Spain announced on Friday, February 27th that it has arrested eight of its own citizens who fought with the pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine, claiming the men violated Madrid’s neutrality and aided and abetted acts of murder and manslaughter.
This operation is the first European police operation against foreign fighters involved in the fight in Ukraine, Spain’s interior ministry noted in its statement on Friday. Law enforcement across the globe has been concerned about the spillover from the fighting in eastern Ukraine, which began nearly a year ago and has left close to 6,000 dead.
The eight suspects arrived in Ukraine in 2014 and returned to Spain in the last few weeks.
More on Spain’s arrest of pro-Russian rebel fighters in Ukraine
Many sources have reported that a number of citizens of European countries and post-Soviet states have been involved in the fighting in Ukraine. The assortment of foreign fighters includes Serbs with the pro-Russian rebels, Croats, Swedes and Georgians fighting in volunteer pro-Kiev battalions and scores of Belarusians fighting on both sides.
In a related note, three soldiers were killed and seven injured by attacks from Russian-backed separatists on Thursday, with fighting still ongoing in a few areas in violation of a fragile ceasefire instituted two weeks ago.
Both sides claimed to be meeting a key truce condition by gradually moving heavy weaponry back from front lines, but much doubt remains regarding the shaky cease fire as rebels are reportedly moving heavy equipment closer to Mariupol.
Statement from Spanish Interior Ministry
“All of them [the suspects] joined separatist, pro-Russian groups on the side that is fighting for the independence of the Ukrainian regions of Lugansk and Donetsk,” the ministry noted.
The authorities pointed out that the men were identified in part because they had shared several images of themselves on social media, “showing their training, exhibiting paramilitary uniforms, assault weapons and explosives, and expressing their support for the armed struggle of the violent secession movement”.
The ministry continued to that the “conflict in which the detainees took part has caused hundreds of civilian deaths, most of them Ukrainian”, and that the Ukrainian government had qualified some of these acts as “terrorism”.