Ukraine Defense Minister Denies Missile Shot Down Russian Plane
Ukraine's defense minister insisted Friday that it was technically impossible that the Russian airliner which exploded and crashed into the Black Sea this week was accidentally shot down by Ukrainian missiles fired during a military exercise.
Olexander Kuzmuk acknowledged that Ukraine had been carrying out military exercises, which US intelligence sources have linked to Thursday's explosion.
But he said, "All the missiles used in the exercises ... are equipped with self-destruct mechanisms" that would have prevented such an accident.
He added that the Sibir airlines Tu-154 was out of range of the missiles when the explosion sent it crashing into the sea.
But defense analysts argued that the self-destruct mechanisms may have failed to activate due to the lack of maintenance widespread in the Ukrainian military since the end of the Soviet Union a decade ago.
"The problem is that the Ukraine army uses outdated equipment which it does not have the means to modernize," said Leonid Polykov of Kiev's Razumkov Research Center.
Ukraine's defense budget for 2002 is 800 million dollars when "at least 1.2 billion dollars is needed" to keep its military hardware fully operational, analyst Valentin Badarak told AFP.
Earlier, a spokesman for Russia's Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol in southern Ukraine told AFP that the explosion was the result of a Ukrainian missile hitting the aircraft. But Russian fleet officials later denied the report.
In Washington, a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity said it was "possible that this was a tragic accident and not terrorism" and that "at the moment we believe it was shot down by the Ukrainian government."
US spy satellite imagery showed that a Ukrainian missile downed the plane, the Washington Post reported Friday quoting US defense officials -- KIEV (AFP)
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