Ukraine rebel leader Borodai admits to Russia links

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Media captionPro-Russian rebel leader Alexander Borodai denied neglecting bodies at the scene

A leader of the pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine has told the BBC he is in regular contact with members of the Russian security services.

Alexander Borodai, prime minister of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic (DPR), said that his forces were getting support from the Russian people, but not from the state.

The rebels have been widely accused of downing flight MH17 with a missile.

All 298 people on board died when it crashed over eastern Ukraine last week.

'Fated to lead'

Mr Borodai admitted that the rebels had received support from "the whole Russian people" in their fight against the Ukrainian government.

"Volunteers are joining us," he told the Newsnight programme, describing himself as one of them - "a resident of the city of Moscow".

"It just so happened that, instead of sitting in a trench with a rifle or a machine gun, I now have the post of prime minister. Well… that's fate."

He denied that he was a member of a Russian intelligence agency, as has often been alleged.

However, he admitted to having contact with other members of the secret services in Russia - as, he said, would anyone "who has dealings with the elite of society".

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Mr Borodai has passed on MH17 flight data recorders to Malaysian officials

Bodies controversy

Pro-Russian rebels gunmen were accused of hindering access to the site to a team of monitors from the Organization for the Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

They were also criticised for failing to properly protect and store bodies at the site.

Mr Borodai denied the claims and told the BBC's Newsnight programme that international monitors had warned against moving the bodies.

"We wanted to collect the bodies from the very beginning," said Mr Borodai.

"But we were under extreme pressure from the OSCE representative, who said to us: 'I represent 57 countries. Don't you dare touch the bodies of the dead. Under no circumstances. Or else all the 57 countries of the OSCE will do this and that to you.'"

"So we wait a day. We wait a second day. A third day. Come on! Not a single expert.... Well, to leave the bodies there any longer, in 30C heat, it's absurd. It's simply inhuman. It's a scene from a horror movie."

However, an OSCE spokesman told the BBC that the organisation had not warned the rebels against moving the bodies.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The rebel leader says he came to Ukraine as a volunteer - and became leader by fate

"It is not consistent with our mandate to tell people what to do," said Michael Bociurkiw. "We're here to monitor, observe and report."

'Impudent slander'

US President Barack Obama, among others, has said that the rebels have been trying to hide the truth about the disaster.

Mr Borodai called the comments "pretty impudent slander".

"I don't want to accuse Mr Obama of anything directly, because he's probably not in full possession of the facts in question. He's simply propagating the Ukrainian propaganda machine," he said.

Mr Borodai also said international experts had been swiftly invited to the site - but were blocked by the authorities in Kiev.

"We practically yelled at the representatives of the international organisations, we were shouting: 'Come on! As quickly as possible, bring your experts, to hell with it! Why are you not bringing them?'