MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin said a Russian military plane that crashed near the border with Ukraine on Wednesday was shot down by Ukrainian air defences, whether on purpose or by mistake.

Moscow accuses Kyiv of downing the Ilyushin Il-76 plane in Russia’s Belgorod region and killing 74 people on board, including 65 captured Ukrainian soldiers en route to be swapped for Russian PoWs. It has not presented proof.

Ukraine has not confirmed or denied whether it shot down the plane and has challenged Moscow’s account of who was on board and what happened.

“I don’t know if they did it on purpose or by mistake, but it is obvious that they did it,” Putin said in televised comments, his first on the crash.

Ukraine says no ‘reliable information’ on downed plane

“In any case, what happened is a crime. Either through negligence or on purpose, but in any case it is a crime.”

Ukraine disputes Russia’s assertion that it was warned in advance that a plane carrying Ukrainian prisoners of war would be flying over Russia’s southwestern Belgorod region at that time.

It has also said there were discrepancies in a list published by Russian media of the 65 Ukrainians alleged to have been on the aircraft.

Putin said the plane could not have been brought down by Russian “friendly fire” because Russia’s air defence systems have safeguards to prevent them attacking their own planes.

“There are ‘friend or foe’ systems there, and no matter how much the operator presses the button, our air defence systems would not work,” he said.

Putin said the missiles fired were mostly likely American or French, but this would be established with certainty in two to three days.

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