On Dec. 2, Dutch prosecutors announced that Russia had refused their request to extradite Volodymyr Tsemakh, a Ukrainian national, a former officer in the Russian-led militant forces in eastern Ukraine, and a suspect in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. Prosecutors say Russia allowed Tsemakh to leave the country in violation of European law.
When asked about the Dutch prosecutors’ charges on Dec. 3, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the question had “nothing to do with the Kremlin,” and declined further comment on the matter.
Yet, were it not for the Kremlin, Tsemakh would have been in Ukrainian custody. In July, he was captured in a daring, behind-the-lines raid by Ukrainian special forces. He then was added to a list of prisoners to be exchanged for captives held by Russia. After a court in Kyiv released Tsemakh in anticipation of the Sept. 7 exchange, Russian President Vladimir Putin commented on the difficulty of choosing which prisoners to select.
Tsemakh was also interviewed as part of a documentary project by RIA Novosti editor Kirill Vyshynsky, himself a Ukrainian citizen who was detained by Kyiv authorities and exchanged in the same prisoner swap. But unlike Tsemakh, Vyshynsky had a tie to Russia via his job for the state-owned media outlet RIA Novosti. Tsemakh, on the other hand, was a local collaborator in the Russian-organized militias fighting against Kyiv government forces. Since the Kremlin denies any involvement with these forces, which it calls “separatists,” it’s unclear why Russia would take an interest in Tsemakh unless he merited some special attention, contradicting Peskov’s “nothing to do with” remark.
Naturally, the Kremlin is not omniscient and cannot monitor the whereabouts of every person within its territory. However, the Kremlin did go through the trouble of including him in a prisoner exchange that was conducted at a very high level by Putin’s own admission. Furthermore, as a Ukrainian citizen living in Russia, Tsemakh normally would have to go through some bureaucratic hurdles to establish his residency, and this would leave a paper trail. Crossing an international border would likewise leave tracks. If on the other hand he received some kind of favored status to avoid much of this red tape, that too would contradict the Kremlin’s denials about their involvement in his case and knowledge of his whereabouts.