Ukrainian rebels had an anti-aircraft missile of the type Washington says was used to shoot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 and it could have come from Russia, Reuters reported Thursday.
Alexander Khodakovsky, commander of the Vostok battalion, said the BUK missile system could have been sent back after the incident to eliminate proof of its presence.
The separatists’ main group, the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk, has denied having had such weapon.
The crash, which 298 people on board, continues to fire debate over who shot down the passenger aircraft over eastern Ukraine where government forces are fighting the pro-Russian rebels.
Khodakovsky blamed the authorities in Kiev for provoking what may have been the missile strike that destroyed the doomed airliner, government forces had deliberately launched air strikes in the area, knowing the missiles were in place, the report said.
“I knew that a BUK came from Luhansk. At the time I was told that a BUK from Luhansk was coming under the flag of the LNR,” he said, referring to the Luhansk People’s Republic, the main rebel group operating in Luhansk, one of two rebel provinces along with Donetsk.
“The question is this: Ukraine received timely evidence that the volunteers have this technology, through the fault of Russia. It not only did nothing to protect security, but provoked the use of this type of weapon against a plane that was flying with peaceful civilians,” he said.
Eileen Lainez, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said Khodakovsky’s remarks confirmed what Washington had been saying — that Russian-backed separatists have received arms, training and support from Russia.
But she dismissed the rebel leader’s efforts to blame the Kiev government for the downing of the airliner, calling it “another attempt to try to muddy the water and move the focus from facts”.
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