A Ukrainian official on Thursday accused Russian forces of shooting down one of his nation’s warplanes the day before near their shared border, raising tensions between the two nations as Ukrainian troops continued their campaign against pro-Russia insurgents.
The accusation came amid strong criticism from Moscow of the Obama administration’s imposition Wednesday of additional sanctions on Russia over the conflict.
Andrey Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine's National Security Council, said a Russian warplane shot down the Ukrainian Su-25 jet with a missile over the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.
“On July 16 at about 19:00 Russia carried out another provocation,” Lysenko said at a briefing in Kiev. “A Russian Federation armed forces plane delivered a missile strike at a Ukraine armed forces Su-25 jet which was carrying out tasks over the territory of Ukraine.”
The Ukrainian jet crashed but the pilot ejected safely and was rescued, Lysenko said.
The charge came hours after Washington imposed new economic sanctions against Russia, accusing it of failing to deescalate the armed conflict in Ukraine's Donbass region.
President Obama said Wednesday that the new sanctions were largely aimed at punishing Russia for not preventing the flow of weapons into Ukraine to supply pro-Russia rebels seeking independence from Ukraine.
“I have repeatedly made it clear that Russia must halt the flow of weapons and fighters across the border into Ukraine,” Obama said. “I have made this clear directly to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin.”
Moscow did not respond to Ukraine's accusation of shooting down its plane but vehemently denounced the imposition of new sanctions on Thursday.
“We view the new package of sanctions against Russia as a primitive attempt at revenge for the fact that the events in Ukraine are not unfolding according to Washington's scenario,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a televised statement. “The outrageous and ungrounded desire to blame Russia for the civil war in the neighboring country, which stemmed from the deep internal crisis and has already led to numerous casualties, testifies that the United States' and their Kiev clients' strategy is to silence the people's wide-scale discontent by force.”
Lukashevich accused the White House of “inciting bloodshed” in eastern Ukraine.
“At the same time, while trying to cynically avoid responsibility and grossly distorting the facts, [Washington] once again resorted to brandishing its favorite tool — a sanctions club,” the diplomat charged.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told a government session that “the pressure on Russia cannot but affect our budget policy and its priorities,” RIA Novosti reported.
“We will have to pay more attention to defense and security spending,” Medvedev said. “We know how to do it.”
The new sanctions could deal a serious blow to the Russian economy and its military-industrial sector but were unlikely to compel the Kremlin to deescalate the conflict, Alexander Golts, a senior Russian defense expert said.
“Among the companies hit by new sanctions are not only Russian oil and gas monopolies but some stalwarts of Russian arms manufacturing such as Kalashnikov," Golts, deputy editor of the liberal Yezhednevny Zhurnal online publication, said in an interview. “Since this and other military-industrial complex companies on the new sanctions list are known to make all their international transaction in U.S. dollars, their business operations from now on will be seriously affected.”
“Putin has already made it clear that he had abandoned his plans of a direct military intervention in Ukraine and may not really understand the goal of the new sanctions,” Golts said. “I don't understand why the United States doesn't hurry to present hard evidence of the continued Russian involvement in the conflict if it has it, the way images of Soviet missiles were made public during the Caribbean [Cuban Missile] Crisis back in the early ’60s.”
News of the additional sanctions sent the Russian stock market down as much as 3% on Thursday and caused a significant drop in the value of the ruble against the dollar, Russian media reported.
The downing of the Ukrainian plane Wednesday followed a similar episode and similar charge by Kiev when a Ukrainian AN-26 military transport was shot down Monday in the Luhansk region. The plane was hit by a Russian missile, Ukraine Security Service chief Valentin Nalivaychenko said in televised remarks this week.
“The investigation is over,” Nalivaychenko said. “We have irrefutable proof which will be first reported to the president and then published.”
Two members of the transport plane's crew were taken prisoner by separatists and the fate of the other six people on board remained unknown, Vladislav Seleznev, spokesman for the government's anti-terrorist operation, told The Times.
Meanwhile, in a day of continued fighting between government forces and pro-Russia rebels, five Ukrainian military personnel were killed and 11 wounded, Lysenko said at a Thursday briefing.
Earlier this week Lysenko said 258 servicemen had been killed and 923 wounded since the beginning of the hostilities in eastern Ukraine.
Special correspondent Butenko reported from Kiev and staff writer Loiko from Moscow.