Transcript: Borodai defends Ukraine rebels over MH17

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionPro-Russian rebel leader Alexander Borodai denied neglecting bodies at the scene

Rebels in east Ukraine continue to deny that they brought down Flight MH17. Alexander Borodai, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, spoke to BBC Newsnight's Gabriel Gatehouse at rebel headquarters in the city of Donetsk.

Our correspondent began by asking if the rebels had, as alleged, tampered with evidence at the crash site in an attempt, as US Barack Obama said, to hide the truth.

A: "That's pretty impudent slander, to be honest. 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 being fed by the Ukrainian propaganda machine."

Q: "Nevertheless, for several days, international inspectors did not have access to the crash site."

A: "That's a lie. How did they not have access? Excuse me. We invited the international experts and waited for them to arrive. But Kiev was blocking them at every turn. Kiev quite obviously didn't want anyone to come. Through all possible channels I personally, and all other members of our government, called on, insisted, practically yelled at the representatives of the international organisations. We were shouting: 'Come as quickly as possible and bring your experts, damn it! Why are you not bringing them?'"

Q: "Maybe they were afraid?"

A: "Maybe they were afraid but that means that the Kiev side intimidated them because, for our part, we immediately announced that we'd provide all possible guarantees of safety. But obviously, when they start asking how those guarantees can be 100% - well, how can there be 100% guarantees of safety in a country at war? It's absurd. You can see that yourself."

Q: What do you say to the accusation that your forces just allowed the bodies to decompose in the summer heat?

A: "We wanted to collect the bodies from the very beginning but we were under extreme pressure from the OSCE [Organisation for Security Organisation in Europe] 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. This is terrible. You need to wait for the experts.' So we wait a day. We wait a second day. A third day. Come on! Not a single expert. We say: 'Where are you, dear experts? Where are you? Where is the international community? Why is it not coming here?' They're just sitting in Kiev. Well to leave the bodies there any longer, in 30-degree heat is absurd. It's simply inhuman. It's a scene from a horror movie."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption OSCE monitors, journalists and rebel fighters stand near recovered MH17 bodies in east Ukraine on 19 July

Q: How great is the Ukrainian military pressure on your forces now?

A: "We have indeed retreated from several towns. It was a forced retreat, but a tactical retreat, which allows us to pull back our front line and concentrate our forces. Yes, we admit it honestly, the size of our force does not compare to the mobilised forces of the Ukrainian army, whose ranks are swelled by huge numbers of mercenaries from many different countries.''

Q: "You're also getting reinforcements from different countries: weapons and mercenaries."

A: "No, we're getting trophy weapons, I assure you. In large quantities. By trophy weapons, I mean those we take from the enemy. There were Ukrainian military bases here, army bases or interior ministry bases, and so when those bases surrendered, we acquired weapons, armoured vehicles etc."

Q: "Buk missile launchers?"

A: "No we didn't get a Buk. There were no Buks in this area."

Q: "What about the photographs of that Buk, apparently in the town of Torez, in Snizhne?"

A: "I don't know about those photographs. You're talking about an information war here. You yourself can see that these photographs are the fruits of… I don't want to say Photoshop, but maybe some kind of more advanced programme."

Q: "So they're fake?"

A: "Of course they're fake."

Q: "Can I ask you about Russia? Are you getting enough support from Russia?"

A: "We are getting support from the Russian people."

Q: "What about the Russian state?"

A: "We are getting support from the whole Russian people. Volunteers are joining us. In fact, I am part of that help from the Russian people. Help for the Donbas [ie the Donets Basin] from the Russian people. Let me remind you, I myself am from Moscow. I am Russian. A citizen of Russia, and a resident of the city of Moscow. I am not from the Donbas, not at all. I came here as a volunteer. It just so happened that, instead of sitting in a trench with a rifle or a machine-gun, I'm now in the prime minister's chair. Well… that's fate."

Q: "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the FSB [Federal Security Service] or other Russian intelligence agencies?"

A: "No I am not now nor have I been."

Q: "Never?"

A: "No."

Q: "Have you had contacts with representative of such organisations?"

A: "Of course I have many acquaintances in the security services. I am a professional political scientist. I know many politicians, many businessmen, and of course people who work for the security services."

Image copyright AP
Image caption Rebel commander Strelkov, flanked by guards, in Donetsk on 11 July

Q: "How often are you in contact with them?"

A: "It varies. You know."

Q: "When was the last time?"

A: "I have one very good acquaintance who is a member of the security services, albeit an ex-member. That is Colonel Strelkov - also a Muscovite by the way - who is the defence minister of the Donetsk People's Republic. He's a former security service agent and my good acquaintance. He was my good friend even when he was a serving member of the security services. We have known each other for 20 years at least. So what?"

Q: "So when people say you have links to the FSB, that's true?"

A: "As anyone would have, who has dealings with the elite of society. Because the elite, in Russia as in any other society, includes representatives from business as well as representatives from different branches of the state."

Q: "Through these contacts, the Russian state can influence your actions."

A: "Purely theoretically, of course it can. Right. But it doesn't."

Q: "Why not?"

A: "Ask the Russian state."