Ukraine-Russia Crimea Standoff: Counter Strike: SBU detains Russian servicemen after a wave of Ukrainian ‘saboteur' arrests

15:07 Nov. 22, 2016

Counter Strike: SBU detains Russian servicemen after a wave of Ukrainian ‘saboteur' arrests

A Ukrainian soldier guards at a check-point in the village of Chongar in the Kherson region in southern Ukraine close to the Crimean peninsula (AP photo)

Russian Novaya Gazeta newspaper looks into the case to find out what we already know, what is unclear, and if an exchange is possible

What happened?

On Monday evening, the Russian Ministry of Defense released a statement announcing the kidnapping of its two servicemen in Crimea: a warrant officer Alexander Baranov and a junior sergeant Maksim Odintsov.

"On November 20, at about 13:00 Moscow time, members of the Ukrainian Security Service have illegally detained and spirited away from the territory of Crimea into Mykolaiv region two Russian servicemen: a warrant officer Maxim E. Odintsov and a junior sergeant of contract service Alexander V. Baranov," the report said.

The Defense Ministry stressed that it had information about the arrangements to launch criminal cases against the detainees for crimes they had committed against Ukraine. In the statement, the Ministry also mentioned the possible physical and psychological pressure on Odintsov and Baranov.

"We consider these actions of Ukrainian special services against Russian citizens as one more rude provocation, and demand their immediate return to the territory of the Russian Federation", the ministry summed up.

Read also Crimean Ukrainian: "I will be the next saboteur"

The statement was shortly followed by the SBU reaction. The agency's spokesperson Olena Hitlyanska confirmed the detention of Baranov and Odintsov, but said: they were not kidnapped and taken to the territory of Ukraine, but detained at the "Chongar" border crossing point, when they were already on Ukrainian territory.

The reason for this detention Hitlyanska substantiated by the fact that Odintsov and Baranov were previously servicemen of the Ukrainian army. Their transition to Russian military service was regarded in Ukraine as treason and betrayal of the oath of loyalty.

The video, released on Tuesday by Ukraine's SBU Security Service purports to show how the "defectors" were detained

Under Ukrainian law, treason and desertion carry a penalty of 15 and 12 years of prison, respectively.

"It is not our information"

The key discrepancy of the Russian and Ukrainian versions about Baranov and Odintsov is the circumstances of their arrival in the territory of Ukraine. Were they actually abducted or did they cross the border voluntarily?

Both variants are questionable. It is possible to cross the administrative border of Crimea and Ukraine from the peninsula having either a Ukrainian passport, or a special permit of Ukrainian migration service. Only one of the two detainees, Alexander Baranov, could have held a Ukrainian passport, since the federal law "On Military Duty and Military Service" provides the opportunity to have the second citizenship only for privates and sergeants. Warrant officer Maksim Odintsov would have had to give up his Ukrainian citizenship and hand over his passport when entering the military service in Russia.

The report about abduction of Russian servicemen in Crimea is also dubious. Here the question would be directed at the FSB border service: how could Ukrainian secret service take two Russian citizens across the border?

Novaya Gazeta applied to the FSB's public relations center to get a commentary. After hearing the question, the duty officer said: "The Ministry of Defense reported the abduction. It is not our information. "

"The Ukrainian Security Service has no real opportunity to abduct a person on the peninsula and smuggle him to Ukraine," says the former assistant to the first deputy chairman of the Crimean ‘government' Vladimir Garnachuk. "The only one theoretical loophole is Siwash Lake, but the case of the first "Ukrainian saboteurs" [arrested in August] has already shown that this place had been blocked by the Russian border service. Moreover, security checks at all the crossing points do not allow the transportation a person across the border against his will. Everyone must leave the car and undergo a thorough search. Cars are also inspected. I have no doubts that Baranov and Odintsov crossed "Chongar" border point themselves with Ukrainian passports. Yes, many of the Crimean military kept their Ukrainian passports due to a frivolous attitude of the military command to this issue."

Is exchange (im)possible?

After Russian military officers were detained by the SBU, Russia's Ministry of Defense has demanded their immediate release. Novaya Gazeta sent it a list of clarification questions including a request to name the measures taken by the ministry to release the Russians.

There has been no reply so far, it will be published upon receipt.

Meanwhile, in such cases exchange practice is the one most actively used in recent years. The detention of Russian military came amid a series of operations against "Ukrainian saboteurs." It is known that at least eight citizens of Ukraine have been arrested. Russia's FSB accuses them of intelligence gathering and preparation of acts of sabotage in Crimea.

Relatives of "saboteurs" told "Novaya Gazeta" that they would wish the exchange to happen.

"If this is the only fair way to free my father, I'd like to see him exchanged for the detained military," Ilya, the son of the "saboteur" Vladimir Dudka, told Novaya Gazeta by phone.

The same opinion is shared by Alexei - the brother of arrested Dmitry Shtyblikov.

However, even if the exchange takes place, it is unlikely to happen soon. Under international law, it can only take place within the framework of the transfer of persons in respect of whom a judgement on deprivation of liberty entered into force.

Source: Novaya Gazeta

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