Ukraine says captured ‘Russian soldiers’ expose Kremlin lies
Kiev says alleged Russian military inteligence officers will be tried for terrorism
Colonel-general Viktor Muzhenko (left), head of armed forces in Ukraine, and a Ukrainian commander show a rifle allegedly seized from captured Russian soldiers. Photograph: Gleb Garanich/Reuters
Ukraine says it has undeniable proof that Russian soldiers are fighting in the country, after apparently capturing two intelligence officers from Moscow’s military.
They were caught on Saturday after being injured in a firefight with Ukrainian troops in partly rebel-held Luhansk province. One has admitted on video that they are from a special forces unit of Russian military intelligence, permanently based in the Volga river city of Togliatti.
Kiev officials said the men, named as Alexander Alexandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, were transferred to the Ukrainian capital on Monday and would be presented to the media on Tuesday, after continuing to receive treatment for leg and shoulder wounds.
Sabotage missionsLying in a hospital bed, the man who introduces himself on video as Sgt Alexandrov says he was part of a 14-man group conducting intelligence-gathering and sabotage missions near the government-controlled frontline town of Shchastye.
He says his unit operated in that area for four- to five-day spells before returning to their temporary base in the militant-controlled city of Luhansk; Alexandrov also lists the names and ranks of men in his unit.
Viktor Muzhenko, the head of Ukraine’s general staff, said Ukrainian soldiers had carried the injured Russians to safety while under heavy fire from enemy positions. He said this showed that Russia would rather kill its own men than allow them to serve as proof of Moscow’s military presence in Ukraine.
Viktor Nikolyuk, commander of the Ukrainian unit that captured the men, showed reporters a high-tech sniper rifle – known as a Vintorez – that he said one of the men had been carrying, and which is only used by Russian special forces.
Tried for terrorismValentin Nalyvaichenko, head of Ukraine’s security service, said the men would not be swapped for Ukrainian soldiers held captive in Russia or by the rebels, but would instead be tried for terrorism.
Since fighting started in eastern Ukraine in April last year, Ukraine and its western allies have claimed that Russia provides major support to militants in a conflict that has killed more than 6,100 people and displaced well over one million.
Kiev has presented Russian military documents from killed and wounded enemy fighters, and pictures of advanced weaponry, but the Kremlin has adamantly denied sending troops into Ukraine; when 10 Russian soldiers were caught last August in Ukraine, Moscow said they had “got lost” while on border patrol.
Reporters and activists in Russia have catalogued the unexplained deaths of dozens of soldiers who appear to have been killed in Ukraine, but officials insist that any Russians fighting in the country are volunteers who went independently.
Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has mocked Ukraine’s forces for being driven back by “former miners and tractor drivers”, but military experts say the rebels could not hold out against Ukraine’s army without help from Russia.
“We have said repeatedly that there are no Russian troops” in Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, as Luhansk’s rebels insisted the captives were local men.