Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine have sentenced two former Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) staff to 13 years in prison on treason charges.
The court in the Russia-backed breakaway Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) announced the jail sentences on Monday for Dmytro Shabanov and Maxim Petrov, who were arrested in April for alleged espionage.
Separatist authorities said the pair had been recruited by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and Ukraine’s secret services and were passing information about Luhansk’s military personnel and equipment to Washington.
The regional security body, which numbers Russia and Ukraine among its 57 members, said the charges were “fabricated” and that the men had been punished for performing their official duties.
OSCE Secretary General Helga Maria Schmid on Monday demanded their immediate release as well as that of another unnamed colleague being held.
“Our colleagues remain OSCE staff members and had been performing official duties as mandated by all 57 participating states,” Schmid said. “I call for their immediate and unconditional release.”
The Vienna-based OSCE added in a statement that the organisation would “pursue all available channels to secure the privileges and immunities of current and former OSCE officials”.
The OSCE mission to which the two men belonged, which has been deployed in the conflict zone since 2014, left the separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk after Russia’s offensive in Ukraine earlier this year.
Both men had worked for the OSCE’s Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM), established in 2014 to monitor the conflict between Russian-backed separatists and Kyiv’s forces that erupted after Moscow seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. The SMM ceased operating this year after Russia invaded Ukraine.
Polish Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairman-in-Office Zbigniew Rau said in a statement: “Our Mission members have been held unjustifiably for more than five months in unknown conditions for nothing but pure political theatre. It is inhumane and repugnant.”