Pro-Russian activists say a group of European military observers seized by separatists in eastern Ukraine are ‘NATO spies’.
In the separatist stronghold of Slovyansk, some insist the 13-strong German-led team, travelling with an OSCE mission, will only be freed in a ‘prisoner exchange’.
“We have detained regular intelligence officers from NATO member countries: Denmark, Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic,” said Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the self-proclaimed mayor of Slovyansk.
“We retrieved a map showing checkpoints. This is evident proof of intelligence activities under the guise of the OSCE.”
As he made the accusations, diplomatic efforts were underway to secure the group’s release.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has spoken to Sergei Lavrov, his counterpart in Russia, where media reports say all steps are being taken to obtain their freedom.
Adding to the tension as the G7 group of economic powers agreed to intensify sanctions on Russia, Ukrainian forces are now poised just 20 kilometres north of Slovyansk, as part of ongoing efforts to curb the insurgency.