Kiev, Ukraine: Social media posts by pro-Russian insurgents -- most of them hastily removed -- suggest the rebels thought they had shot down a Ukrainian army plane before realising in horror that it was in fact a packed Malaysian airliner.
The Twitter and blog messages were immediately publicised by top Kiev officials in their furious information war with the Kremlin for global opinion and the hearts and minds of ethnic Russians caught in the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.
Confirmation of separatist fighters killing 298 passengers and crew on a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur would further complicate Russian President Vladimir Putin's efforts to paint their uprising as a fight for self-determination.
Read: Malaysian airliner downed in Ukraine war zone, 298 dead
Russia's state media avoided any mention of the controversial posts and instead reported militia leaders' later charges that the Ukrainian air force had shot down the Boeing 777 liner instead.
'We downed an An-26'
According to Mashable, Igor Girkin alias Igor Strelkov wrote on his VK.com account, Russia's version of Facebook, "We did warn you — do not fly in our sky"
Thinking it was a Ukrainian transport plane, Strelkov posted “a plane has just been downed somewhere around Torez, it lays there behind the 'Progress' mine. And here is the video proving another 'bird' falling down. The bird went down behind a slagheap, not in a residential district. So no peaceful people were injured.”
"And here is a video confirming that a 'bird fell'," said the post.
The website then provides a link identical to that published by Ukrainian media in reports about the Malaysia Airlines jet.
Read: Malaysian Airlines crash: Bodies, debris scattered over miles in eastern Ukraine fields
The video shows locals referring to the same coal mine in the region mentioned by Strelkov.
The strongly pro-Kiev Ukrainska Pravda news site later posted an audio recording of what it claimed were the intercepted field communications between rebels and a Russian agent discussing the downing.
"We just downed a plane," a rebel the recording identifies as Bes (Demon) tells an alleged Russian military intelligency officer.
Another recording shows one alleged fighter reporting from the site of the plane's remains that it was "100 percent certain this is a civilian aircraft."
He spits out a Russian expletive when asked whether there were a lot of passengers on board.
'We have seized missiles'
The VK post was soon removed -- but not before its screen grab was captured and distributed in an English-language press release by the military headquarters of Kiev's eastern campaign.
The comments attributed to Strelkov did not identify what missile was used to down the craft at what Kiev said was an altitude of 10,000 metres (33,000 feet).
But a message on the official Twitter account of the Donetsk People's Republic had announced hours earlier that insurgents had seized a series of Russian-made Buk systems capable of soaring to that height.
"@dnrpress: self-propelled Buk surface-to-air missile systems have been seized by the DNR from (Ukrainian) surface-to-air missile regiment A1402," said the post.
That tweet was later deleted as well.
Putin says Kiev responsible
Ukraine's pro-Western President Petro Poroshenko quickly called the incident a "terrorist act" and said he "could not exclude" that the plane was shot down by the insurgents.
But Putin said the incident would have never have happened had Poroshenko not ripped up a brief truce agreement and "resumed military activities in southeastern Ukraine".
Both separatist leaders and Russian defence officials also took pains to implicate Poroshenko's forces and erase all memories of the insurgents' initial pronouncements about downing a Ukrainian transport plane.
Read: US believes Malaysia jet hit by surface-to-air missile - US officials
Rebel Donetsk prime minister Oleksandr Borodai told Russian media that his units did not have equipment capable of reaching the cruising altitude of a Boeing.
Borodai said it was "technically impossible" for the pro-Russian gunmen to have launched such a high-altitude strike.
And the Russian defence ministry argued that it was far more likely for the Ukrainian military to have fired the Buk missile.
"Statements by Kiev officials that such systems... were not used in air attacks arouse serious doubts," the Russian defence ministry said in a statement.
A video released on Thursday contains audio intercepted by Ukrainian Security Service of phone conversations of separatists admitting to downing the Malaysian plane.
Here is an English translation of the conversation in the video as published in Buzzfeed. The conversation is between Igor Bezler, a Russian military intelligence officer and a leading commander of the Donetsk People’s Republic.
Igor Bezler: We have just shot down a plane. Group Minera. It fell down beyond Yenakievo.
Vasili Geranin: Pilots. Where are the pilots?
IB: Gone to search for and photograph the plane. It’s smoking.
VG: How many minutes ago?
IB: About 30 minutes ago.
SBU comment: After examining the site of the plane the terrorists come to the conclusion that they have shot down a civilian plane. The next part of the conversation took place about 40 minutes later.
“Major”: These are Chernukhin folks show down the plane. From the Chernukhin check point. Those cossacks who are based in Chernukhino.
“Grek”: Yes, Major.
“Major”: The plane fell apart in the air. In the area of Petropavlovskaya mine. The first “200” (code word for dead person). We have found the first “200.” A Civilian.
“Greek”: Well, what do you have there?
“Major”: In short, it was 100 percent a passenger (civilian) aircraft.
“Greek”: Are many people there?
“Major”: Holy sh__t! The debris fell right into the yards (of homes).
“Greek”: What kind of aircraft?
“Major”: I haven’t ascertained this. I haven’t been to the main sight. I am only surveying the scene where the first bodies fell. There are the remains of internal brackets, seats, and bodies.
“Greek”: Is there anything left of the weapon?
“Major”: Absolutely nothing. Civilian items, medicinal stuff, towels, toilet paper.
“Greek”: Are there documents?
“Major”: Yes, of one Indonesian student. From a university in Thompson.
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