Captured Russian Special Forces Soldier Describes His Unit Fighting in Eastern Ukraine

Kiev claims to have captured two Russian special forces members fighting in eastern Ukraine.

A member of the Ukrainian special forces takes position at an abandoned roadblock in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 24, 2014. Ukraine's military launched an assault on the flashpoint rebel-held town of Slavyansk, sending in armoured vehicles and a helicopter, AFP journalists in the town reported. Several armoured personnel carriers drove past an abandoned rebel roadblock in flames to take up position at the entry to the town. AFP PHOTO/KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV        (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the Ukrainian special forces takes position at an abandoned roadblock in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 24, 2014. Ukraine's military launched an assault on the flashpoint rebel-held town of Slavyansk, sending in armoured vehicles and a helicopter, AFP journalists in the town reported. Several armoured personnel carriers drove past an abandoned rebel roadblock in flames to take up position at the entry to the town. AFP PHOTO/KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the Ukrainian special forces takes position at an abandoned roadblock in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 24, 2014. Ukraine's military launched an assault on the flashpoint rebel-held town of Slavyansk, sending in armoured vehicles and a helicopter, AFP journalists in the town reported. Several armoured personnel carriers drove past an abandoned rebel roadblock in flames to take up position at the entry to the town. AFP PHOTO/KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV (Photo credit should read KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)

As fighting has raged in Ukraine during the last year, Russia has steadfastly maintained that it has nothing to do with the well-armed, well-organized separatists fomenting violence in the country’s east that has claimed the lives of more than 6,100. This weekend, that facade crumbled a little further when two Russian special forces soldiers were captured following a battle near Luhansk.

In a press briefing on Monday, Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Viktor Muzhenko said that Kiev now has concrete proof of direct Russian involvement in Ukraine and that they will be inviting OSCE observers to speak with the Russian soldiers. The two men were captured after participating in a reconnaissance mission near a power plant. One Ukrainian soldier was killed in the fighting that led to their capture.

A video released online claims to show one of the two captured Russian soldiers admitting to the spying mission from a hospital bed. The soldier identified as Alexander Alexandrov and said that he is a sergeant from the central Russian city of Togliatti in the “Spetsnaz” special forces controlled by Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU.

As fighting has raged in Ukraine during the last year, Russia has steadfastly maintained that it has nothing to do with the well-armed, well-organized separatists fomenting violence in the country’s east that has claimed the lives of more than 6,100. This weekend, that facade crumbled a little further when two Russian special forces soldiers were captured following a battle near Luhansk.

In a press briefing on Monday, Chief of General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Viktor Muzhenko said that Kiev now has concrete proof of direct Russian involvement in Ukraine and that they will be inviting OSCE observers to speak with the Russian soldiers. The two men were captured after participating in a reconnaissance mission near a power plant. One Ukrainian soldier was killed in the fighting that led to their capture.

A video released online claims to show one of the two captured Russian soldiers admitting to the spying mission from a hospital bed. The soldier identified as Alexander Alexandrov and said that he is a sergeant from the central Russian city of Togliatti in the “Spetsnaz” special forces controlled by Russia’s military intelligence service, the GRU.

The full interrogation can be seen with English subtitles in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=TotTleGajV4&app=desktop

“Despite statements by the Russian leadership about the lack of Russian troops in the occupied territory, now we have undeniable evidence of their presence” Muzhenko said. Moscow has in the past only acknowledge that Russian national “volunteers” may be fighting alongside the separatists.

In a separate statement Monday, the chairman of Ukraine’s State Security Service, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, said that Kiev plans to put the two captured Russians on trial for terrorist activities. According to the Ukrainian authorities, the soldiers confessed that they were operating in a sabotage and reconnaissance unit that included 14 other members of the Russian armed forces working alongside Ukrainian separatists.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, reiterated the Kremlin’s denial of Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine on Monday. “We have said repeatedly that there are no Russian troops in Donbass,” Peskov said, referring to eastern Ukraine.

According to a Reuters report from May 10, Russian servicemen are being compelled to officially resign from the military before being deployed to Ukraine in an effort by Moscow to mask its involvement in the conflict. Similar claims about the Russian military in Ukraine were made in a recent report based on research by slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. The Nemtsov report found that more than 200 Russian personnel have been killed so far in the conflict and that the Russian military played a major role in key battles throughout the war in eastern Ukraine.

KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images

Reid Standish is an Alfa fellow and Foreign Policy’s special correspondent covering Russia and Eurasia. He was formerly an associate editor. Twitter: @reidstan

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