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Russian fugitive soldier in S.Ossetia faces desertion charges

RIA Novosti

17/03/2009 17:10 MOSCOW, March 17 (RIA Novosti) - A Russian soldier who abandoned his military unit in South Ossetia and crossed the border into Georgia in January is facing desertion charges, the chief military prosecutor said on Tuesday.

Sergei Fridinsky also said Russia would send Georgia an extradition request for Jr. Sgt. Alexander Glukhov in the near future. "We will ask for him to be returned to us," Fridinsky said.

Georgia said on Tuesday that Glukhov had requested political asylum. Georgian Deputy Interior Minister Shota Utiashvili also said Tbilisi would not hand him over to Russia until consideration of his asylum request had been completed.

The Russian Defense Ministry earlier said Glukhov had been seized by Georgian special services and forcibly taken to Tbilisi, where he was subjected to moral or physical pressure.

However, Glukhov has denied being put under any pressure, saying he had fled his unit because of the intolerable conditions there.

Under Russian law, desertion is punishable by up to seven years in prison, but a first-time offender who has deserted without his weapon, on his own, or with a serious reason for his action, may be exempted from punishment.

Glukhov left his unit in South Ossetia in late January and approached Georgian police, requesting asylum. He said his actions should not be seen as politically motivated, as he would have done the same had his army division been deployed near any other foreign border.

A Moscow-based human rights group demanded on Tuesday that military prosecutors inspect the unit where Glukhov served.

"Jr. Sgt. Glukhov is a victim to hard circumstances. His case should not be examined as a single incident, but as an indication of a flawed army system," Alexander Brod, the head of the Moscow Human Rights Bureau, said.

Brod also claimed that Glukhov had been enlisted despite a number of health problems.

Other rights groups in Russia have offered legal support to the soldier.

The head of the Union of Committees of Soldiers' Mothers, which helps conscripts and their families, lashed out at the Russian military for accusing Glukhov of desertion on Tuesday.

The military command "is pretending that everything is wonderful, and instead of admitting that the conditions are bad, and inviting him to return to another unit, are accusing him of desertion," Valentina Melnikova told RIA Novosti.


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