A deleted social media post by a separatist militia leader has led to accusations that pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine are to blame for the Malaysia Airlines crash that has left at least 295 people dead.
•Malaysia Airlines jet shot down
Igor Girkin, who also goes by the nom de guerre Strelkov, is reported to have claimed that his forces shot down a plane in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine at 5.50pm (GMT+4), shortly before reports emerged the passenger jet was missing.
"We have issued warnings not to fly in our airspace. We have video confirming. The bird fell on a waste heap. Residential areas were not hit. Civilians were not injured," he is reported to have said.
"The plane has just been taken down somewhere around Torez," he stated on VKontakte, Russia's version of Facebook. "We did warn you: do not fly in our skies."
An official statement from the Ukrainian government said: "The airplane was shot down by the Russian Buk missile system as the liner was flying at an altitude of 10,000 meters."
Girkin's original post has now been deleted from VKontakte and his subsequent posts appear to deny that the pro-Russian forces within Ukraine have the available weaponry to take down a jet at 10,000m (33,000ft).
In an analysis written for the Washington Post and available to nzherald.co.nz, Moscow writer Leonid Bershidsky argues that even if Strelkov is later absolved, eastern Ukraine is a major accident waiting to happen.
The most realistic version of events is that the rebels thought they were aiming a ground-to-air missile at a Ukrainian transport plane. The government is using such planes to drop supplies to servicemen surrounded in a rebel-held area not far from where Flight MH17 crashed.
Even if new information surfaces absolving the trigger-happy Strelkov and his men, there is no denying the fact that the conflict in eastern Ukraine is their doing. Strelkov's top cadre includes military re-enactment enthusiasts like himself who have fought in numerous local conflicts just because they like it. Strelkov's account is full of tales of the rebels' clashes with the inept, bumbling Ukrainian troops: the barely trained army, the National Guard made up of recent street-revolution activists, patriotic volunteers with little fighting experience. The area is full of angry, badly trained people and serious military hardware. The rebels recently seized the Buk ground-to-air missiles, capable of shooting down planes at high altitude, from a Ukrainian base, according to Russian state news agency Itar-Tass.
Both sides have more weapons than they know how to use. Ukraine never expected to fight a war at all, especially not with Russian nationalist fighters, apparently backed and armed by Russia. It was started by these fighters and by local insurgents unhappy about the Ukrainian nationalist government in Kiev. It is a battle of amateurs and semiprofessionals - an emotional, dirty, ad-hoc war and a major accident waiting to happen.
- The Independent, Washington Post