Trial imminent of Russian soldier captured fighting in Donbas
The trial could begin in the next few weeks of Viktor Ageyev, the latest serving Russian soldier to be captured in the Luhansk oblast of Ukraine. Ageyev will be represented by a Ukrainian state-appointed lawyer since Russia has refused to provide him with legal aid. Moscow’s denial that Ageyev was a contract soldier when captured conflicts with the consistent testimony provided by the 22-year-old himself and his mother. Such denials have been described by Valentina Melnykova, Head of the Union of Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers, as the most despicable thing that Russia, via its Defence Ministry and military prosecutors, is doing.
Ageyev was captured on June 24, 2017, near the village Zholobok in the Luhansk oblast after a clash between Ukrainian soldiers and a sabotage & reconnaissance unit from the self-proclaimed Luhansk people’s republic [LPR].
Ukraine’s SBU [Security Service] reported on October 17 that its investigators had passed the indictment against Ageyev and two LPR fighters to the court. The Russian Federation military serviceman is alleged to have taken part in a terrorist formation from March 2017 and to have carried out the functions of a gunner for a particular ‘reconnaissance unit’. His two accomplices are described as men from Alchevsk and Severodonetsk who had since 2014 been in the units led by Pavel Dryomov and the so-called ‘Platov Cossack Regiment’.
They had been discovered by Ukrainian soldiers on June 24, and a shootout took place, during which two of the fighters were killed and four men, including Ageyev, were taken prisoner. It was initially reported that Ageyev’s unit had been led by a Russian officer Alexander Shcherba, who was one of the men killed, although for the moment he is not mentioned in the SBU reports. There are also conflicting reports about the battle, and whose action prompted it.
It was the BBC Russian Service who first reported that Ageyev had returned to the Russian Army after military service, and signed a contract in March 2017. The BBC had come up against evasive or fob-off answers when they tried to get official information about Ageyev’s military background, but had spoken with two former colleagues. One of the two, speaking on condition of anonymity, had confirmed that both had finished military service in 2016, but that Ageyev had later gone on to serve under contract in military intelligence.
The BBC had also seen correspondence between Ageyev and a former co-conscript. In it, Ageyev is directly asked if he is in Ukraine and says yes. When asked what he’s doing there, he answers: “I’m a contract soldier. They pay enough”.
Svetlana Ageyeva told the BBC that her son had signed a contract on March 18, with the place where he was to be posted – Bataisk in the Rostov oblast (which borders Ukraine).
Unlike other mothers, she did not later change her story or avoid media attention after the Russian Defence Ministry came out with their denial that Ageyev had been in Ukraine as a contract soldier.
InformNapalm asserts that on June 28 Russia’s security service [FSB] changed Ageyev’s page on VKontakte to the name of Vitaly Popov, with a few other changes, including to date of birth made, and some photos removed. The InformNapalm journalists have used the Yandex search engine’s cache to recover and take screen shots of some of the deleted / edited items, which can be seen in their video here. Indeed, if you press on the Google address for Viktor Ageyev, an updated page appears in the name of Popov.
Moscow has been consistent in denying that Ageyev was a contract soldier, while coming up with contradictory stories about what he was doing and about the battle in which he was captured.
Ageyev’s mother told Novaya Gazeta that she had no idea that he was in Ukraine until after he was arrested. He had told her that he was going to serve in the Russian army in the Rostov oblast.
Novaya correspondent Pavel Kanygin reports that Ageyeva was told by the Russian consul in Kharkiv that Russia cannot provide the money to pay for a lawyer for Ageyev. The consul had rung her after Novaya reported that Russian officials, including human rights ombudsman Tatyana Moskalkova did not want to get involved in defending Ageyev.
The consul complained that the SBU were not allowing the Russian consul to see Ageyev. Ageyev’s mother, on the other hand, together with Kanygin, experienced no difficulty in visiting Ageyev.
The charges against Ageyev are of creating a terrorist organization (Article 258.3 § 1 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code; unlawful use of weapons (Article 263 § 1) with the charges carrying a sentence of up to 15 years. The trial will take place in a Government-controlled part of the Luhansk oblast.
While Ageyev has been absolutely consistent in saying that he was sent to Ukraine as a contract soldier, it may be difficult to prove this. There have been many reports showing how young men are ‘contracted’ to fight in Ukraine. While the trail clearly leads to the Russian Defence Ministry, everything is done to ensure that Russia can deny the men’s official role if they get caught.
Typically, the LPR militants were swift to demand that Ageyev be added to their list of names for an exchange of hostages and prisoners of war. There has been angry rejection within Ukraine to this suggestion, not least from the relatives of Ukrainian political prisoners held in Russia or occupied Crimea. It is they who should form part of any exchange involving Ageyev.
Whatever camouflage has been used to deny Ageyev’s military serviceman status, the head of the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers Committees is unconvinced. Soon after the news of Ageyev’s capture and Moscow’s denial of everything, Valentina Melnykova stated on Ekho Moskvy that the Defence Ministry was behaving in a low manner by claiming that Ageyev was not one of their soldiers. She added that in the 20 years that the Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers had existed, up until the war in Ukraine Russia had never turned its back on its own soldiers in this way.