Separatists shot down two Ukrainian fighter jets in the same eastern region where Malaysian Air Flight MH17 was destroyed, the government said.
Rebels downed two Su-25 fighters in the Donetsk region, Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksiy Dmytrashkovsky said by phone today. They were hit from a missile-defense system over the village of Dmytrivka. The pilots ejected and their whereabouts are unknown, the ministry said on Facebook.
The incident comes nearly a week after MH17 was hit by a missile that the U.S. says was probably fired from a Russian- supplied launcher. If verified, it raises the question of whether President Vladimir Putin’s military is still allowing the pro-Russian rebels access to weaponry capable of downing fighters. Insurgents also have used less advanced anti-aircraft weapons, which could be used to target low-flying planes.
“This shows the rebels have a pretty sophisticated anti- aircraft capacity,” Karl-Heinz Kamp, academic director at the German government’s Federal Academy for Security Policy in Berlin, said in a phone interview. “You need more than a bazooka to take down a fighter. And it’s one more piece of evidence on the MH17 shoot-down.”
The attacks bring the number of Ukrainian aircraft destroyed by rebels to at least 16 during the conflict, according to a count earlier this week by Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroisman.
Three days before the MH17 downing on July 17, insurgents shot down an An-26 military transport plane in eastern Ukraine with a “powerful weapon” they’d previously not used and at 6,500 meters (21,300 feet), an altitude the militants’ shoulder- fired missiles can’t reach, the Defense Ministry said. The attacks have killed at least 60 people.
The Su-25 is an armored aircraft armed with a twin barrel 30-millimeter gun that can carry air-to-ground weapons designed for destroying targets in all weather conditions day or night, according to GlobalSecurity.org. The Su-25 is comparable to the U.S. A-10 Thunderbolt, according to the website.
The Micex Index of Russian stocks erased gains after news the fighters were shot down, falling 0.6 percent in Moscow. It’s down 7 percent this year.
Meanwhile, two planes carrying bodies from flight MH17 arrived in the Netherlands from eastern Ukraine today for identification, as questions were raised over whether all the victims’ remains had been recovered from rebel-held territory. The Netherlands, which lost 193 of the 298 people who died in the July 17 downing of the Boeing Co. 777 flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, held a day of mourning.
In Kharkiv, Ukrainian soldiers conducted a brief farewell ceremony while bodies in wooden coffins were loaded into two military planes -- one Dutch and one Australian. They were met at Eindhoven airport by King Willem Alexander, Queen Maxima and Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
There were 40 coffins on the flights, according to the Dutch Defense Ministry. The transport of the remains should be completed by July 25, Hroisman said in Kharkiv.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whose country lost 27 people, said officials were unsure how many bodies had been recovered from the site near Grabovo, less than 60 miles (100 kilometers) from Russia’s border, and sent to Ukraine’s second- biggest city, Kharkiv. Officials there recommended a more thorough search.
“My fear is that unless we do more, unless we prepare for further possible measures, some will never come home,” Mr. Abbott told reporters in Canberra. “That would be completely unacceptable for bereaved families.”
While the rebels said more than 260 bodies were on the train to Kharkiv, according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Dutch experts said today they’d only inspected 200 bodies.
International anger has grown in the aftermath of the downing of Flight 17. European Union states threatened yesterday to widen sanctions against Russia, which is fending off accusations that it’s involved in the conflict.
“This shoot-down shows the separatists are pressing ahead even as the Ukrainian army advances,” Joerg Forbrig, senior program officer for central and eastern Europe at the Berlin bureau of the German Marshall Fund of the U.S., said by phone. “The rebels are clearly determined to resist and Russia is determined to help them.”
The smell of death hung over the crash site littered with burnt fuselage parts, about 300 kilometers south of Kharkiv. The perimeter was guarded by rebels as international inspectors collected evidence for the investigation.
Twelve investigators from the OSCE and three Malaysian experts took photographs and examined the crash site, OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw said by phone.
Separatists turned over to Malaysian officials the in- flight recorders, which may give clues about the flight’s last moments. The boxes will be passed to the U.K.’s Air Accident Investigations Board.
U.S. intelligence officials said yesterday satellite images and other evidence indicate the rebels attacked the jet with a surface-to-air missile from their territory.
Photographs of debris from the downed Malaysian jet show what seem to be telltale holes left by a missile strike on the, defense experts said. One image of a heavily perforated piece of fuselage that appears to come from the plane’s cockpit suggests damage from a ground-fired warhead.
“The punctures seen in the photograph are relatively uniform in size,” said Reed Foster, manager of military capabilities at IHS Jane’s. “This would potentially be consistent with a fragmentation-type warhead employed upon a number of modern and legacy surface-to-air missile systems.”
The U.S. has ruled out involvement by Ukraine’s military -- a scenario suggested by Russia -- because its missiles weren’t within range of the plane, according to three American intelligence officials who briefed reporters yesterday on the condition of anonymity. While stopping short of claiming direct involvement by Russia, none of the officials ruled it out.
Germany’s government said it had seen “no full cooperation by the separatists” in retrieving victims, clarifying the disaster’s cause, allowing unhindered access to the site, and securing the wreckage and victims’ possessions.
“The latest comments we’re hearing from Moscow also don’t indicate that the Kremlin has an interest in a comprehensive clarification,” deputy government spokesman Georg Streiter said in Berlin. “They also don’t indicate a willingness to exert influence on armed pro-Russian groups, which are partly led by long-serving members of Russian intelligence services.”
As fighting continued, three civilians died and 10 were wounded in Luhansk, according to a statement on the city council’s website.
EU governments will move toward stiffer sanctions, possibly including so-called level-three measures aimed at entire industries, if Mr. Putin refuses to abide by a United Nations resolution calling for an international probe into the disaster and unimpeded access to the crash site.
“Putin will probably dodge the EU’s bullet for some weeks,” Cliff Kupchan, an analyst at Eurasia Group in New York, wrote in a note. “Opponents of harsh measures in the EU will find their argument increasingly unsustainable. Putin will before long very probably face coordinated U.S. and EU level- three measures -- most likely in September.”