Debate is raging in the Russian media over who is to blame for the Malaysian air crash in separatist-controlled east Ukraine, with some quick to point the finger at Kiev and others taking a more cautious approach.
Tabloid Tvoi Den on Friday splashed a full-page photo of the crash scene with the line: “Donetsk People’s Republic Authorities Claim Plane Destroyed by Ukrainian Buk Missile,” an anti-aircraft system.
The pro-Kremlin newspaper quotes Donetsk rebel security council member Sergei Kavtaradze as saying “according to our information this plane was shot down by Ukrainian armed forces”.
Tvoi Den journalists were among the first at the scene, and the paper ran photos of Malaysian and Dutch passports arranged on the grass as well as graphic images of body parts.
The Izvestia daily, also pro-Kremlin, went further, reporting a rebel claim the disaster was “a planned provocation by Kiev”. It referred to eastern Ukraine as “Novorossiya” or New Russia as some separatists do.
Rebel leaders including Alexander Borodai were quoted in Izvestia as saying the rebels who control the area of the crash had no weaponry as sophisticated as the Buk.
“Judge for yourself, who could have done it? The rebels don’t have weapons that you could use to shoot down a plane at such a height but Kiev does,” added Konstantin Dolgov, the co-chairman of the “Novorossiya” people’s front.
A Ukrainian military expert, Igor Levchenko, told the Kommersant business daily Kiev did have several Buks in the conflict zone but “they definitely would not be used against such a target as a passenger liner”.
A diplomat from an unnamed NATO country told Kommersant Western officials were “leaning towards the version that the rebels shot down the plane”, citing a rebel leader’s message and announcement that they captured a Ukrainian military post with Buk missiles.
The diplomat made clear that if the rebels are proved to be behind the plane disaster, “the blame for what happened will also be placed on Russia”.
Some media questioned why a civilian plane was allowed to fly over a conflict zone.
Kommersant cited aviation sources as saying flying across eastern Ukraine was “reckless”, even at 10,000 metres, and said Ukraine should have banned all flights over the area.
“It remains unclear how a Boeing 777 came to be above a conflict zone and why air traffic controllers didn’t prevent a potentially dangerous situation,” wrote government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta.