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Russian 'Slave-Labor' Soldier Charged With Desertion

Andrei Popov claims to have been held for years as a slave laborer in a brick factory.
SARATOV, Russia -- A Russian soldier who claims he spent more than a decade in forced labor has been officially charged with desertion, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

Andrei Popov went missing 11 years ago while serving his mandatory two-year military service in the Tatishchev military garrison in Russia's southwestern region of Saratov.

Popov reappeared in his native town of Yershov in mid-August saying he had been kidnapped in 2000 and held for years as a slave laborer in a brick factory in Daghestan in the North Caucasus.

He was detained on suspicion of desertion, but released several days later and sent to a local military unit to continue his military service while his case was investigated.

Saratov officials announced on October 31 that the investigation is at an end. Popov has been charged with desertion, and the case has been sent to a local court. If he is convicted of desertion, he faces up to seven years in prison.

Lidiya Sviridova, chairwoman of the Saratov branch of the Union of Soldiers' Mothers, told RFE/RL that the investigation aimed to incriminate Popov from the very beginning.

She said the investigators did everything they could to "prove that Popov is guilty, but did not investigate the case in an unbiased way."

"If the case was closed, the government should have paid Popov millions of rubles as a compensation for the wrong accusations and investigations against him, and therefore, in order to avoid that, the investigators took into consideration only the evidence that proves Popov's guilt," Sviridova said.

In accordance with Russian law, Popov will face trial 10 days after the day he was charged.

Read more in Russian here