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Monday, 21 July 2014 | MYT 10:15 PM

Russia challenges accusations that Ukraine rebels shot down airliner

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's Defence Ministry on Monday challenged U.S. and Ukrainian accusations that pro-Russian separatists were responsible for shooting down a Malaysian airliner and said Ukrainian warplanes had flown close to the aircraft.

The ministry also rejected accusations by the United States and Kiev that Russia had supplied the separatist rebels in east Ukraine with SA-11 Buk anti-aircraft missile systems, known as "Gadfly" in NATO, "or any other weapons."

"Russian air space control systems detected a Ukrainian Air Force plane, presumably an SU-25 (fighter jet), scrambling in the direction of the Malaysian Boeing," Lieutenant-General Igor Makushev of Russia's Air Forces told a news briefing.

"The distance of the SU-25 plane from the Boeing was from 3 to 5 kilometres (2 to 3 miles)," he said.

Another officer, Lieutenant-General Andrei Kartopolov, also challenged the United States should produce any satellite images it may have to support its assertions that there had been a missile launch by the rebels.

He told the briefing "nobody (in the international community) has seen these images".

All 298 people on board the Malaysian airliner were killed when it came down in fields on Thursday.

Responding to the ministry's comments, a Ukrainian security source said Kiev stood by its information indicating the pro-Russian rebels had received a BUK-M1 (SA-11) radar-guided missile system from Russia, most likely with a crew.

"Earlier, the Ukrainian Security Service released information that militants were negotiating the delivery of Russian systems BUK," the source told Reuters.

(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Writing by Alissa de Carbonnel, Editing by Timothy Heritage)


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