- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 10, 2001

KIEV Fragments resembling a Ukrainian missile's payload were found in the wreckage of a passenger plane shot down over the Black Sea, a Russian investigator said yesterday, but Ukraine denied that its forces shot down the aircraft.
Russian presidential aide Yevgeny Shaposhnikov, a member of a state commission investigating the disaster, said the discovery of what appeared to be missile remnants supported the theory that the Russian Tu-154 was brought down accidentally during a Ukrainian military exercise.
Sixty-six passengers and 12 crew members traveling from Tel Aviv to the Siberian town of Novosibirsk were killed in Thursday's crash. U.S. intelligence officials believed the plane was hit by a Ukrainian S-200 missile during exercises on the Crimean Peninsula along the Black Sea.
"Judging by my knowledge and personal experience, the metal balls of 7 to 8 mm in diameter found in the bodies of those killed and in the fragments of the plane's sheeting very much resemble the combat payload of the S-200 missile," Mr. Shaposhnikov said in the Black Sea town of Sochi.
"There is much material allowing us to assume that the 'missile version' will in time become the main one in investigating the reasons for the crash," he added.
The S-200, also known as SA-5, is a large surface-to-air missile built to shoot down heavy bombers flying at high altitudes. One was fired during the exercise just minutes before the plane went down.
Ukrainian defense officials, however, denied a Ukrainian missile could have brought down the plane, and presented a slide show for journalists to demonstrate.
Defense Minister Oleksandar Kuzmuk told Ukraine's parliament yesterday that an S-200 fired 10 minutes before the plane would have crossed its trajectory.
"In other words, the plane could not be caught by an illuminating ray, nor could a missile have been aimed at it," Mr. Kuzmuk said.
He said the S-200 fell into the sea two minutes before the plane disappeared from radar and the distance between the plane and the launch site was about 168 miles farther than the missile's range.
Mr. Kuzmuk also said the armed forces had observed all security measures during the exercises, closing all sea and air corridors in the training zone.
Russian investigators initially had focused on the potential of a terrorist attack. At the time, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov had asked the Pentagon to provide proof of its contention that a Ukrainian missile downed the plane. He then shifted tack, saying President Vladimir Putin considered the proof offered by Ukrainian officials inadequate.
"We don't cast doubt on the objectivity of documents submitted, but experts were not satisfied by their volume and quality," Mr. Putin said yesterday, refraining from speculation on the disaster's causes.
Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman Kostiantyn Khivrenko said Mr. Kuzmuk had ordered the navy to start searching the Black Sea for remains of the fired S-200.
"We are interested more than ever in finding the truth, whatever it may be," Kiev TV news quoted Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma as saying.

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