The cause of the crash was not immediately clear, though senior Russian officials, without providing evidence, said it was shot down by Ukrainian forces using either German or U.S.-made missiles.
None of the claims, either about who was aboard or about the cause, could be independently verified.
“An Il-76 plane crashed in the Belgorod region at around 11 a.m. on Jan. 24 while on a scheduled flight,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement. “It was transporting 65 captive servicemen of the Ukrainian Armed Forces to the Belgorod region for an exchange, in addition to six crew members and three accompanying people.”
One official, Andrei Kartapolov, chairman of the defense committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament, said that a second plane had narrowly escaped a similar disaster.
“There was the second Il-76 plane following which was carrying about 80 more prisoners of war. It was rerouted in time,” Kartapolov said.
“The leadership of Ukraine was well aware of the impending exchange; they were informed about how the prisoners would be delivered,” Kartapolov added. “But the Il-76 plane was shot down by three missiles from either a Patriot or an Iris-T antiaircraft missile system made in Germany.”
The speaker of the Russian parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, said lawmakers would hold their U.S. and German counterparts accountable.
“The defenseless pilots of our military transport plane who were conducting a humanitarian mission have been shot using American, German missiles,” Volodin said during a parliamentary session. “Lawmakers of these countries must realize their responsibility, where this is all leading.”