Two men were detained by Ukraine as they attempted to cross through a checkpoint between Ukraine and Russian-annexed Crimea on Sunday. Russia says they were abducted by Ukraine, while Ukraine says they are deserters from the Ukrainian military. Photo by Ivan Boberyskyy/European Press Agency
SEVASTOPOL, Russia, Nov. 22 (UPI) -- Tensions ratcheted upward as Russia said Tuesday two of its servicemen were abducted in Crimea by Ukraine, while Ukraine said the two men are defectors.
A spokesman for Russia's Black Sea Fleet, the component of the Russian navy headquartered in Crimea, said the Ukrainian Security Service on Sunday "enticed" two Russian military men with "higher education at Ukrainian higher educational institutions." The men allegedly crossed the border from contested Crimea, former Ukrainian territory annexed in 2014 by Russia, and were then detained by Ukrainian authorities.
"Immediately after [Ensign] Maxim Odintsov and [Junior Sgt.] Alexander Baranov left the limits of the Russian Federation, the servicemen were detained by representatives of the Ukrainian Security Service and brought to the Nikolayev region of Ukraine," the fleet's spokesman said.
Ukraine said the men are deserters from the Ukrainian military who defected and remained in Crimea after 2014. They were allegedly among thousands of Ukrainian military personnel who remained in Russian-controlled Crimea after Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula. Ukraine considers those defectors to be deserters.
In February Anatoliy Matios, Ukrainian chief prosecutor, said 6,010 Ukrainian military staff returned to Ukraine from Crimea after annexation, of the 20,315 stationed there.
"The two deserters have not been abducted. They have been arrested while crossing the Chonhar checkpoint at the border," Ukrainian Security Service spokesperson Olena Hitlianska said. "These are two Ukrainian soldiers who violated an oath of allegiance and started to serve in the Russian Federation's army in occupied territory of Crimea. When they arrived in Ukrainian territory across Chonhar, they were apprehended, [and] criminal proceedings have been opened against them."
The incident added to tensions between Russia and Ukraine, after the annexation of Crimea, Russian support of insurgents in eastern Ukraine and earlier in November, the arrest in Crimea of several Ukrainian citizens accused of plotting acts of sabotage against Russia.