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Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right: Ukraine Retaliates for Savchenko in Violation of IHL

Published on September 1, 2015        Author: 

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In our post concerning Ukrainian military pilot Nadiya Savchenko, which can be found here, Anne Quintin and I addressed the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) implications of Russia’s detention and prosecution of the officer, whose ongoing murder trial is postponed pending the outcome of a change of venue motion by the defence. Meanwhile, Ukraine has thrown a judicial rock of its own by detaining two Russian officers – Evgeny Erofeev and Aleksandr Aleksandrov – who face charges of terrorism and aggression in Kiev in the coming weeks. In this post, I would like to identify the contradictions of Ukraine’s positions with respect to the two situations, as well as its concomitant IHL violations, and to address the possibility of reconciling Ukraine’s rhetoric and practice with the rules of IHL.

On or about May 16 2015, two wounded fighters who identified themselves as officers of the Russian army were captured by Ukraine’s Armed Forces (UAF) following a firefight near Lugansk that resulted in the death of one Ukrainian soldier. The detainees were immediately treated and subsequently evacuated to Kiev, where they remain hospitalized to this day. Several days after their capture, both were indicted under Article 258 of the Ukrainian Penal Code (UPC) for their participation in the commission of a terrorist act, organized and carried out by the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR), resulting in death. Notably, there appears to be no evidence, or allegations, that the Ukrainian soldier was killed in violation of IHL. Most recently, a charge of aggression under Article 437 of the UPC was added to the terrorism charge.

On May 21, the Security Services of Ukraine confirmed that Erofeev was captain, and Aleksandrov sergeant, of the 3rd Brigade of the Special Forces of the Military Intelligence Directorate of the Main Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (Russian abbreviation ‘GRU’), with its base in Tolyatti, Russia. Numerous video and newspaper interviews given by the officers revealed that: they were so-called ‘contracted’ (kontraktniki) Special Forces of the GRU deployed to Ukraine on 6 March 2015 in the battalion numbering 220 soldiers; they were dispatched on orders from their superiors who promised double their usual pay; that on the day of their capture their unit, comprised entirely of Russian troops, was stationed near Lugansk and was spotted by the UAF during a reconnaissance mission, prompting a gunfire exchange. Against this evidence, Russia has not relented in its denials of the involvement of Russia’s armed forces in the fighting in Donbass. In fact, on July 21, the Ministry of Defense of Russia declared that even though the two officers underwent military service in Russia, the events in Ukraine linked to them ‘took place after their discharge from military service and were not connected to it.’ On some accounts, the relatives of the accused have confirmed that the soldiers were indeed discharged. Consistent with this storyline, the LPR has maintained that Erofeev and Alexandrov are members of its own police force with no affiliation to the Russian armed forces. Read the rest of this entry…

 
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