Ukraine’s state security agency has released a new video purporting to show a Russian Army officer who was detained last month in eastern Ukraine appealing to President Vladimir Putin to secure his release.
The soldier in the video was identified by the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) as Major Vladimir Starkov, who Ukrainian officials say has admitted that he was serving in Russia’s armed forces at the time of his capture.
Ukraine is likely to use the video to bolster its case that Russia is backing separatists fighting Kyiv’s forces in eastern Ukraine in the 15-month-long conflict and undermining a cease-fire deal reached in February in Minsk.
Russia has repeatedly denied its soldiers are fighting in Ukraine, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. The Kremlin has conceded that Russian citizens, including servicemen, have fought alongside the rebels but says they are volunteers operating outside of official control.
Moscow has also denied providing heavy, sophisticated weaponry that has been repeatedly seen in eastern Ukraine to separatist forces.
In the video published on August 13 on YouTube by the SBU, the man, who does not identify himself, is shown wearing a camouflage jacket and is clean-shaven except for a mustache and goatee.
Speaking Russian, he appeals directly to Putin to acknowledge his service and asks the Russian president to help free him.
"I'm not a combat officer. I am only a 'paper,' a clerical officer," he says.
"I served 19 years in the Russian Army. And now they don't acknowledge me. They're saying there's no one by that name. He didn't serve. How could they do such a thing?" he adds.
'I'm Not A Terrorist'
It was unclear when the two-minute video was made or whether the man was pressured to make the claims. SBU chief Vasyl Hrytsak told reporters earlier that Starkov had been detained on July 26 at a checkpoint outside the separatist-held city of Donetsk.
Hrytsak said on July 29 that Starkov had been charged with terrorism, an allegation denied by the man shown in a video released by the SBU on August 13.
"I'm not a terrorist. I didn't come here to kill anyone. Before my detention, I didn't put up any resistance because I knew that officially, we weren't enemies," the man says.
"I request that someone acknowledges that I'm a [Russian] soldier and helps me somehow transfer out of here," he adds.
Following Ukraine’s announcement of Starkov’s detention, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov repeated denials of Russian involvement in the conflict.
A day earlier, meanwhile, Euronews also published excerpts of an interview with a man who appears to be the same man from the SBU video. In the interview, the man -- whom Euronews also identifies as Starkov -- was quoted as describing how he was ordered to go to Ukraine.
"Senior officers gathered us in a conference room and announced that our positions would be the same as promised, but we should do our military service in Ukraine: in the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics," he was quoted as saying, using the names of the self-proclaimed separatist governments.
"It was forbidden to inform our relatives about this," Euronews quoted him as saying.
After months of relative lull, fighting has flared again in parts of eastern Ukraine, with heavy artillery reported near the strategic Azov Sea port of Mariupol.
Ukraine's government blamed separatist forces for the escalation in fighting, while the Kremlin in turn accused Kyiv of stoking the violence.
The United Nations says more 6,500 people have been killed in the conflict between Ukraine’s military armed forces the separatists in eastern Ukraine since fighting erupted there in April 2014, a month after Russia’s annexation of Ukraine's Crimea territory that a majority of UN members deemed illegitimate.
Ukraine announced earlier this year that it had captured two active Russian servicemen -- Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Aleksandr Aleksandrov -- who were fighting Kyiv’s forces in the Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine.
The two men have said they were conducting a reconnaissance mission the Russian military at the time of their capture, though Moscow claims they were not on active duty at the time.