In an exclusive interview with Reuters news agency, pro-Russian separatist commander Aleksandr Khodakovsky has admitted the separatists had the type of antiaircraft missiles Washington says were used to shoot down a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine.
Khodakovsky, the commander of the Vostok Battalion, told Reuters, "I knew that a Buk came from Luhansk."
The Buk is the missile defense system that is suspected of bringing down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 on July 17.
Khodakovsky subsequently denied making the comments.
Prior to the crash of MH17, separatist commanders in eastern Ukraine had claimed they possessed the missile system but after the Malaysian plane was brought down denied having it.
Khodakovsky continued that he heard the Buk was coming "from Luhansk, under the flag of the LNR," or the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic.
"I found out about it at exactly the moment that I found out that this [MH17] tragedy had taken place," he added. "They probably sent it [the Buk system] back in order to remove the proof of its presence."
But Khodakovsky said the blame still rested with the government in Kyiv.
LISTEN: Donetsk rebel commander admits having Buk missiles.
Khodakovsky said the Ukrainian government knew about the Buk system's presence in separatist-held territory and "did nothing to protect security, but provoked the use of this type of weapon against a plane that was flying with peaceful civilians."
He said the Ukrainian government knew it would be deployed in the area and "provoked the use of this Buk by starting an air strike on a target they didn't need, that their planes hadn't touched for a week."
Khodakovsky said that just before the Malaysian airliner flew over eastern Ukraine, government warplanes were "intensively flying, and exactly at the moment of the shooting, at the moment the civilian plane flew overhead, they launched air strikes."
Khodakovsky concluded that "even if there was a Buk, and even if the Buk was used, Ukraine did everything to ensure that a civilian aircraft was shot down."
U.S. intelligence officials have said the separatists were likely responsible for shooting down Flight MH17 but were probably unaware they were shooting at a civilian plane.
Based on reporting by Reuters