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Kyrgyzstan: Russian Soldier's Shooting Sparks Diplomatic Row

A Russian soldier serving at a CIS counterterrorism base in Kyrgyzstan is in serious condition after what local authorities are describing as a justified shooting at the hands of a Kyrgyz policeman.

But the Russian Embassy is providing a significantly different version from the official account, and alleges that the Russian serviceman and his companions were the victims of an unprovoked attack. An embassy spokesman said Moscow will lodge a complaint with Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Ministry over the incident.

The Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office has launched an investigation and said it might allow investigators from the Russian Interior Ministry to participate.

Kyrgyz authorities say the incident began in Bishkek early on April 20, when a car that was carrying two Russian soldiers stationed at Kyrgyzstan's Kant military base and one Kyrgyz citizen ran a red light.

Kyrgyz police say the driver then failed to heed calls from traffic police to halt before Kyrgyz police finally stopped the vehicle, which was being driven by Russian soldier Maksim Zotov, in the town of Kant, some 25 kilometers from the capital. Police say the vehicle had no rear license plate and none of the vehicle's occupants was wearing a military uniform.

At a press conference, Deputy Interior Minister Temirkan Subanov gave the Kyrgyz police version of events.

Zotov "did not present his documents and started to address the traffic inspector rudely despite the fact that the inspector said, 'Give me your documents and then we can discuss this situation,'" Deputy Interior Minister Temirkan Subanov told reporters at a press conference on April 21.

Subanov suggested that the police officer fired warning shots and that the bullet that apparently pierced Zotov's spleen was fired "accidentally."

"There was a conflict -- well, not a conflict, but the inspector's demand [for Zotov's documents] was not obeyed. He started to attack the inspector, to hit him with his fists. The inspector withdrew to one side and fired shots into the air as a warning. The other two [passengers] got out of the vehicle to see what was going on. After five warning shots were fired, [Zotov] came at the inspector again and they started fighting. At that time, the inspector accidentally fired a sixth shot and [Zotov] was wounded."

According to officials, Zotov was rushed to the hospital and only there did Kyrgyz police officers discover that he was a Russian serviceman.

Russian soldiers serving at the Kant military base enjoy immunity from prosecution under Kyrgyz law, since the base is technically a CIS counterterrorism facility. A search of the vehicle reportedly uncovered a bottle of alcohol, and Kyrgyz police said the occupants appeared to be inebriated at the time of the incident.

The Russian Embassy provides a very different account of the incident.

"On April 20, 2008, at about 2 a.m. in the city of Kant, an unmarked, dark-colored Jeep obstructed a car carrying Russian servicemen from the Kant Air Base," Russian Embassy in Bishkek spokesman Viktor Kharchenko told RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service. "Four people -- three of whom were wearing police uniforms -- emerged from [the Jeep] carrying guns. Without presenting any identification documents or justification, they forced the [Russian] servicemen out of the car, put them face down on the ground, and started beating them."

Kharchenko said the attackers ignored the Russians' protests that they were servicemen from Kant and, "while the beating continued, one of the "assailants fired several shots at the Russian servicemen lying on the ground and severely wounded an air-base officer."

The embassy spokesman said the men "were then put in the car and the two vehicles [were driven] toward Bishkek." He said the serviceman with the bullet wound was given medical aid only after the Kyrgyz "attackers" left him in the hands of doctors at the Kant district hospital around 3 a.m., before disappearing without a trace.

The Russian soldier underwent surgery and was described as being in serious but stable condition.

Russia has several hundred soldiers stationed at Kant Air Base.

RFE/RL Kyrgyz Service Director Tynchtykbek Tchoroev and correspondents Jazgul Jamangulova and Burulkan Sarygulova contributed to this report