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Ukraine Seeks Terrorism Charges Against Alleged Russian Soldiers

A Ukrainian military commander (right) shows a rifle seized from Russian soldiers as Colonel General Viktor Muzhenko, chief of the General Staff and commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Ukraine, looks on during a news conference in Kyiv on May 18.

Ukraine says it will level terrorism charges against two alleged Russian soldiers it says were captured fighting alongside pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) chief Valentyn Nalyvaychenko told reporters in Kyiv on May 18 that the two men would face charges of committing "terrorist crimes" and carrying out "terrorist activities."

"Criminal prosecution awaits them," Nalyvaychenko said. "Investigators are working with them."

The Ukrainian military, which has framed its battle against the rebels as an "antiterrorist operation," says the two Russian soldiers were taken prisoner in the town of Shchastya, near the front line in the Luhansk region.

The Russian Defense Ministry said that while the two men had previously served in the Russian military, they were no longer active servicemen.

"The two Russian citizens snatched by the SBU in the Lugansk region, Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev, were not active servicemen of the Russian armed forces at the time of their detention on May 17," ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in Moscow.

Russia has repeatedly denied accusations by Kyiv, Western governments, and NATO that it is providing weapons, training, and personnel to separatists in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which the United Nations says has killed more than 6,100 people since April 2014.

Russia has admitted, however, that a number of its nationals are fighting with the separatists in Ukraine's eastern Luhansk and Donetsk regions but maintains that these individuals are volunteers.

Responding to Kyiv's detention of the two alleged Russian servicemen, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on May 18 in Moscow that "there are no Russian soldiers" in eastern Ukraine.

However, he declined to comment on the specific claims made by Ukrainian officials about the two men who were allegedly captured, saying the Defense Ministry was better equipped to address the claims.

A video has emerged apparently showing one of the soldiers Ukraine claims to have captured, said to be members of Russia's elite special forces, saying during questioning that he was a sergeant from the Russian city of Tolyatti, on the Volga River.

Viktor Nikolyuk, commander of the Ukrainian Army's 92nd brigade, told reporters in Kyiv that the two men were captured over the weekend during fighting between his soldiers and special forces personnel that included more than a dozen Russian servicemen.

He said the fighting left one Ukrainian soldier dead and another wounded.

Nikolyuk said his men carried the two alleged Russian soldiers off the battlefield, provided them with medical treatment, and then questioned them.

Konashenkov, the Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, said Moscow was "counting on the reasonableness of the Ukrainian leadership and quick release of" Aleksandrov and Yerofeyev.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin, meanwhile, alleged in Brussels on May 18 that Russia tried to kill the two captured soldiers, though he declined to provide further details.

With reporting by reporting RFE/RL's Russian Service, The Guardian, AP, Reuters, and BBC
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