Rebels in conflict-wracked eastern Ukraine immediately claimed responsibility for downing the Antonov-26 but Ukrainian Defence Minister Valeriy Heletey said the rocket may have been fired from Russia.
Heletey said the plane was flying at an altitude of 6,500 metros (21,000 feet), which he said was too high to be reached with the weapons used by the separatists fighting government troops.
Ukrainian authorities say plane may have been carrying around 20 people but there was no immediate word on casualties.
Fighting intensified Monday around Luhansk as government forces stepped up efforts to disrupt rebel lines and reclaim more territory from the faltering insurgency.
One resident said panic was gripping the city.
Despite reports of military successes, however, Ukraine’s president announced he has more evidence that Russia has directly supported a separatist insurgency against his government that is dragging into its fourth month.
Ukraine accused Russia of violating its airspace, allowing weapons and fighters to cross its border to aid rebels and massing troops on the frontier.
Separatists, not Ukrainian forces, were behind artillery fire that killed one person in Russia’s Rostov region last week that President Vladimir Putin’s government has blamed on Ukraine, Defense Ministry spokesman Andriy Lysenko said today in Kiev.
Ukraine also has proof that its border guards were attacked from its neighbor’s territory and Russian helicopters and drones crossed over the international boundary, he said.
“The developments of recent days show the Russian side has taken a course of escalation,” Lysenko said.
“Pro-Russian militants used mortar fire and killed one Russian citizen. Now Russia is trying to present the shooting as an attack from the Ukrainian army. Those accusations are groundless.”
Fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists has intensified since President Petro Poroshenko called off a cease-fire July 1.
The government is trying tighten an encirclement around insurgents who retreated to the eastern cities Luhansk and Donetsk last week, as well as stop the flow of weapons and fighters across its 2,000 kilometer (1,243 miles) border with Russia.
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s U.S. and European allies are urging Russia to help stop the conflict.
In the last two weeks, the government has halved the territory held by pro-Russia separatists, who have been forced back into strongholds around the cities of Luhansk and Donetsk.
Those two mostly Russian-speaking regions have declared independence from the government in Kiev.
Russia said Ukraine fired at least seven shells into Russia yesterday, RIA Novosti reported, citing Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin.
Media reports in Moscow that Russian forces were planning strikes inside its neighbour’s borders are “nonsense,” Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Monday.
At the same time, the Rostov incident is an “escalation of the danger to our citizens on our own territory,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin told state television.
“Clearly, this won’t go unanswered.”
Putin called for a resumption of peace talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a meeting in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.
International representatives should speak as soon as possible and work toward a cease-fire, Peskov said.
“Both leaders agreed that, unfortunately, the situation in Ukraine is deteriorating,” Peskov said after the meeting.
Ukraine said Russia had increased the number of troops it has stationed across the border from Luhansk.
Yesterday a convoy of about 100 armoured vehicles was tracked entering Ukraine from Russia, Lysenko said.
He later told television Channel 5 that Ukraine had lost contact with an An-26 military transport plane carrying as many as 20 people.
“Ukraine has proof its border guard officers were attacked from Russian territory,” Lysenko said, without giving details.
“Russian border guards assisted convoys of armed militants to enter Ukraine. There is fierce fighting for control of the border.”
U.S. President Barack Obama and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said Russia needs to act immediately to de-escalate the situation, according to a White House transcription of a phone call between the two men yesterday.
Russia needs to enforce a cease-fire and halt the flow of weapons and fighters across Ukraine’s border, among other measures, Obama and Cameron said.
“So far, neither the United States nor the United Kingdom have seen progress on complying with these conditions,” the White House said in the statement.
The countries should “take further coordinated measures to impose costs on Russia if it does not take immediate steps toward de-escalation.”
Germany’s government also pressed for border controls and said that an exchange of prisoners was a prerequisite for a cease-fire, according to an e-mailed statement.
Government troops conducted five air strikes against rebel bases and transport, including on positions blockading Ukrainian troops at the air field in Luhansk, a city of about 450,000 people, Lysenko said.
The army also traded fire with insurgents inside Luhansk’s city limits, with shells hitting a school and houses, newswire 0642.com.ua reported.
“The enemy had great losses in manpower and equipment,” Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The European Union should give a “proper assessment” of illegal border crossings by military vehicles, and Ukraine should be put on the agenda of a July 16 meeting of the Council of Europe, Poroshenko said on his website yesterday after speaking with EU President Herman Van Rompuy by phone.
He demanded that all prisoners being held in Russia be released.
The yield on Ukraine’s April 2023 dollar bonds rose five basis points, or 0.05 percentage point, to 8.35% at 1:29 p.m. in Kiev.
Last week, the bonds closed at their highest since June 2013 after Standard & Poor’s raised the outlook on the country’s credit rating to stable from negative, citing a $17 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.
It kept Ukraine’s CCC ranking, eight levels below investment grade.
Russia’s Micex Index fell 0.8% to 1,487.47 and the ruble was down 0.2% against the central bank’s target euro-dollar basket.
The EU named 11 more people two days ago that it’s sanctioning for supporting the insurrection, including leaders of the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk republics.
The 28- nation bloc has blacklisted 72 people and two companies connected with the destabilization of Ukraine and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March.
The EU’s first opportunity to consider wider penalties on Russian industry, investment or trade will be at the July 16 summit.
Objections by countries such as Italy, Austria, Slovakia, France and Greece have frustrated moves toward broader sanctions, which require unanimity.
The crisis has forced tens of thousands of Ukrainians from their home, according to the United Nations.
Russia has received 30,495 requests for refugee status or temporary asylum from Ukrainians, Interfax reported today, citing Russian Federal Migration Service chief Konstantin Romodanovsky.
Ukraine expects the Russian authorities to undertake an “objective” assessment of the causes of fatal shelling in Rostov, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.