JOHANNESBURG – Ukraine has accused Russian troops of planting landmines on its territory during Russia's annexation of the Crimea region earlier this year.
Ukraine made the allegation in a report to an international landmine conference being held this week in the southern African nation of Mozambique. Ukraine's delegation is not attending the meeting in Maputo, Mozambique's capital.
Russia set up fields of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines between Ukraine's mostly Russian-speaking Crimea and the rest of Ukraine, and also seized 605 anti-personnel landmines stored at a Ukrainian military depot in the Saki area of Crimea, according to the report. It said Ukraine was allowed to keep the landmines for training under the international Mine Ban Treaty, which seeks an end to the use, production and stockpiling of anti-personnel mines.
Russia is not a signatory to the treaty.
Ukraine said it is concerned that the seized landmines could be transferred to "terrorist groups," a reference to pro-Russia separatists and Russians fighting with them in southeastern Ukraine. Russia has said Russian citizens fighting with the separatists are volunteers and that their weapons were seized from Ukrainian stores; Ukraine, NATO and the U.S. have accused Russia of aiding the separatists.
Pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine have announced that they would respect a cease-fire declared by the Ukrainian president last week, raising hopes for an end to fighting.
In the mine report, Ukraine's Geneva-based mission said soldiers have been unable to defend themselves with mines from daily attacks conducted from Russian territory because Ukraine is bound by restrictions in the anti-mine treaty.
One Ukrainian soldier was killed and three were wounded by mines and other explosive devices in southeastern Ukraine in April and May, the mission said in the June 18 report. It said combat engineers were deployed there for demining operations.