Tony Wesolowsky, Yaroslav Kreshko:
For years they traveled with ease from Italy to take part in the Russia-backed insurgency in eastern Ukraine. Many boasted of their martial exploits on social media and in videos, often decked out in camouflage fatigues and brandishing weapons.
On August 1, Italian police announced they had arrested three men accused of recruiting mercenaries to fight in eastern Ukraine. Three others are still being sought after prosecutors in the northern Italian city of Genoa accused the six of fighting in eastern Ukraine and recruiting others to the cause.
It was the first time that Italian authorities have charged anyone with fighting in eastern Ukraine, where more than 10,300 people have died since the conflict erupted in April 2014.
In a statement, Italian police said they searched the homes of another seven people as part of the investigation into the Italian-Ukrainian recruitment network. Some of the suspects allegedly had ties with the commander of a neo-Nazi paramilitary unit called Rusich, which operates in Ukraine’s Donbas region.
Genoese prosecutors have also charged 15 others with being members of the recruitment ring.
According to the La Repubblica newspaper, the people under arrest are Italian Antonio Cataldo, Albanian national Olszty Krutany, and Moldovan citizen Vladimir Verbitsky.
Detainee Krutany is reportedly a veteran of the conflicts in Chechnya, the restive Russian region in North Caucasus.
The three Italians who have so far evaded arrest are reported to be Andrea Palmeri, Gabriele Carugati, and Massimiliano Cavalleri.
Cavalleri, known by his alias “Spartak,” was regularly spotted in videos posted by the separatists. He was also photographed with Aleksandr Zacharchenko, a top leader in the separatist-controlled area of Ukraine’s Donetsk region.
Cavalleri posted a picture of himself on Facebook, grimly holding up a “passport” of the so-called “People’s Republic of Donetsk,” while an Italian flag hung in the background.
A former leader of the far-right hooligan group Bulldog Lucca, Palmeri has appeared on Italian TV boasting about his martial exploits in eastern Ukraine.
As Carugati’s case suggests, the mercenaries fighting in Ukraine appear to have at least some support among Italy’s ruling elite. And that should come as no surprise.
The right-wing League as well as Italy’s other ruling party, the 5-Star Movement, are far from being hostile toward the Kremlin.
Like other Kremlin-leaning, antiestablishment, and far-right parties in Europe, the 5-Star Movement and the League party have been courted heavily by Moscow, as have other European populist leaders sympathetic to Russian President Vladimir Putin and eager to embrace Russia as a counterweight to the European Union, according to Globalsecurity.org.
Italy has for the first-time arrested nationals who fought with pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine.
(RSS generated with FetchRss)