MOSCOW – Russian investigators on Tuesday charged that volunteers from the United States and a number of other countries fought on the side of Georgia in its war against Russia.
Russian news agencies reported that Aleksandr Bastrykin, chairman of an investigative committee with the Russian prosecutor's office, said the mercenaries included nationals of the U.S., Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Turkey.
Russian officials have previously accused the U.S. and Ukraine of sending servicemen to take part in the fighting in August — claims both countries have denied.
The war over the separatist province of South Ossetia devastated Georgia, crippled its military, destroyed much of the key infrastructure and uprooted more than 160,000 people. The Kremlin recognized South Ossetia and another rebel region, Abkhazia, as independent, drawing strong condemnation from the West.
Representatives of Georgia's Defense Ministry were not immediately available to comment on the accusations that they recruited foreign volunteers during the fighting.
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow declined immediate comment. A spokesman for Ukraine's Defense Ministry was not immediately available and UNA-UNSO, the Ukrainian nationalist organization whose members Bastrykin accused of taking part in the fighting, did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.
In Prague, Czech Defense Ministry spokesman Jan Pejsek said that no member of the Czech national army took part in the fighting and that authorities were not aware of any volunteers participating either. Authorities in Turkey could not be immediately reached for comment.
Bastrykin also released what he said were final figures for civilian deaths in the breakaway region of South Ossetia, saying that 162 residents were killed and more than 5,000 people were considered to be "victims" of the war; he did not elaborate on the concept.
Previously Bastrykin's committee had said 133 civilians were killed. The U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch said in September that fewer than 100 civilians were killed.
Bastrykin also said 48 Russian servicemen, including 10 peacekeepers, were killed in the fighting, reducing the death toll from the previously announced figure of 64.
Bastrykin also renewed accusations that the Georgian military had committed acts of genocide against South Ossetians in the war.
Both sides have accused each other of that crime, and Georgian authorities were quick to respond. "The Russians should themselves answer for the ethnic cleansing they've committed, which is a proven fact," said Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili.
Human Rights Watch and the Georgian government have said Ossetian militias were involved in systematic persecution of ethnic Georgian civilians in South Ossetia following the war.
Russia says it invaded South Ossetia and then moved deep into Georgia proper to protect Russian passport-holders and peacekeepers after Tbilisi launched an assault on the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali. Georgia blames Russia for the war, saying it was forced to act by growing Russian support for South Ossetia and a buildup of troops around the region.