(Fixes typo in word ‘Gulagu’ in second last paragraph.)
By Stephanie van den Berg
THE HAGUE (Reuters) – A former Russian soldier has sought asylum in the Netherlands and wants to testify at the International Criminal Court about war crimes by Russia that he witnessed while fighting in Ukraine, a Dutch legal source told Reuters on Tuesday.
The man, who identified himself in Dutch media as 60-year-old Igor Salikov, said he had been a member of the Russian-backed forces of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine since 2014, and had worked as an instructor for the Wagner mercenary group in Ukraine.
Reuters could not independently verify his position in either the pro-Russian separatist forces or the Wagner group.
Ukraine’s top war crimes prosecutor Yurii Belousov told Reuters that Salikov had already been in touch with Ukrainian prosecutors for more than six months and given testimony.
“He gave important testimony, some of which has already been confirmed, about the invasion of February 24, 2022. He reported some war crimes, which we are investigating, and some have already been confirmed,” Belousov told Reuters in a text message.
Russia has vigorously denied committing atrocities or targeting civilians in Ukraine.
Salikov told Dutch television program EenVandaag in an interview broadcast on Monday that he was ready to fully cooperate with the ICC and had personally witnessed “cruelties against civilians”.
The ICC would not immediately comment on the reports. The court in the Dutch city of The Hague has an ongoing investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ukraine.
In March, the ICC issued warrants for the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin and children’s ombudsman Maria Lvova-Belova over war crimes charges related to the abduction of Ukrainian children. The Kremlin rejected those allegations.
Human rights group Gulagu.net in a post on Telegram said Salikov was not received by the ICC after his arrival in the Netherlands on Monday, as its prosecutor and judges were not ready for an interrogation yet.
“They did not expect it,” the group said.
(This story has been refiled to fix a typo in paragraph 10)
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg, Charlotte Van Campenhout and Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam and Filipp Lebedev in Tblisi; Editing by Bernadette Baum)