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Saturday, 13 October, 2001, 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK
Black Sea crash prompts resignations
Wreckage of Tu-154
Russian investigators are in no doubt about the cause
The commander of Ukraine's air defence forces and his deputy have offered to resign following the crash last week of a Russian air liner in which all 78 people on board were killed.

General Volodymyr Tkachov's offer, which is still to be accepted, comes a day after Russian investigators concluded that an anti-aircraft missile had brought down the plane.

Map of plane's route
Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk said that his country's forces - which were holding exercises at the time of the crash - had been involved in the tragedy.

He offered apologies to Israel, the victims and their relatives and to the Ukrainian president for the incident. BBC Moscow correspondent Robert Parsons says this amounts to an admission, albeit a grudging one, that Ukrainian forces were responsible for the tragedy.

'Preliminary data'

On Friday Russian news agencies quoted the secretary of the Ukrainian Security Council, Yevhen Marchuk, as saying that "preliminary data" suggested the missile could have been fired during Ukrainian military exercises in Crimea.

We don't know the causes of this tragedy today, but we know that we are related to it

Ukrainian defence minister
Then on Saturday Mr Kuzmuk unexpectedly joined General Tkachov at a news conference.

"We don't know the causes of this tragedy today, but we know that we are related to it," he said.

Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said more than 350 holes had been discovered in the fragments recovered of the Tupolev-154, which was en route from Tel Aviv to Novosibirsk.

Russia's Sibir airline, which owned the aircraft, said on Friday that it would sue the Ukrainian military for millions of dollars if it was firmly established that a Ukrainian missile was responsible.

Investigating commission

The plane was en route from Israel to Novosibirsk when it crashed into the sea on 4 October.

Relatives of victims throw flowers into the Black Sea
Relatives scattered flowers at the crash site
Russia had initially focused on the possibility of a terrorist attack but the commission has ruled that out.

Ukraine initially vigorously denied US claims, based on satellite surveillance, that there was "every indication" the plane had been downed by a Ukrainian missile.

But on Wednesday Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said he would accept the results of the investigating commission "whatever they were".

On Thursday Mr Kuzmuk had himself offered to resign immediately after the disaster - but Mr Kuchma rejected it pending the results of the investigation.

Correspondents say Ukraine must fear negative international reaction - not least from Israel, where people were infuriated by Mr Kuchma's comment that mistakes happen everywhere and there have been worse tragedies.

Russia too has good cause for anger but can be expected to rein in its indignation.

President Putin has made a priority of improving relations with Ukraine, which he sees as a buffer against Nato's eastward expansion.

The BBC's James Rogers reports from Moscow
"The Defence Ministry in Kiev has repeatedly denied that it was to blame"
The BBC's Tony Morris
"There were 78 people onboard"
See also:

10 Oct 01 | Europe
Ukraine to accept crash findings
05 Oct 01 | Europe
Black Sea crash wreckage located
05 Oct 01 | Europe
Press split over Black Sea crash
13 Oct 01 | Middle East
Israel's 'Russians' fight alienation
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