Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, changed his tune from urging caution against “conspiracy theories” to asserting on Friday an Iranian missile shooting down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 “is not being ruled out.”
Members of his administration have for days suggested the possibility that an Iranian armed forces member used a Russian Tor surface-to-air missile system to shoot the plane out of the sky, but have yet to offer definitive proof. The lack of proof is partly the product of obstruction on the part of the Iranians – who have refused to hand over the plane’s black boxes and reportedly bulldozed the crash site – and of the fact that Iran only allowed Ukraine to send its investigators to the site on Thursday.
The Ukrainian flight, en route from Tehran to Kyiv in the early hours of Wednesday local time, appears to have caught fire mid-air, then crashed dramatically shortly after takeoff. All 176 people on board – mostly Iranian, Canadian, and Ukrainian citizens – died.
The crash occurred amid a rain of over a dozen ballistic missiles out of Iran onto Iraqi military bases. Iran and the Shiite government of Baghdad are nominal allies, but the Iranian authoritarian regime attacked at least two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops as a response to a U.S. airstrike eliminating Qasem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s international terrorist operations.
The Soleimani strike followed weeks of Iranian proxies, led by Soleimani, orchestrating attacks on American troops, culminating with a failed siege of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
Zelensky addressed the doomed flight in remarks Friday in which he noted he would speak to U.S. Secretary of State regarding American intelligence on the crash later that day, according to Ukraine’s UNIAN news agency, which appears to have translated a statement posted on Facebook. He emphasized that he hoped Iran would allow Ukrainian investigators full access to the crash site.
“We expect that they will be provided with all the information and access that is necessary for an objective investigation. We are ion contact with our representatives,” Zelensky said. “The missile version is not being ruled out, but it is yet to be confirmed.”
“Given the recent statements by world leaders in media, we call on all international partners – notably the governments of the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom – to share with the crash investigation team data and evidence concerning the crash,” he reportedly added. “In the afternoon, I will talk with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the progress in the probe.”
The State Department published a statement on the conversation shortly after Zelensky’s remarks.
“Secretary Michael R. Pompeo spoke today to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to express condolences for the lives lost in the crash of Ukrainian International Airlines flight 752. Secretary Pompeo offered the U.S. government’s full assistance in the ongoing investigation,” State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said. “He also reaffirmed support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and underscored our long-term strategic partnership.”
Zelensky also confirmed the call.
Had a phone call with @SecPompeo. Grateful for the condolences of the American people & valuable support of the U.S. in investigating the causes of the plane crash. Information obtained from the U.S. will assist in the investigation.
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) January 10, 2020
Zelensky’s Foreign Affairs Minister Vadym Prystaiko also said that he had received “important data” from American officials regarding the crash.
American officials have not gone on the record stating that Iran shooting down the plane is likely. Instead, several American media outlets have published anonymous comments, allegedly from American officials, stating that they have evidence indicating this is the case.
Leftist Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did tell reporters in a press conference Thursday that he believes an Iranian missile resulted in the mass homicide. He repeatedly hinted that he believed President Donald Trump was to blame for taking action against Iranian aggression.
Accepting the potential of an Iranian missile strike diverges significantly from Zelensky’s original remarks on the crash.
“Now our information space is filled with numerous theories and speculations about the tragedy. It is clear that we all want to know the truth as soon as possible. But in such cases, speed can interfere with the truth,” Zelensky said on Thursday in a national address. “We need to wait for at least the preliminary report of the investigation commission.”
The crash is “not a topic for social media hype, sensationalism or conspiracy theories,” he insisted.
Zelensky also thanked Iran on Thursday for allegedly being open to Ukraine’s questions on the flight via Twitter, confirming a conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Had a call with @HassanRouhani. Grateful to Iran for its willingness to collaborate and provide prompt access to all necessary data for Ukrainian specialists. Deep condolences to the families and relatives of all Iranians who died in the airplane crash in Tehran.
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) January 9, 2020
Ukraine Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov was the first public official to mention the possibility of a missile attack.
“A strike by a missile, possibly a Tor missile system, is among the main (theories), as information has surfaced on the internet about elements of a missile being found near the site of the crash, Danilov told reporters.
The official report from Iranian government officials states that they believe that mechanical failure caused the crash – specifically, that the plane’s engine caught fire in midair and the crew attempted to land it before it burst into flames. The report notes that, bizarrely for their theory, the crew did not attempt to communicate with air traffic control during the emergency.
UIA, the airline, has insisted repeatedly that the plane was one of their best, the crew was well-trained and rested, and that the plane had received routine maintenance on Monday, making Iran’s theory unlikely.
“There is evidence to date that the plane has gained 2,400 meters altitude, so the probability of crew error is minimal. We simply do not assume this, taking into account their experience,” Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) Vice President for Flight Operations Igor Sosnovsky said on Wednesday.