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Ukraine Acknowledges Involvement in Crash of Russian Airliner - 2001-10-13

Ukraine's Defense Minister has acknowledged that his country was involved in the crash of a Russian airliner over the Black Sea earlier this month. His statement comes after earlier denials of any involvement in a crash that killed 78 people.

Defense Minster Olexsandr Kuzmuk appeared unexpectedly at a news conference Saturday to admit responsibility in the crash. Mr. Kuzmuk said the exact cause of the crash still has not been determined, but he admitted that Ukraine was involved in the disaster. He said he wanted to apologize to relatives of the victims, mostly Israeli citizens of Russian descent who were traveling from Tel Aviv to Siberia.

Russian investigators have established that an anti-aircraft missile exploded near the plane as it was flying over the Black Sea, spraying the aircraft with metal fragments. They said 350 holes from the missile's warhead have been found in pieces of plane wreckage.

Ukraine was test-firing S-200 missiles near the plane's flight path at the time.

Ukrainian officials initially denied reports from the Pentagon, where officials said a satellite had detected a plume of smoke in the area, apparently made by a missile.

As the evidence was collected, Ukrainians began to admit that they might be responsible. The commander of Ukraine's air defenses and his deputy have now offered to resign in the wake of the disaster.

Last week Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma indicated he would accept the results of the investigation. Mr. Kuchma said he hoped the tragedy would not strain relations between Russia and Ukraine. The two countries have had a series of disagreements since the fall of the Soviet Union ten years ago.

So far, Russian leaders have also been restrained in their public comments about the crash.