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Military intelligence: Senior Russian officials were supposed to be on Il-76 flight but did not board

by Elsa Court and The Kyiv Independent news desk January 25, 2024 3:49 PM 2 min read
Illustrative photo of an Ilyushin Il-76 transport aircraft at the Chkalovsky Military Airport outside Moscow, Russia, on March 22, 2020. (Russian Ministry of Defense / Alexey Ereshko / Handout / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
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High-ranking Russian officials were supposed to be on board the Il-76 aircraft that crashed in Belogorod Oblast on Jan. 24, but the Federal Security Service (FSB) did not allow them to board at "the last moment," Andrii Yusov, Ukraine's military intelligence spokesperson, told RFE/RL on Jan. 25.

The  Il-76 transport plane crashed in Russia's Belgorod Oblast on Jan. 24, allegedly killing everyone on board. Russia's Defense Ministry then claimed that 65 Ukrainian POWs had been on the plane due to a scheduled prisoner exchange later that day.

Ukraine's military intelligence agency did not confirm whether prisoners were on the plane, nor commented on what might have caused the crash, but said a prisoner exchange had been planned for that day.

According to Yusov, Ukrainian intelligence suggests that several senior military and political officials should have been on board but were instead told by the FSB to use other modes of transport.

Yusov said that this information became known to Ukrainian intelligence after the plane crashed.

Following the crash, the FSB and the Russian military did not allow emergency workers to inspect the crash site as per protocol, Yusov said.  

According to Yusov, five bodies were sent to the local morgue in Belgorod, and no human remains are visible on videos from the crash site.

Russia claimed that 65 Ukrainian POWs, six crew members, and three accompanying people were on board.

Chief Ombudsman Dmytro Lubinets also said on air on Jan. 25 that photos and videos from the site do not indicate "any signs that there were such a large number of people on the plane."

"I'm not an expert, but if there were even photos and videos of our prisoners of war, (Russia) would have already posted it," Lubinets said, referring to the photographic evidence of the crash site.

Yusov said the names of the senior officials who were supposed to be on board "are known and will be revealed," as Ukraine intends to provide its findings to international investigators.

Lubinets said he will appeal to the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross for help find out what happened, following President Volodymyr Zelensky's announcement on the evening of Jan. 24 that Ukraine will insist on an international investigation into the crash.

Air Force on Il-76 crash: Russia seeks to discredit Ukraine
“During the Jan. 24, 2024, massive Russian propaganda targets external audiences with a flow of fake news in an attempt to discredit Ukraine in front of the international community,” Air Force Commander Mykola Oleshchuk wrote on his Telegram channel.

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