Ukraine seeks 15 years in jail for suspected Russian troops

15th April 2016, Comments 0 comments

Ukraine's military prosecutors on Friday demanded 15-year jail terms for two suspected Russian surveillance soldiers captured in the war-torn separatist east last May.

Moscow argues that sergeant Aleksander Aleksandrov and captain Yevgeny Yerofeyev had delisted from the armed forces by the time they crossed the Ukrainian border into the rebel province of Lugansk.

But Ukraine cites testimony the two men gave during their interrogation and in subsequent conversations with reporters in which both acknowledged to being active members of Russia's GRU military intelligence at the time.

They recanted those statements during the trial.

Ukrainian military prosecutor Maksym Krym said at a court hearing Friday that both men should be jailed for 15 years and stripped of their property.

Krym also asked the three-judge panel to keep the men in custody until their sentence goes into effect.

Yerofeyev's lawyer Oksana Sokolova told reporters that she would ask the court to "pardon and release" the suspects.

The court's verdict will be delivered on Monday. If judges find them guilty the sentencing may come the same day.

The case has inflamed passions in both countries. Their relations have been effectively frozen since Russia's March 2014 annexation of Crimea and alleged backing of the rebel revolt.

Moscow denies direct involvement in the conflict and describes Russians caught or spotted in the war zone as vacationing soldiers or volunteers.

Aleksandrov's defence attorney Yuriy Grabovsky was murdered in March by two Ukrainian suspects whose motives remain unclear.

And unknown assailants last week threw Molotov cocktails and set alight the Kiev office of a Ukrainian judge overseeing the case.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has proposed swapping the soldiers for Nadiya Savchenko -- a Kiev-born helicopter pilot who was sentenced in Russia to 22 years in prison in March for her alleged involvement in the killing of two Moscow reporters in the war zone.

But such an exchange is complicated by Savchenko's continued denial of any wrongdoing. Russian law says that foreign convicts may only be sent home to serve their time there once they confess.

The two-year war that has now claimed nearly 9,200 lives was sparked two months after waves of pro-EU protests prompted parliament to impeach Ukraine's Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.

© 2016 AFP

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