Ukraine Air Force jet downed by Russian missile

This comes as Moscow denounced as “blackmail” the latest US and EU-bolstered sanctions against Russia over its alleged support of separatists in Ukraine.

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KIEV/MOSCOW // An Air Force fighter jet has been shot down by an air-to-air missile fired from a Russian plane, Ukraine’s Security Council said on Thursday.

Andrei Lysenko, spokesman for the council, also said Ukrainian troops had been fired upon by missiles from a village just inside Russia.

This comes as Moscow denounced as “blackmail” the latest US and EU-bolstered sanctions against Russia over its alleged support of separatists in Ukraine.

US president Barack Obama in sanctions imposed on Wednesday took his first direct swipe at the Russian economy’s finance, military and energy sectors, further escalating the worst standoff between the Kremlin and the West since the Cold War.

Officials in Kiev have recently accused Russia’s armed forces of being directly implicated in attacks on Ukrainian troops battling an insurgency near the border.

Mr Lysenko said that the pilot of the first Sukhoi-25 jet that was hit on Wednesday evening was forced to bail out after his jet was shot down. He provided no further details.

The defence ministry said the second jet was hit by a portable surface-to-air missile, but added the pilot was unscathed and managed to land his plane safely.

Pro-Russia rebels, meanwhile, claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s strikes on two Ukrainian Sukhoi-25 jets.

Moscow denies Western charges that it is supporting the separatists in Ukraine or sowing unrest in its neighbour.

In response to the sanctions, the Russian foreign ministry issued a statement saying, “We do not intend to tolerate blackmail and reserve the right to take retaliatory measures” against the US.

Russian president Vladimir Putin earlier warned that sanctions would inflict “very serious damage” on the already tattered US-Russia relationship.

“Without any doubt in this case [sanctions] are driving Russian-US relations towards a deadend, [and] are inflicting very serious damage on them,” Mr Putin said.

“And I am convinced that this will harm the national long-term interests of the American state, the American people,” he said.

US sanctions like the ones imposed “have never put anyone on their knees,” added Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, predicting a “rise of anti-American attitudes”.

Moscow gave a milder response to EU sanctions, with the foreign ministry saying it had “submitted to blackmail from the American administration” and should have “its own voice”.

Ukraine hailed the tougher sanctions, with Western-backed President Petro Poroshenko saying he welcomed the EU moves that involve the European Investment Bank and European Bank of Reconstruction and Development halting finance for projects in Russia.

“The European Council has taken an important step to support the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine,” Mr Poroshenko said on his Facebook page.

Ukrainian prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk praised the measures from Washington for showing “the unity of the US and EU in their dedication to the values of democracy and promotion of peace and support for Ukraine”.

“Russia will pay for starting a war against Ukraine,” Mr Yatsenyuk said at a government meeting.

Western leaders say the punitive measures are designed to pressure Moscow into forcing the rebels to end their three-month insurgency that has claimed more than 600 lives.

* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse