Russian probes citizen 'fighting as Kiev mercenary'

7th October 2014, Comments 0 comments

Russia on Tuesday accused an ultra-nationalist activist of crossing into Ukraine to fight on Kiev's side, in the first-ever criminal probe into an alleged mercenary for hire.

The Investigative Committee said Roman Zheleznov joined the Azov paramilitary battalion in eastern Ukraine in July, and was trained to help Ukrainian army forces fight pro-Russian separatists.

"Zheleznov was provided with personal firearms, ammunition (and) special equipment," investigators said in a statement.

"On the orders of commanders of the Azov battalion, (he) arrived in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic where he's actively fighting as a mercenary together with other fighters from the Azov battalion."

The Russian investigators said he received a monthly payment of "no less than 4,000 Ukrainian hryvnias ($300, 240 euros)".

They also said Zheleznov, known among activists for his ultra-nationalist credentials, had been previously convicted of theft and hooliganism.

Searches had been conducted at his Moscow home, they said.

Under Russian law, taking part in an armed conflict or military action as a mercenary carries a maximum punishment of seven years in prison.

Pro-Kremlin separatists claim scores of Russians are fighting on their side in eastern Ukraine.

But more recently, reports have also surfaced of Russian nationals fighting against them, and alongside the Ukrainians -- though their numbers remain unclear.

Zheleznov is believed to be an ally of ultra-nationalist Maxim Martsinkevich, who founded a neo-Nazi group. Many ultra-nationalists in Russia oppose the government of President Vladimir Putin.

Kiev and the West have accused the Kremlin of sending regular troops to Ukraine to prop up the rebels. Moscow has denied the claim.

Analysts have warned the Kremlin is playing with fire by supporting a separatist movement in Ukraine and whipping up nationalist sentiment at home, and that the strategy could backfire.

© 2014 AFP

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