Russia has accused Ukraine of shooting down a Russian military transport plane near the border with Ukraine, killing all 74 people on board, including 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war who were being transferred for a prisoner exchange.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Wednesday to discuss the incident, which he described as a “terrorist attack” and a “criminal act” by Ukraine.
Lavrov said the plane was targeted by a Ukrainian air defense missile from the Kharkiv region, and demanded that Ukraine explain how the plane went down. He also repeated Russia’s claims that Ukraine was responsible for the Bucha massacre, in which hundreds of Ukrainian civilians were killed by Russian troops in March 2022.
Ukraine denied any involvement in the plane crash, and said Russia had not informed it about the need to ensure the safety of the airspace in the area, as it had done in previous prisoner swaps. Ukraine’s military intelligence said Russia’s accusations could be a “planned action to destabilize the situation in Ukraine and weaken international support for our state.”
The UN Security Council meeting was scheduled for 3 p.m. ET (2000 GMT) on Wednesday. The United States, France, and Britain, which are permanent members of the council, expressed their condolences to the families of the victims and urged restraint and dialogue between Russia and Ukraine.
The plane crash was the latest escalation in the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which began in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and supported separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. The war has claimed more than 13,000 lives and displaced millions of people.
In December 2023, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany met in Paris for the first time in three years to revive the stalled peace process. They agreed to implement a ceasefire, exchange prisoners, and hold local elections in the rebel-held areas. However, the implementation of the agreements has been slow and marred by violations and mistrust.
The prisoner exchange was one of the few confidence-building measures that had been carried out between the two sides. Since 2017, more than 1,000 prisoners have been swapped, including high-profile figures such as Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and Russian journalist Kirill Vyshinsky.
The fate of the 65 Ukrainian prisoners who were on board the plane remains unclear. According to some reports, they were members of the Ukrainian armed forces and volunteers who had been captured by Russian-backed rebels in the Donbas region. Some of them had been held for years and were suffering from poor health and torture.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which had facilitated the prisoner exchange, said it was “deeply saddened” by the plane crash and called for respect for the dignity of the victims and their families. The ICRC also urged the parties to the conflict to abide by the humanitarian principles and the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit the mistreatment of prisoners of war and the targeting of civilian objects.