Ukraine denies rebel claim of swap plan to free ‘Russian troops’

Russia admits two captives were soldiers, but but says they had left military

Ukraine has denied it is preparing a prisoner swap that would see two alleged Russian special forces soldiers return home, after a separatist leader in eastern Ukraine said he and a Kiev envoy were seeking ways to free the pair.

"Now the question of a swap is being looked at, and they are included as a top priority," said Igor Plotnitsky, rebel leader in the Luhansk region, where the Russians were injured in a firefight and captured by Ukrainian troops on Saturday.

“On Monday and Sunday we worked on this issue, including with [Viktor] Medvedchuk. I think in the near future we’ll resolve this issue,” Mr Plotnitsky added.

Mr Medvedchuk is a Ukrainian businessman and politician with close ties to Russia, who has represented Kiev in talks with the rebels. He is a good friend of Russia's president Vladimir Putin, who is godfather to his daughter.


Luhansk rebels claimed the two men captured were local militia members, despite their detailed admission on video that they were special forces officers from Russian military intelligence, based in the Volga river city of Togliatti.

Over 6,000 dead

Ukraine says their capture gives the lie to Mr Putin’s claim that his forces are not helping rebels in the east, where more than 6,100 people have been killed and well over one million displaced since fighting erupted 13 months ago.

Officials in Kiev insist the men, named as Alexander Alexandrov and Yegveny Yerofeyev, will be tried for terrorism, and no prisoner swap is envisaged.

“The question of an exchange or handover is not being considered at this stage,” said Markian Lubkivskyi, a senior adviser in Ukraine’s security service.

“We haven’t received any request from officials at the Kremlin [or] officially from the Russian Federation, regarding the detained servicemen,” he added.

Igor Konashenkov, a Russian defence ministry spokesman, said Mr Alexandrov and Mr Yerofeyev “were not current servicemen of the Russian armed forces at the time of their capture on May 17th”.

He admitted, however, that “they really did serve in a unit of the Russian armed forces and have military training”.

Maj-Gen Konashenkov did not say when the pair had left the military, and claimed they were captured on Sunday – not Saturday as reported by Ukraine.

Several accounts have emerged in recent months of Russian soldiers being ordered to resign from the military just before being sent to Ukraine, apparently so that officials can, if necessary, insists that they are mere “volunteers”.

Representatives of Amnesty International and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe visited the prisoners yesterday in Kiev, where they are being treated for bullet wounds.

Mr Yerofeyev said he wanted his relatives to know “that everything is fine with me. I’m alive and well.”

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe