Ukraine war live updates: Moscow and Kyiv face off over downed POW plane amid suspicion and allegations


LVIV REGION, UKRAINE – AUGUST 3: Russian POWs are seen waiting in line to call home to Russia in a prisoner of war detention camp on August 3, 2023 in the Lviv region, Ukraine. Hundreds of captured Russian POWs including conscripts, mercenaries, Wagner militia and Storm-Z Russian prisoners are being held in up to 50 sites around Ukraine. Storm-Z is a series of penal military units established by Russia since April 2023. (Photo by Paula Bronstein /Getty Images

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Russian prisoners exchanges will continue, a senior Russian official said Thursday, despite Wednesday’s plane crash that saw 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war killed, alongside nine Russians, prompting further tension and hostility between Moscow and Kyiv.

“We cannot abandon our guys,” Tass reported the head of the State Duma Defense Committee Andrei Kartapolov as saying. He asked whether prisoner exchanges would continue following the incident.

“Therefore, we will talk even with the devil, work even with the unclean, but we need to get our guys out. We have no other choice, we will talk,” he said.

Prisoner exchanges are a thorny subject between Russia and Ukraine, although both sides have a vested interest in carrying out sporadic swaps of prisoners of war. Many prisoners remain in custody months after their initial capture.

— Holly Ellyatt

Both black boxes have been retrieved from the Russian Ilyushin-76 military transport aircraft that was shot down Wednesday, a Russian state-run news agency said Thursday.

The two black boxes, which record flight data, were found at the crash site in the Belgorod region. The technical condition is good, a representative of the emergency services told RIA Novosti.

“Both black boxes have been discovered — a flight parameters recording device and a voice recorder,” the agency was told.

RUSSIA, BELGOROD – JANUARY 24: Security measures are taken after Il-76 plane with 65 Ukrainian military prisoners on board crashed, as the entrances and exits are kept under control in the Belgorod, Russia on January 24, 2024. (Photo by Emil Leegunov/Anadolu via Getty Images)

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The unnamed source said that the flight recorders were located at the rear of the aircraft. “The discovered black boxes have been handed over to investigators,” the source said, RIA Novosti reported.

CNBC was unable to verify the information in the report.

— Holly Ellyatt

The Kremlin said it would agree to an international investigation into Wednesday’s plane crash in the Belgorod region that killed 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war — if Ukraine admitted to committing a crime in shooting the plane down.

Moscow alleges that Ukraine shot down the Russian military transport plane, an Ilyushin-76, using Western missiles. It said the plane was on its way to a prisoner exchange, which Kyiv confirmed. Six crew members and three Russian military escorts were also killed in the crash.

Ukraine has not admitted responsibility for the crash, in which all on board died, and called for an international investigation into the incident, accusing Russia of “playing” with the lives of POWs.

In this pool photograph distributed by Russian state owned agency Sputnik, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends a meeting of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Chad’s Transitional President Brice Mahamat Idriss Deby (both not pictured) at the Kremlin in Moscow on January 24, 2024.

Mikhail Metzel | AFP | Getty Images

Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov responded to Zelenskyy’s comments Thursday, saying “if he means an international investigation into the criminal actions of the Kiev regime, it is definitely needed,” news agency Interfax reported.

When asked why the plane was shot down and whether it was a deliberate act, the Kremlin spokesperson said, “You should have the phone number of President Zelenskyy’s administration. Call and ask this question.”

“The exchange of prisoners is a process that takes place in complete silence. The fact that the Ukrainians killed their POWs, their citizens, who should have been at home literally in a day, – this, of course, is a completely monstrous act. It’s beyond comprehension. How this will affect the prospects for continuing this practice [of future POW exchanges], no one can tell you,” Peskov told reporters.

Peskov said the Russian military was investigating the crash, saying it was “still unclear what happened; investigators began studying the remains of the plane only yesterday.”

— Holly Ellyatt

The head of Ukraine’s air force slammed what he described as Russian “propaganda” over the shooting down of a Russian plane transporting Ukrainian prisoners of war on Wednesday, saying Moscow was trying to discredit Ukraine.

Mykolaiv Oleshchuk, the commander of Ukraine’s air force, commented on Telegram that the plane crash had spurred Moscow into launching what he characterized as “frantic Russian propaganda … directing a fake flow of information to an external audience” that he said was aimed at “trying to discredit Ukraine in the eyes of the world community.”

“The goal is obvious they want to reduce international support for our state. It doesn’t work! Ukraine has the right to protect and destroy the means of an aggressor’s air attack,” he said in comments translated by NBC News.

RUSSIA, BELGOROD – JANUARY 24: Security measures are taken after Il-76 plane with 65 Ukrainian military prisoners on board crashed, as the entrances and exits are kept under control in the Belgorod, Russia on January 24, 2024. (Photo by Emil Leegunov/Anadolu via Getty Images)

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Russia blamed Ukraine for what it called the “barbaric” shooting down of the Russian military transport plane over the border Belgorod region, killing all 65 Ukrainian POWs on board and nine Russians. Moscow said the plane was on its way to a prisoner swap.

Ukraine has not accepted responsibility for the plane crash, suggesting Russia deliberately withheld information about the POW flight and its passengers. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Kyiv would investigate the crash and establish the “facts” around the incident.

Oleshchuk commented in his post that Kharkiv, Kherson, Dnipro, Zaporizhzhia and other front-line regions were “under fire from enemy missiles, bombs and drones every day and every night.” He said the air force was “doing everything to get the enemy both in the sky and on the ground.” More drone attacks had been repelled overnight, he said.

CNBC was unable to immediately verify the claims made by Oleshchuk and has contacted the Kremlin for comment.

— Holly Ellyatt

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Kyiv will fully investigate the circumstances around the shooting down of a Russian military transport plane allegedly carrying 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war on Wednesday.

“It is necessary to establish all clear facts. As much as possible, given that the plane crash happened on Russian territory – beyond our control,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly address yesterday.

“It is obvious that the Russians are playing with the lives of Ukrainian prisoners, with the feelings of their relatives and with the emotions of our society,” he said.

RUSSIA, BELGOROD – JANUARY 24: Security measures are taken after Il-76 plane with 65 Ukrainian military prisoners on board crashed, as the entrances and exits are kept under control in the Belgorod, Russia on January 24, 2024. (Photo by Emil Leegunov/Anadolu via Getty Images)

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“‘Facts’ is the key word now,” he added, saying he had summoned top Ukrainian military and intelligence officials to report on the plane crash. He said he then tasked them with “finding out the fate of all prisoners” and “investigating all the circumstances.”

Zelenskyy said he’d instructed the foreign ministry to inform Ukraine’s allies of the matter. “Our state will insist on an international investigation,” he said.

Russia accused Ukrainian forces of shooting down the plane with Western-provided missiles on Wednesday, saying the plane had been on its way to a prisoner exchange. Ukraine’s intelligence agency confirmed a prisoner exchange had been scheduled but did not take place.

Security measures are taken after Il-76 plane with 65 Ukrainian military prisoners on board crashed, as the entrances and exits are kept under control in the Belgorod, Russia on January 24, 2024.

Emil Leegunov | Anadolu | Getty Images

While not admitting responsibility for shooting down the plane, the agency said the “Ukrainian side was not informed about the need to ensure the safety of the airspace in the area of the city of Belgorod in a certain period of time, as was repeatedly done in the past.”

It said that it did not have “reliable and comprehensive information about who exactly was on board the plane and how many of them.”

Separately, Ukraine’s armed forces said in a statement that they would continue to “control the airspace to destroy the terrorist threat” of strikes crossing the border from Belgorod into Ukraine’s Kherson region.

— Holly Ellyatt

This photograph taken on January 23, 2024 shows a missile launched from Russia’s Belgorod region flying towards Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Vadym Bielikov | AFP | Getty Images

Ukraine’s army said Wednesday that it would continue to “control the airspace” to reduce the threat of missiles, “including in the Belgorod-Kharkiv direction,” after a Russian military transport plane crashed in the Russian border region of Belgorod.

“The Armed Forces of Ukraine take all measures to protect Ukraine and Ukrainians,” the general staff said in a statement posted to Facebook, according to an NBC translation.

It said 16 people had been killed in 19 Russian rocket attacks on the Kharkiv region, which borders Belgorod, in the last week.

It also said that it monitored the launch points of missiles and their delivery logistics, especially through military aircraft, to reduce to threat of attack.

“The recorded intensity of shelling is directly related to the increase in the number of military transport planes that have recently been heading to the Belgorod airfield. Taking this into account, the Armed Forces of Ukraine will continue to take measures to destroy means of delivery, control the airspace to destroy the terrorist threat, including in the Belgorod-Kharkiv direction,” the statement continued.

It did not specifically reference the aircraft which crashed earlier Wednesday, which Russia said was carrying 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war and nine Russians. All passengers died, Belgorod’s governor said.

— Jenni Reid

Ukraine on Wednesday suggested Russia failed to inform it of the need to create a safe airspace after a military aircraft was downed, reportedly while carrying 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war ahead of an exchange.

Ukraine’s intelligence agency said it still did not have reliable and comprehensive information about who was on board and the number of passengers.

Earlier in the day, Russia accused Ukraine of downing the aircraft, and said 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war and nine Russians were killed.

Ukraine confirmed an exchange of prisoners was scheduled for Wednesday but one did not take place.

“For its part, Ukraine has fulfilled all agreements for the preparation of the exchange. The Russian captured servicemen were delivered in time to the designated exchange point, where they were kept safe,” the Ukrainian intelligence department said in a statement.

“According to the agreements, the Russian side had to ensure the safety of our defenders. At the same time, the Ukrainian side was not informed about the need to ensure the safety of the airspace in the area of the city of Belgorod in a certain period of time, as was repeatedly done in the past.”

It also said it was not told about the number of vehicles, routes and forms of delivery of the prisoners.

“This may indicate deliberate actions by Russia aimed at creating a threat to the life and safety of prisoners,” it alleged.

Ukraine’s army separately said it had been targeting and would continue to target military aircraft crossing the border from Russia’s Belgorod into Ukrainian Kharkiv following a slew of strikes on the region.

— Jenni Reid

Russia’s Ministry of Defense released a statement on Telegram Wednesday, giving more details on the military plane crash in Belgorod in which it said 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war died, as well as nine other Russians. Ukraine has not yet publicly commented on the crash.

Here is the ministry’s statement in full:

Today at 11:15 a.m., the Kiev regime committed a terrorist act as a result of which a Russian military transport aircraft was shot down, as it was flying along the route Chkalovsky-Belgorod airfield to transport Ukrainian military personnel for exchange.

The plane was destroyed by the Ukrainian Armed Forces from the area of Liptsy, Kharkov [Kharkiv] Region, with an anti-aircraft missile system. The radar equipment of the Russian Aerospace Forces observed the launch of two Ukrainian missiles. On board the plane were six crew members, 65 Ukrainian military personnel for the exchange and three Russian military personnel accompanying them. The crew and all passengers of the plane were killed.

The Ukrainian leadership knew very well that, according to established practice, today Ukrainian military personnel would be transported by military transport aircraft to the Belgorod airfield for exchange.

According to the previously reached agreement, this event was to take place in the afternoon at the Kolotilovka checkpoint on the Russian-Ukrainian border. And, nevertheless, the Nazi Kiev regime took this step, pursuing the goal to blame Russia for the destruction of the Ukrainian military.

By committing this terrorist attack, the Ukrainian leadership has showed its true colors — it neglected the lives of its citizens. 

Russia routinely and baselessly describes the government in Kyiv as a “Nazi regime” in order to demonize its leadership and justify its invasion of Ukraine.

— Holly Ellyatt

A Russian lawmaker suggested that a Russian military transport plane carrying 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war that was shot down over the Belgorod region Wednesday was part of a two-plane convoy en route to a prisoner swap with Ukraine.

The Head of the Duma Defense Committee Andrei Kartapolov told the RBC news agency that the Ilyushin-76 military transport plane was “shot down by three Patriot or IRIS-T missiles,” that had been given to Ukraine’s armed forces by its Western allies.

That plane, he said, was followed by another Il-76 with more prisoners on board, Kartapolov said. The second plane was reportedly diverted.

“The second Il-76 plane was flying next, which was carrying about 80 more prisoners of war; they managed to turn it around,” Kartapolov said.

“The Ukrainian leadership was well aware of the impending exchange and was informed of how the prisoners would be delivered,” he said during a speech in the State Duma, according to a NBC News translation of his comments.

CNBC was unable to verify the claims.

— Holly Ellyatt



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