Ukraine is continuing its investigations into what happened when an Iranian missile hit a Ukrainian passenger plane on January 8, killing everyone on board. Ukraine’s Secretary of Defense Oleksiy Danilov visited Iran on February 15 in a bid to kickstart cooperation with Iran again, amid signs that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky is becoming increasingly impatient and demanding results. He has asked Iran to share the plane's black boxes and to increase their proposed compensation for victims. If Iran does not comply, Ukraine could change its approach, experts have told IranWire.
Cooperation between Iran and Ukraine was put on ice after an audio recording surfaced in early February, making headlines across Ukraine and around the world. The clip, which was aired on the Ukrainian television station 1+1, revealed that Iranian airspace officials and a pilot saw both the launch and the explosion when an Iranian missile downed Ukrainian passenger plane 752. In Ukraine, this news met with despair and put additional pressure on the government to uncover the truth and secure the victims’ families' substantial compensation.
Iran blamed Ukrainian officials for having leaked the document, and Hassan Rezaifar, the Iranian official in charge of the investigation, said Iran had consequently stopped sharing information with the Ukrainians. However, last week, Iranian officials invited the Ukrainians back to Iran to discuss the matter.
The Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine Oleksiy Danilov accepted the invitation and finished his three-day visit to Iran on February 17. While there, he, among other things, examined the crash site and held meetings with Iranian representatives.
“Mr. Danilov stated that Ukraine insists on a comprehensive and thorough investigation of all the circumstances of the catastrophe, ensuring compliance with international legal norms,” Danilov’s press secretary told IranWire in an email.
The press secretary also said that Ukraine will continue to press the Iranians for access to the plane’s black boxes and confirmed that compensation was discussed. When asked whether there had been any progress regarding compensation, he answered “fingers crossed,” but was not willing to share any more details at this point.
Ukraine Could Lose Patience
There were 176 people on board Ukrainian passenger plane 752, among them 82 Iranians and 11 Ukrainians. Ukrainian media have published extensively on the matter, including telling many of the victims’ stories. The Ukrainian public has been shocked by the fact that Iran first denied responsibility, claiming the crash was an accident caused by engine failure, before later admitting that the Revolutionary Guards’ Air Defense had shot down the plane by accident. In Ukraine, President Zelensky has pledged to uncover the truth and has been attacked by opposition media, which has criticized what they see as the president’s soft approach, apparently preferring to continue cooperation and avoiding a confrontation with Iran.
According to Aleksey Jakubin, associate professor at Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, it is likely that Zelensky will soon lose his patience with Iran.
“The purpose of this visit was to repair the relationship with Iran,” Jakubin told IranWire, “to secure a line of communication to secure compensation for the families and access to the black boxes. This meeting did secure better cooperation, but the issues of compensation are still unsolved, and Ukraine still does not have access to the black boxes.”
Several countries, including Ukraine and Canada, have frequently requested access to the plane’s black boxes, while Iranian officials repeatedly say that they will remain in Iran.
“Ukraine is now waiting, hoping that Iran will change its position. After this visit, Kyiv wants to speed up the process and have things solved,” said Jakubin, “If Iran does not change its position, the president might become impatient and put additional pressure on Iran.”
Vladimir Fesenko, chairman at the Penta Center for Applied Political Studies, shares this view. He told IranWire that Ukraine’s priority is the black boxes.
“The problem is not the exchange of intelligence, but the transfer of the black boxes to Ukraine or international organizations, and then after that in coordinating the amount of compensation to victims,” Fesenko said. “Negotiations on these issues are difficult, but they continue, which was confirmed by Danilov’s visit to Iran.”
Less Pressure from Ukrainian Opposition
While the Ukrainian president has remained diplomatic, Ukrainian officials have previously talked about the possibility of bringing the matter to the United Nations and opening a lawsuit against Iran. Andriy Yermak, one of the president’s advisors, has previously said that the Ukrainian investigation will continue until it is clear whether it was an accident.
“Zelensky may take some of these steps, but I think he will approach it a little differently. I think he will approach countries such as Canada and Great Britain, who also had citizens on the plane, and create joint pressure on Iran,” said Jakubin, “But for now, Ukraine will wait and see, because matters such as land reform and the peace negotiations with Russia occupies the president at home.”
IranWire reported earlier how the president’s political rivals had used the incident to attack Zelensky and call him weak, especially after the tape was revealed. However, since then, opposition media has been focused more on other issues and the plane crash therefore receives much less media attention in Ukraine at the moment, Jakubin said.
“It gives the possibility to wait and see, but he will not do this forever,” Jakubin said, pointing out that the Ukrainian foreign minister recently visited London, which, according to Jakubin, could be the first step towards a Ukrainian attempt to build joint pressure on Iran.
The Ukrainian president has previously said that Iran’s compensation proposal of US$80,000 per family “is not enough,” he added, saying that the president has been too vocal to let it go.
“It seems to me that this is not enough,” the president told 1+1 on Sunday, February 2. “When the wife of the deceased says that her husband was the only breadwinner, she does not have a job, and their child has to enter [expensive daycare and later college], then $80,000 is not enough. Of course, human life is not measured by any money, but we will press for higher payments.”
Ukrainian International Airlines flight PS752 departed from Tehran Airport at 6:20 on January 8. Soon after, the airline was shot down soon after by an Iranian missile. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has previously referred to the crash as “an unforgivable mistake.”