Day 700: Russian IL-76 military transport plane crashes in border region of Belgorod. Here’s what is known

A Russian IL-76 military transport plane crashes in border region of Belgorod, here’s what is known about what happened. Ukrainian Prime Minister Shmyhal says his meeting with Slovakia’s Fico yields positive results.

Russian IL-76 military transport plane crashes in border region of Belgorod. Here’s what is known

A Russian IL-76 military transport aircraft crashed in Russia’s Belgorod region on Wednesday, Russian sources said.

The Ukrainian Armed Forces confirmed the fact of the plane crash. Ukrainian news outlet Ukrainska Pravda said, citing sources in Ukraine’s General Staff that the plane could have been carrying missiles for the S-300 air defense system.

The Russian defense ministry said the plane was carrying 65 captured Ukrainian soldiers to a prisoner exchange. Six Russian crew members and three Russian soldiers had been on the plane, it added. 

Russian media quoted head of Russian Parliament’s defense committee, Andrey Kartapolov as saying that dozens of Ukrainian war prisoners were aboard the plane, being flown to Belgorod ahead of a prisoner swap. He also said a second military plane, also an IL-76, was carrying an additional 80 prisoners of war, which was diverted. Ukrainian Parliament Commissioner for Human Rights, Dmytro Lubinets said he was working to clarify details of the incident.

A Ukrainian defense intelligence official confirmed that a prisoner of war exchange with Russia had been due to take place on Wednesday. “I can state that the exchange planned for today is not happening at the moment,” Andriy Yusov, a representative of the Main Intelligence Department of Ukraine’s Defense Ministry, told Radio Liberty.

In a statement that followed later that day, Ukraine’s defense intelligence said the swap was planned for Wednesday. It stressed it had no reliable information about who was on board.

Ukraine has fulfilled all agreements for a swap and took Russian war prisoners to a safe place where they waited for the exchange. It was Russia’s responsibility “to ensure the safety of our defenders under the agreements that had been reached,” Ukraine’s defense intelligence said in the statement.

On this occasion it said it had not been informed that the airspace had to be safeguarded “at the defined time, which is something that had happened on numerous occasions before”.

Russia gave Ukraine no information of how the prisoners will be taken to the site, including the type of vehicles or routes.

“This can point to Russia’s deliberate actions aimed at putting the lives and safety of the prisoners of war under threat,” it added.

Landing a transport aircraft in the 30-kilometer area from a combat zone cannot be safe and should be subject to discussion, otherwise it endangers the exchange of prisoners, the statement reads. 

Ukraine’s military command said it regarded Russian military aircraft approaching Belgorod as legitimate targets. In a statement on Wednesday, the General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said recent attacks on the city of Kharkiv, which lies close to the Russian border, are being facilitated by Russian cargo planes bringing weapons close to the border.

“The recorded intensity of the shelling is directly related to the increase in the number of military transport aircraft that have recently been heading to the Belgorod airfield,” the statement said.

“With this in mind, the Armed Forces of Ukraine will continue to take measures to destroy delivery means and control the airspace to eliminate the terrorist threat, including on the Belgorod-Kharkiv direction.”

Ukraine PM Shmyhal says meeting with Slovakia’s Fico yields positive results

Ukraine has reached some agreements with Slovakia, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Wednesday following a meeting with Slovak Prime Minister, Robert Fico in the city of Uzhhorod, near the Slovak border. 

Shmyhal said in a statement that Fico had pledged not to stop Slovak companies from supplying weapons to Ukraine. Slovak companies will also send engineering equipment to Ukraine to help build its defensive fortifications. Slovakia will support EU’s Ukraine Facility program, a EUR 50 billion support package for Ukraine. Bratislava will also back Kyiv’s EU membership bid, the Ukrainian prime minister said. 

“Ukraine and Slovakia will continue fruitful cooperation for security and prosperity of our countries. I am grateful to the Slovak people for their support to Ukraine and Ukrainians in these challenging times,” Shmyhal said.

Fico’s promises in Ukraine stand in stark contrast with provocative comments he made in recent days. Thus, he called on Kyiv to cede territory to Russia to bring the war to an end and.

On Tuesday, Fico went even further, by suggesting there was no war happening in Kyiv at all. “Life is perfectly normal there,” he said. Fico’s unfounded claim coincided with a wave of Russian missile attacks on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities.