MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia on Monday said its flight records show a Ukrainian fighter jet was flying close to the Malaysian passenger airliner just before it crashed and that Kiev was operating radar stations used for missile systems.
Moscow also denied supplying Ukrainian separatists with Buk missile systems or any other weapons, as it sought to head off international accusations it was responsible for the downing of the Malaysian plane with 298 people on board.
Armed with a number of slides, charts and images, two high-ranking officials of Russia's General Staff laid out a case against Ukraine at a specially called briefing.
Lieutenant-General Andrei Kartopolov said the Malaysian plane strayed north of its planned route, adding that a Ukrainian SU-25 fighter jet, which is typically equipped with air-to-air missiles, had been recorded in the proximity of the Boeing 777.
The Malaysian plane "deviated from its route to the North ... The maximum deviation was 14 kilometres," he said. "An altitude gain was recorded for a Ukrainian armed forces plane," he told the briefing. "Its distance from the Malaysian Boeing was three to five kilometres (two to three miles)," he said, noting that the SU-25 is capable of reaching a height of 10,000 metres "for a brief time." "With what aim was a military plane flying along a civilian aviation route practically at the same time and at the same flight level as a passenger liner?" said Kartopolov. "We would like to receive an answer to this question."
He also said that the Russian defence ministry detected unusual activity from radar stations that are used to operate missile systems on the day of the tragedy. "From July 17 (Thursday) the intensity of the operation of Ukrainian radar stations increased to the maximum," said Kartopolov.
He said seven radar stations were operating close to the area of the disaster on Tuesday, eight on Wednesday and nine on the day of the crash, Thursday. After the crash, just four radar stations were operating in the area on Friday and just two on Saturday, he added, citing data.
Kartopolov insisted Russia had not supplied Ukrainian separatists with Buk missile systems or any other weapons. "I want to stress that Russia did not give the rebels Buk missile systems or any other kinds of weapons or military hardware," he told reporters.