Russian soldiers captured in Ukraine: an exchange pool for Ukrainian hostages | #LetMyPeopleGo

The two FSB officers detained in Ukraine Vladimir Kuznetsov (left) and Askar Kulub (right).
Source: Fb page of Viktor Nazarenko, Head of State Border Guard Service of Ukraine 

More, Political prisoners

Article by: Ihor Vynokurov
The recent capture of two Russian FSB border guards in South Ukraine may make the Kremlin more tractable in the issue of exchanging its Ukrainian hostages. At the same time, these developments bring about the discussion on the legal status of the servicemen of the aggressor state once they are detained in Ukraine.

On 30 June 2017, a powerboat bearing Russian identification marks was intercepted by Ukrainian military when approaching the shore in Kherson Oblast from the side of occupied Crimea. Two members of the Russian border service (a part of Russia’s Federal Security Service, FSB) who were in the boat were detained. They claim they had strayed from the route and “confused landmarks” during the training.

The volunteer investigative team InformNapalm has identified the names of the two captives: they are junior officers Vladimir Kuznetsov (born in Russian Far East) and Askar Kulub (from Rostov Oblast, a Russian region adjacent to Ukraine).

Initially, a Ukrainian court adjudged them to serve a tiny 15-day administrative arrest for entering the Ukrainian territory in violation of existing rules. On 6 July, after InformNapalm pointed to this information, the Security Service of Ukraine reported on a new indictment against the captives under Article 110 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code: encroachment on Ukraine’s territorial integrity. The article stipulates the punishment of three to twelve years in jail.

What legal status should Russian soldiers captured in Ukraine have?

While quite a lot of Ukrainian public figures have welcomed this latter decision, some commenters have voiced critical remarks on it. The lawyer Yevheniya Zakrevska suggests that two substantial mistakes have been made: one concerning the status of the Russians and another related to the subjective side of the suspected crime.

Firstly, in her view, the captured officers should be recognized prisoners of war. Indeed, they fall within the definition of POWs under the respective Geneva Convention as belonging to a military formation of the power occupying Ukrainian territory. Under the convention, Ukraine does not need any additional reasons to intern them until the end of the conflict (that is, until the full withdrawal of Russian military and civilian personnel from Crimea and Donbas) or a prisoner exchange. The internment does not preclude a possibility of their lawful criminal prosecution and conviction by court.

The question is, therefore, whether the Ukrainian authorities are ready to grant POW status to the Russians.

Secondly, she contends, the incrimination of Article 437 of the Criminal Code (waging an aggressive war) would better correspond to the case. Because the Russian Federation committed the de facto violent change of Ukrainian borders in March 2014, which is prosecuted under Article 110, the Ukrainian court may acquit the FSB officers, who reportedly arrived in already annexed Crimea in December 2016 and so did not personally contribute to that change. Thus the article on aggressive war is more appropriate since it regards the continued crime.

As members of the FSBa special agency crucial for the ongoing occupation of the Ukrainian territorythe captives should be brought to justice for taking part in the aggression against Ukraine since the first day of their service in Crimea, Zakrevska believes.

Exchanging Russian captives for Ukrainian hostages

It should be noted that from Moscow’s point of view, the situation of the two FSB border guards is different from that of most Russian soldiers seized in Donbas.


Regarding the latter, the Russian government generally denied their belonging to its regular military structures and alleged instead that they were “volunteers” serving under the command of “DNR” or “LNR” separatists. Recently it displayed such a denialist stance again, when the contract soldier Viktor Ageyev was captured in Luhansk Oblast. In contrast, the FSB acknowledged that the two border guards seized in South Ukraine on 30 June indeed were its members and expressed hope that Ukraine transfers them back to occupied Crimea.

Read more: Ukrainian army kills Russian officer, captures Russian contract soldier in Donbas

This fact seems fortunate given that dozens of Ukrainian citizens have been held hostage in Russia and Russian-occupied Donbas and Crimea, and until recently there were no signs that the Kremlin and its proxies were going to allow their return home. Ukrainian politicians, such as the head of the delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Iryna Fryz, stress that a prisoner exchange is now the only real way to free the Ukrainians from Russian captivity. There has been a successful experience last year when President Putin yielded to strong international pressure and swapped the Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko (who had been kidnapped in Donbas and taken out to Russia in 2014) for the Russian military intelligence officers Aleksandr Aleksandrov and Yevgeny Yerofeyev.

Arrival of GRU operatives Aleksandrov and Yerofeyev amnestied by Ukraine to Moscow. Photo: RT

Arrival of GRU operatives Aleksandrov and Yerofeyev amnestied by Ukraine to Moscow. Photo: RT

The FSB’s current interest in returning Vladimir Kuznetsov and Askar Kulub reminds us of the story of nine paratroopers from Russia’s Kostroma Oblast. They were seized in Donbas at the end of August 2014, when the most fierce fighting took place. Russian officials, including Putin himself, publicly pronounced that the soldiers “got lost” during the military training (the current explanation on Kuznetsov and Kulub is basically the same). At the time, regular Russian military surrounded Ukrainian forces near Ilovaisk and Ukraine had to return the “Kostroma paratroopers” to Russia without a proper investigation and trial.

Nine paratroopers from Russia’s Kostroma captured in Ukraine, August 2014.  Snapshot from a video by Hromadske TV.

Read more: Russian soldiers in Ukraine: an investigation

Now, as Ukraine’s stand is much more firm than in August 2014, the goal of exchanging the members of the FSB occupation force for the Ukrainian hostages of the Kremlin must be pursued. To achieve it, Ukraine needs the support of international organizations, political and opinion leaders, and the wider public.

On every possible occasion, Kremlin’s representatives should be reminded that they bear responsibility for their own soldiers, and to return them back, they must release the Ukrainians unlawfully held behind bars. To date, there are 45 Ukrainians held by the Kremlin on political motives, and at least 132 are held as prisoners in occupied Donbas. 


Edited by: Alya Shandra

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  1. Avatar Mykola Potytorsky says:

    it is just amazing how russians keep getting lost and ending up in Ukraine – just amazing. Guess they cannot read a compass or understand a GPS.

    1. Avatar RedSquareMaidan says:

      It’s inherent with the descendents of Genghis Khan, he couldn’t read a map either.

  2. Avatar Randolph Carter says:

    POW status – absolutely. Make sure that the Geneva convention is followed to the letter, but imprison/hold them and, under no circumstances, give them a minor fine/jail time with release. Keep capturing Russian soldiers and ANYONE Russian who does not have a valid reason for being in Ukraine – make it SOP. Crimea should be fertile ground; send some covert units in there and grab a few “little green men” and get their Russian names/status. Each time, exchange for at least one Ukrainian held illegally. Look through records, talk to families, make it possible for people to report that their loved ones who were taken illegally.

    Make them pay. If possible, make it hurt. A lot.

    1. Avatar veth says:

      The dead and wounded terrorists are recorded formally, the social protection of their families is largely absent.

      DONETSK (QHA) –
      The command of the Russian-terrorist troops in the occupied Donbas does not record the killed militants, and does not pay compensation to their families, according to Directorate General of the Defense Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine.

      Reportedly, the record of the dead and wounded is kept formally, the social protection of their families is actually lacking, which negatively affects the morally-psychological state of terrorists and leads to an increase in cases of desertion.

      Information on the family members of the dead and wounded servicemen of the Russian occupation troops is also absent or does not correspond to reality.

      “The Commission of the Southern Military District (Rostov-on-Don) of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, which carried out the inspection of the units of the 2 Army Corps, drew the attention of the command of the corps to “excessive” data on combat sanitary and irretrievable losses, and recommended the reduction of monetary compensation to injured soldiers and families of the killed servicemen in conditions of limited financing.”

  3. Avatar veth says:

    12.07.17 15:17 “It’s time to make amends for MH17, Mr Putin,” – open letter to Russian President by victims attorney

    Some think MH17 must have been a terrible, inevitable mistake of war. The facts scream intent and motive. It was a calculated military strike as willful as the killing of one more political opponent.
    Jerome Skinner, an attorney representing victims of flight MH17 from Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and the Netherlands, wrote in his open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin published by Sydney Morning Herald on July 12, Censor.NET reports.

    “Your government has provided no explanation for the missile parts and wiring among the wreckage, no explanation for the missile series or warhead numbers, no explanation for the shrapnel pattern, shape, distribution or recovery of bow tie-shaped shrapnel from the flight crews’ shattered bodies.

    “You’ve failed to answer for the hundreds of photos, the videos, the satellite images and the eyewitnesses – scattered pieces of a puzzle looking more and more like Moscow’s work as they come together.

    “You’ve given us no explanation for the presence of so many members of the Russian military, who published their pictures and those of their comrades on the internet as a convoy from the 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade penetrated Ukraine on July 17, 2014.

    “Why did you locate your missile launcher in the centre of the L980 transcontinental commercial air corridor unless you were hunting an airliner? It was nowhere close to the Ukrainian air power around Donetsk.

    See more: “Missing link”: Bellingcat found pre-MH17 photo of Buk 332 that downed Dutch Boeing. PHOTOS

    “Do you not feel that such tragic loss deserves explanation? You felt and expressed this type of loss when your Metro Jet was bombed. Do you really think that you have no responsibility to the families of the 80 children on board? What about all the others? Were they your enemy? None of them spoke Russian, none of them spoke Ukrainian. None will ever speak again. Murder demands justice.

    “Some think MH17 must have been a terrible, inevitable mistake of war. I do not think that is the truth. The facts scream intent and motive. It was a calculated military strike as willful as the killing of one more political opponent. You stand as the only man who can set this right.

    “The slaughter of 298 innocents, including 80 children, will be a stain on the Russian Federation for eternity. I will stand and call out this evil before great power, because that it is my duty to seek justice. I stand against your nation for all the nations whose families suffered. But, particularly on behalf of the Malaysian, Australian, New Zealander and Dutch families that I represent.

    “I will use the European Court of Human Rights and every other avenue available to bring the Kremlin to accountability. My grandfather, my father, my uncle and my brother would approve. Mr Putin, evil can atone. Your Christian faith should teach you that forgiveness must be sought by the words and deeds of the wrongful actor. The violator can be forgiven, even for death.

    Read more: “Person with call sign Khmuryi identified in many wiretapped terrorists’ conversations,” – SBU spokesperson on MH17 probe

    “I am a believer in Christ. I try to think, act and interact with others with a Christ consciousness. You are big Mr Putin, I am small, but God remains bigger than us all. He will be the ultimate arbiter. Still, you and Russia have a responsibility to reach out and take action in this life.

    “Meet me and finally make amends for the victims of this tragedy. You may communicate with me through your embassy contacting the US Department of State,” Skinner wrote.

    Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down over the Donetsk region July 17, 2014. 298 people died in the crash. The passengers were citizens of 10 countries. The majority of victims (196) were Dutch nationals.

    1. Avatar zorbatheturk says:

      It is amazing how the world is letting RuSSia get away with this mass murder.

  4. Avatar zorbatheturk says:

    It is great that these RuSzsian interlopers are being captured. Russian perfidy must be exposed to the world.

  5. Avatar Terry Washington says:

    My advice to Ukraine would if necessary turn the captured Russian troops over to the ICC(International Criminal Court) at The Hague as suspected war criminals(if there was prima facie evidence to support such allegations) Pretty soon these “little green men” ranks will dry up if they realize that they are on a one way trip to the dock at The Hague!(Whilst Putin and his cronies live it up in Moscow)