Short and selective summary of the incident of the two Russians captured on May 16 on Ukrainian controlled territory. As usual there is no lack of diversity in respect of interpretations.
On May 17, BBC and other media reported that two Russian soldiers were captured on Ukrainian territory. According to UAF speaker Andriy Lysenko, they were captured by the Aidar battalion in Shchastya (Luhansk region). (BBC, May 17)
The day after, Russian officials reiterated their policy that there are no regular Russian troops involved in fightings in Ukraine (Reuters, May 18). The Russian Ministry of Defense called for the release of the prisoners (and stop of torture), claiming that they are no active members of Russian armed forces anymore. (Interfax, May 18). An interview with a woman (who is said to be married with one of the prisoners) reiterated this view. (AFP/Yahoo, May 22)
On May 19, a Ukrainian security official said that “the men would be put on a ‘public’ trial and released if they confessed to being members of the Russian armed forces and that they were ordered to fight alongside the separatists.” (AFP/Yahoo, May 20) On the same day interviews with the two individuals were published. “I am an active duty officer of the Russian Federation” (including English subtitles, see here and here)
On May 20, Ukrainian officials said that the prisoners will be charged for ‘terrorist activity’. (AFP/Yahoo, May 20)
A delegation of OSCE/SMM spoke to the two in a military hospital in Kiev (without the presence of Ukrainian authorities). From their report:
One of them said he had received military education in the Russian Federation. Both individuals claimed that they were members of a unit of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. They claimed that they were on a reconnaissance mission. They were armed but had no orders to attack. Both of them said that they came under fire, got injured and were captured on 16 May 2015 at the contact line near Shchastya. One of them said he had received orders from his military unit to go to Ukraine; he was to “rotate” after three months. Both of them said they had been to Ukraine “on missions” before. (OSCE/SMM, May 21)
On May 22, the two prisoners repeated their version in a interview with a correspondent of ‘Novaya Gazeta’ (Novaya Gazeta, May 22). (edit: See here for a complete translation.) Some excerpts (UNIAN, May 22):
Q. Could you please introduce yourself and tell a little about yourself. Your name is Alexander Aleksandrov?
A. Yes, Alexander Anatolyevich. Born on January 7, 1987 in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk. Currently registered in [Russia’s] Kirov region. My parents live there. I am a citizen of the Russian Federation. I am a soldier (of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation – P.K.) on active duty. Well, I used to be.
Q. Used to be?
A. Well, as far as I know, I didn’t quit, I didn’t write any declarations [on my resignation].
Q. So you [consider yourself] an active serviceman of the Russian army?
Q. In your own opinion, what is your status here at the moment? Are you a prisoner of war or do you have some other status?
A. I wish I were a prisoner of war. This status is, well, better for me than that of a mercenary or a bandit.
Q. How have you been treated?
A. I’ve been treated properly.
Q. You are accused of terrorism.
A. I haven’t been engaged in any terrorist acts, I performed my military reconnaissance tasks. I haven’t been involved in sabotage activity.
The RF’s policy is to acknowledge the involvement of Russian ‘volunteers’, ‘vacationeers’ or ‘off duty servicemen’ in the Ukrainian conflict, but to deny that they are under the Russian chain of command. Chronology of recent events and statements made by the two prisoners contradict this version.
Since RF completely denies the two prisoners belonging to the Russian army, Ukraine has full jurisdiction over them. Depending on the charges, they face five to 15 years prison. While there is no Russian-Ukrainian consensus about the status of the prisoners, their position is obviously located between a rock and a hard place – being members of Russian forces but having no orders to fight.