasing tensions between Russia and the West.

According to the General Staff of Ukrainian Armed Forces,  the Malaysia Airlines was brought down by a Russian-made ground-launched BUK missile, as the liner was flying at an altitude of 10,000 meters.

Ukraine has no long-range air defence missile systems in this area.

The plane was shot down, because the Russian air defence systems was affording protection to Russian mercenaries and terrorists in this area, the Ukraine ministry said.

The leader of the terrorists Igor Girkin (Strelkov) immediately commented on the airplane catastrophe, believing that it was an Ukrainian jet that was put down: “In Torez [Donetsk region, close to the Russian border] An-26 was shot down, its crashes are lying somewhere near the coal mine “Progress”. We have warned everyone: do not fly in our skies.”

An intercepted telephone conversation 30 minutes after the crash Igor ‘Bes’ (Demon) Bezler tells Vassily Geranin, colonel of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Forces of the Russian Federation, that Kozitsyn’s Russian Cossacs, based at Chernukhino [close to Horlivka], have put down what is believed to be at that moment a Ukrainian military plane.

In a second conversation a first speaker designated as “Major” tells his superior called “Grek” (Greek) that the remains of the plane have been inspected and that it has become obvious that it’s a civil plane and there are many people killed.

Plane was ‘bringing spies’

In a third intercepted conversation military commander Mykola Kozitsyn looks tense at the news that the plane proves to be civilian, while the militant to whom he speaks tries to cheer him up, saying that the plane was “bringing spies”.

According to information obtained by EURACTIV, the Russian Cossacs in the region of Luhansk, with headquarters at Antratsyt, Luhansk region, are under the command of Mykola Ivanovych Kozitsyn, , Russian citizen. He holds the rank “General of the Russian Cossacks Forces Army” and introduces himself as a Russian GRU (Military intelligence) officer. The strength of the Russian Cossacs in the Luhansk region is of up to 1000 people.

Read: Ukraine submits evidence of Russian covert action

Kozitsyn, who is on the EU sanctions list, is responsible for kidnapping of two teams of the OSCE observers in late May 2014.

According to information provided by the Ukrainian government to EU countries before the 16 June European Council, the first interlocutor in the intercepted conversations Igor ‘Bes’ Bezler (Igor Mykolaiovich Bezler) is a Russian citizen, leader of a separatist group located in Horlivka, Donetsk region. He is a former member of a Russian GRU subversive group led by Igor Girkin (Strelok). The unit comprised of two groups of 70 and 250 heavily armed insurgents.

Igor Vsevolodovych Girkin (Strelok) is the leader of a separatist group stationed in Slaviansk, Donetsk region. It comprises some 200 trained fighters and up to 800 armed “insurgents”.

Other militant groups include the so-called “Abwehr” group of Sergei Anatoliovich Zdriliuk, located at Kramatorsk, the battalion ‘Vostok” of Alexandr Sergiovich Khodakovskyi located in Donetsk, the “Chapaev” faction of Fedir Dmytrovich Berezin, located in Donetsk, the group of Ihor Venedyktovich Plotnitski based in Luhansk and in the Luhansk region.

Commenting on the crash of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Ukrainian territory, the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy and the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso stated:

“We are shocked by the crash of the Malaysian airliner in Ukraine and the tragic loss of so many lives. Citizens from many nationalities including from the European Union have been killed.

On behalf of the European Union, we wish to convey our deepest condolences to the Prime Ministers of the Netherlands, Malaysia, to the governments of all other affected nations, and to the families of the victims.

We call for an immediate and thorough investigation into the causes of the crash. The facts and responsibilities need to be established as quickly as possible. The European Union will continue to follow this issue very closely.”

Several Ukrainian planes and helicopters have been shot down in four months of fighting in the region. Ukraine had said an An-26 was shot down on Monday and one of its Sukhoi Su-25 fighters was downed on Wednesday by an air-to-air missile - Kyiv's strongest accusation yet of direct Russian involvement, since the rebels do not appear to have access to aircraft.

Moscow has denied its forces are involved in any way.

The President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz stated:

“I was shocked and saddened to learn of the tragic crash of the Malaysian airliner which led to the death of so many people.

I send my heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and to the national authorities of the affected countries.

The circumstances which led to this crash must be thoroughly investigated and responsibility for this tragedy established. The European Union and its Member States must offer all the necessary expertise to Ukrainian and international authorities to complete the investigation.

The White House published the following statement:

“The United States is shocked by the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, and we offer our deep condolences to all those who lost loved ones on board. We continue to seek information to determine whether there were any American citizens on board.

It is critical that there be a full, credible, and unimpeded international investigation as quickly as possible. We urge all concerned – Russia, the pro-Russian separatists, and Ukraine – to support an immediate cease-fire in order to ensure safe and unfettered access to the crash site for international investigators and in order to facilitate the recovery of remains. The role of international organizations – such as the United Nations and the OSCE in Ukraine – may be particularly relevant for this effort, and we will be in touch with affected nations and our partners in these organizations in the coming hours and days to determine the best path forward. In the meantime, it is vital that no evidence be tampered with in any way and that all potential evidence and remains at the crash site are undisturbed. The United States remains prepared to contribute immediate assistance to any international investigation, including through resources provided by the NTSB and the FBI.

While we do not yet have all the facts, we do know that this incident occurred in the context of a crisis in Ukraine that is fueled by Russian support for the separatists, including through arms, materiel, and training. This incident only highlights the urgency with which we continue to urge Russia to immediately take concrete steps to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine and to support a sustainable cease-fire and path toward peace that the Ukrainian government has consistently put forward.”

The crisis in Ukraine erupted after its former President Viktor Yanukovich cancelled plans to sign trade and political pacts with the EU in November 2013 and instead sought closer ties with Russia, triggering protests that turned bloody and drove him from power.

Moscow annexed Crimea in March following a referendum staged after Russian forces established control over the Black Sea peninsula in the biggest East-West crisis since the Cold War.

Pro-Russian militants control buildings in more than ten towns in eastern Ukraine after launching their uprising on 6 April. On 11 May pro-Moscow rebels declared a resounding victory in a referendum in Donetsk and Luhansk, which the West called illegal and illegitimate.

Kyiv says Moscow has provoked the rebellion and allowed fighters and heavy weapons to cross the border with impunity. It has struggled to reassert control over the eastern frontier, recapturing border positions from rebels.

The fighting has escalated sharply in recent days after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko ordered on 1 July an assault on separatists.

>> Read: Poroshenko orders assault on separatists

Since, Ukrainian forces pushed the rebels out of their most heavily fortified bastion, the town of Slaviansk.

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