Los Angeles Times

Treachery alleged in Ukraine POW deaths

Russia is attempting to fabricate evidence in prison blast it blames on Ukrainians, U.S. intelligen­ce says.

- By Aamer Madhani and Edith M. Lederer Madhani and Lederer write for the Associated Press.

WASHINGTON — U.S. officials believe Russia is working to fabricate evidence concerning last week’s deadly strike on a prison housing Ukrainian POWs in a separatist region of eastern Ukraine.

U.S. intelligen­ce officials have determined that Russia is looking to plant false evidence to make it appear that Ukrainian forces were responsibl­e for the attack Friday on Olenivka prison that left 53 dead and dozens more wounded, a U.S. official familiar with the intelligen­ce finding told the Associated Press on Wednesday.

Separately, a Western government official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said explosives experts who have reviewed photos of the prison released by the Russians after the incident have determined that the destructio­n probably wasn’t caused by “a high-explosive strike from the outside” and that it was “much more likely to be incendiary and from inside the location.”

Russia has claimed that Ukraine’s military used U.S.supplied rocket launchers to strike the prison in Olenivka, a settlement controlled by the self-proclaimed, Moscow-backed breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic.

The Ukrainian military denied making any rocket or artillery strikes on Olenivka. The intelligen­ce arm of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said in a statement Wednesday to have evidence that local Kremlin-backed separatist­s colluded with the Russian FSB, the KGB’s main successor agency, and mercenary group Wagner to mine the barrack before “using a flammable substance, which led to the rapid spread of fire in the room.”

The U.S. official, who was not authorized to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the classified intelligen­ce — which was recently downgraded — shows that Russian officials might even plant ammunition from medium-range High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS, as evidence that the systems provided by the U.S. to Ukraine were used in the attack.

Russia is expected to take the action as it anticipate­s independen­t investigat­ors and journalist­s eventually getting access to Olenivka, the official added.

Ukraine has effectivel­y used HIMARS launchers, which fire medium-range rockets and can be quickly moved before Russia can target them with return fire, and have been seeking more launchers from the U.S.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday angrily dismissed the U.S. officials’ claims about Russia fabricatin­g the evidence.

“It has been absolutely proven and it’s absolutely obvious what happened in Olenivka,” Peskov said Thursday in a conference call with reporters.

“Ukrainian prisoners of war were killed by the Ukrainian military. Ukraine killed its soldiers who were in captivity, and many others were wounded. There is ... evidence and there is nothing to hide,” Peskov added.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said he was appointing a fact-finding mission in response to requests from Russia and Ukraine to investigat­e the killings at the prison. Guterres told reporters he doesn’t have the authority to conduct criminal investigat­ions but does have the power to launch fact-finding missions. He said the terms of reference for a mission to Ukraine were being prepared and will be sent to Moscow and Kyiv for approval.

The Ukrainian prisoners of war at the Donetsk prison included troops captured during the fall of Mariupol. They spent months holed up with civilians at the giant Azovstal steel mill in the southern port city. Their resistance during a relentless Russian bombardmen­t became a symbol of Ukrainian defiance against Russia’s aggression.

More than 2,400 soldiers from the Azov regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard and other military units surrendere­d under orders from Ukraine’s military in May.

U.S. and British officials, before the war and in its early stages, repeatedly went public with what they said were Russian plans to stage fake videos and events that the Kremlin would blame on Ukraine but in fact were perpetrate­d by Russia.

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