Davydo-Mykilske: Ukrainian forces hunted for the crew of a downed military plane on Monday after Kiev said the aircraft was "likely" shot down from Russia, ratcheting up tensions along their volatile border.
"Crew members from an AN-26 plane... That was shot down have established contact with the general staff," said a statement on the Ukrainian presidency website, without giving further details on the whereabouts of the eight people on board.
It said the transport aircraft had been flying too high to be hit by portable missile systems used by the rebels, meaning the shots had come "likely from the territory of the Russian Federation".
A spokesman for Ukraine`s National Security and Defence Council said they thought the plane was hit either by a Greyhound surface-to-missile or a projectile fired from a jet that had taken off in Russia.
An AFP crew found the wreckage of the plane strewn around a field in the rebel-controlled eastern Lugansk region close to the border with Russia and local residents said it had come down shortly after midday with some parachutes spotted in the sky.
Ukrainian military spokesmen said they had been in touch with two crew members and an AFP journalist said that charred human remains were visible amid the detritus of the crash.
Rebels claimed their fighters had shot down the craft and told Russia`s Interfax news agency they had captured four crew members and were interrogating them.
Kiev`s accusation will ramp up nerves along the porous border between the two ex-Soviet neighbours -- across which Kiev accuses Moscow of pouring fighters and weapons -- with NATO accusing Russia of upping troop numbers on the frontier from less than 1,000 to as many as 12,000.
"This is not a step in the right direction. It is a step away from de-escalating the situation," a NATO official said today.
Tensions had already soared after a shell reportedly from the Ukrainian side killed a Russian civilian yesterday.
The foreign ministry in Moscow warned that Kiev risked "irreversible consequences" and a report in respected daily Kommersant cited a source close to the Kremlin as saying Russia was weighing up "targeted retaliatory strikes" against Ukrainian positions.
President Vladimir Putin`s spokesman Dmitry Peskov however dismissed the report, telling AFP: "I don`t comment on this in any way. It`s complete nonsense."
Russia`s foreign ministry said today that it was inviting international observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to monitor the border as a "goodwill gesture".