Separatists shot down two Ukrainian fighter jets in the same eastern region where Malaysian Air Flight MH17 was destroyed, the government said.
Rebels downed two SU-25 fighters in the Donetsk region, Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksiy Dmytrashkovsky said by phone today. They were hit from a rebel missile-defense system over the village of Dmytrivka. The pilots ejected and their whereabouts are unknown, the ministry said on Facebook.
The incident comes nearly a week after MH17 was hit by a missile that the U.S. says was probably fired from a Russian- supplied launcher. If verified, it raises the question of whether President Vladimir Putin’s military is still allowing the pro-Russian rebels access to weaponry capable of downing fighters. Insurgents also have used less advanced anti-aircraft weapons, which could be used to target low-flying planes.
“This shoot-down shows the separatists are pressing ahead even as the Ukrainian army advances,” Joerg Forbrig, senior program officer for central and eastern Europe at the Berlin bureau of the German Marshall Fund of the U.S., said by phone. “The rebels are clearly determined to resist and Russia is determined to help them.”
The attacks bring the number of Ukrainian aircraft destroyed by rebels to at least 16 during the conflict, according to a count earlier this week by Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroisman.
Three days before the MH17 downing on July 17, insurgents shot down an An-26 military transport in eastern Ukraine with a “powerful weapon” they’d previously not used and at 6,500 meters (21,300 feet), an altitude the militants’ shoulder-fired missiles can’t reach, the Defense Ministry said. The attacks have killed at least 60 people.
The Micex Index of Russian stocks erased gains after news the fighters were shot down, falling 0.7 percent at 5:03 p.m. in Moscow. It’s down 7 percent this year.
Meanwhile, two planes carrying bodies from flight MH17 left eastern Ukraine today for the Netherlands for identification, as questions were raised over whether all the victims’ remains had been recovered from rebel-held territory. The Netherlands, which lost 193 of the 298 people who died in the July 17 downing of the Boeing Co. 777, held a day of mourning.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, whose country lost 27 people, said officials were unsure how many bodies had been recovered from the site near Grabovo, less than 60 miles (100 kilometers) from Russia’s border, and sent to Ukraine’s second city, Kharkiv. Officials there recommended a more thorough search.
“My fear is that unless we do more, unless we prepare for further possible measures, some will never come home,” Abbott told reporters in Canberra. “That would be completely unacceptable for bereaved families in Australia and right around the world.”
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