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‘It’s probably a mistake’ Journalists uncover Rostov court verdict referring to Russian military personnel deployed to ‘people’s republics’ in eastern Ukraine

Alexander Ryumin / TASS

In a verdict handed down in November, a Russian court openly referred to the presence of Russian military personnel stationed in the “DNR and LNR” — the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” in eastern Ukraine. 

As first reported by RFE/RL’s Russian Service, Leonard Sholokhov, a district court judge in Rostov-on-Don, mentioned ration supplies intended for “military units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation deployed on the territory of the DNR and LNR” in a sentence handed down in a bribery case on November 10. The text of the verdict disappeared from the Kirovsky District Court’s website after it attracted media attention, but it’s still accessible via web archive. 

The defendant in the case — V.N. Zabaluev, the deputy regional manager of a company called Tekhnologiya LLC — was found guilty of intermediation in bribery and sentenced to five and a half years in prison. According to the prosecution, from January to November 2019, Zabaluev transferred 990,000 rubles (nearly $13,500) from his boss to the head of the Southern Military District’s Center for State Sanitary and Epidemiological Surveillance. 

The verdict mentions that the defendant’s official duties included the purchase and sale of rations, which were supposed “to be sent to military units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation deployed on the territory of the DNR and LNR.”

The document also states that the “ration supplies to the DNR and LNR were carried out from the warehouse” once every two weeks. The convoy, made up of more than 70 vehicles with a carrying capacity of about 40 tons, transported a total volume of more than 1,300 tons. “The assortment of supplied rations included flour, canned food, [and] fresh vegetables. The total cost of the rations for one delivery was more than 130 million rubles [about $1.77 million].” Judging by the text of the verdict, these deliveries took place in 2018–2019 at the very least. RFE/RL’s Russian Service estimates that 1,300 tons of rations every two weeks would be enough to provide food to roughly 26,000 people. 

The defendant in the case explained that each driver was paid 65,000 to 80,000 rubles (about $885–$1,090) per trip “due to the complexity and danger of the route.” At the border, the defendant claimed, government plates were removed from the trucks, the drivers handed over their documents, and “guarded by the receiving party, they followed to the unloading point.” Allegedly, a Russian with the rank of major checked the quality of the goods before they were sent off, but the court established that this person didn’t serve in the Russian army. 

Commenting on these reports, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that there aren’t any Russian military personnel stationed in the “people’s republics” in eastern Ukraine. 

“This is probably the mistake of those who wrote this text. Because this is impossible. There were not and are not armed forces of the Russian Federation of the territory of the self-proclaimed republics. The armed forces of the Russian Federation are on the territory of the Russian Federation. Humanitarian aid is being delivered constantly, you know about this. It’s supplied to these republics. These republics are in dire need of this aid. But there can be no question of any of those supplies that you quoted. This is the mistake of those who drew up this document,” Peskov said.

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