KYIV, Ukraine - The United States believes Russia is putting together fabricated evidence to make it appear that Ukraine is responsible for last week’s mass killings at a Russian-controlled prison in eastern Ukraine, according to a new U.S. intelligence finding.
The finding says that Russian operatives may plant ammunition that the United States provided to Ukraine on the scene of the attack, including from the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, according to U.S. officials familiar with the finding.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an intelligence matter, which was first reported by the Associated Press.
For the last week, Ukrainian and Russian officials have traded accusations over who is responsible for a strike on the detention complex in the Russian-occupied eastern region of Donbas that killed at least 53 Ukrainian prisoners of war and injured dozens of others.
Russia’s Defense Ministry accused Ukraine of carrying out the attack using U.S.-supplied HIMARS. The ministry framed the incident as “a bloody provocation” intended to discourage Ukrainian soldiers from surrendering.
Russian media commentators suggested that Ukraine hit the facility to stop the prisoners from providing testimony to interrogators about war crimes committed by Ukrainian forces.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky angrily denounced the Kremlin’s accusations, calling the attack on the prison a “deliberate Russian war crime.”
The Ukrainian General Staff contended that Russia staged it “to cover up the torture and execution of prisoners.” It denied conducting any shelling or artillery strikes in the vicinity of Olenivka, the town where the detention center is located.
The findings from the U.S. intelligence community come as the mass casualty event receives greater international scrutiny.
On Wednesday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he will appoint a fact-finding mission to investigate the killings in response to requests from Russia and Ukraine.
After the incident happened, Russian media showed footage of a blackened warehouse with a large hole in its roof and charred bodies strewn about.
Ukrainian officials have questioned whether the incident was caused by an artillery strike. Oleksiy Arestovych, an adviser to Zelensky, tweeted that explosives specialists who examined images of the burned-out structure believe that the destruction may have been caused by an explosion or fire “inside the building itself, rather than the result of shelling.”
Three volunteer aid workers, who spent about 100 days in Olenivka, also questioned the Russian account in discussions with The Washington Post. They said the building identified by Moscow as “a detention center” was located in a separate area of the complex that had not been used to hold prisoners.
An analysis of satellite imagery of the prison by analyst Oliver Alexander supported that point.
All or most of the POWs at the detention complex were members of the Azov Regiment who had surrendered when Russian troops captured the city of Mariupol in May after a lengthy siege. The prisoners, who became folk heroes for their resistance to a brutal Russian bombardment, had been the focus of prisoner-exchange negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv.
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