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Dueling Indictments As Russia, Ukraine Target Each Other's Military Leaders

A composite photo of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (left) and his Ukrainian counterpart Stepan Poltorak
A composite photo of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu (left) and his Ukrainian counterpart Stepan Poltorak

Russia and Ukraine traded salvos this week with dueling criminal investigations against each other's top military brass, a new front in the ongoing conflict between the two countries.

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko launched the opening legal hand grenade on August 22, announcing a probe into Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and 19 other Russian military and civilian officials.

Lutsenko said the officials are suspected of "committing especially serious crimes against the foundations of Ukraine's national and civil security, peace, and international law and order," adding that Kyiv plans to seek international warrants for their arrests.

Not be outdone, Russia's Investigative Committee returned fire on August 24, saying that a criminal investigation had been opened into Shoigu's Ukrainian counterpart, Stepan Poltorak, and other military officials.

They are accused of war crimes and violations of a 2015 cease-fire in the eastern Ukrainian region known as the Donbas, according to a statement from the agency, Russia's top investigative body.

Fighting in parts of the Donbas has surged in recent weeks, with Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists exchanging mortar, artillery, and gunfire. Tensions there spiked earlier this month after Moscow said it had detained a group of Ukrainian saboteurs in Crimea, and large columns of military equipment were seen moving around the Ukrainian peninsula, which Russia seized and annexed in 2014.

Kyiv rejects Russian accusations of "provocations" in Crimea and war-torn eastern Ukraine.

The likelihood of either country putting the accused top officials on trial is virtually nil, though both nations allow for trials in absentia.

A lawmaker in Russia's upper house of parliament, meanwhile, suggested one way to further tweak Kyiv: by staging criminal proceedings against Ukrainian officials in areas of the Donbas territory controlled by separatist forces.

More than 9,500 people have been killed in the fighting, according to international observers, and tens of thousands have been displaced.

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