On January 24, 2024, a Russian Ilyushin-76 military transport plane crashed in the southern Belgorod region, bordering Ukraine. The details surrounding the crash are controversial, with conflicting reports from Russian and Ukrainian sources.
Russia’s Ministry of Defence said that the plane was carrying 65 captured Ukrainian military personnel, destined for a prisoner exchange in the Belgorod region.
The total number on board, including six crew members and three escorts, reached 74. The ministry stated that the plane crashed during a routine flight, resulting in the demise of all individuals on board.
Ukrainian outlets reported that the Il-76 might have been downed by Ukrainian forces, with the aircraft carrying S-300 anti-aircraft missiles instead of prisoners of war.
These reports were later retracted, creating confusion about the nature of the incident. The Ukrainian Defence Ministry is still in the process of clarifying information, addressing caution against spreading unverified details.
Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, accused Kyiv of shooting down the plane, claiming that Western missiles were responsible for the incident.
Andrei Kartapolov, chairman of Russia’s parliamentary defence committee, alleged that three air defence missiles, possibly supplied by Western allies to Ukraine, downed the plane.
The Russian government has called for an investigation into the incident, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledging awareness of the crash but refraining from providing detailed information.
The Belgorod regional governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, confirmed the crash and stated that an investigative team and emergency services were on the scene.
Russian authorities claim that the plane was part of a scheduled exchange involving 192 prisoners from each side.
However, Ukrainian sources suggested that the plane might have been transporting missiles for the S-300 air defence system, questioning the prisoner exchange claim.
The crash comes during the Russia-Ukraine war, which will mark its two-year anniversary in the coming month.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has challenges, with the failure to establish air superiority despite advanced military capabilities.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) recently said Russia’s reliance on non-strategic nuclear weapons as a deterrent against NATO.
The Ukrainian government’s body in charge of prisoners of war warned of Russia’s special information operations planned at destabilizing Ukrainian society.
Russian parliamentary figures, including Andrei Kartapolov, accused Ukraine of shooting down the plane carrying prisoners and addressed that there would be no further talk of prisoner exchanges.
Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov acknowledged the crash but refrained from providing detailed information.
Meanwhile, a nationwide air raid alert was briefly in place across Ukraine shortly after news of the Il-76 crash emerged.
The Ilyushin Il-76, a heavy-lift military transport aircraft, is designed to airlift troops, cargo, and military equipment.
The aging nature of Russia’s Il-76 fleet contrasts with the modern platforms operated by other countries, such as the C-17 Globemaster III and C-130J Hercules.