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Russian GRU veteran defects, vows to reveal ‘war crimes’ in Hague

A former officer for the Russian military intelligence service GRU who says he fought with the Wagner mercenary group has defected and has vowed to testify in the Hague about alleged Russian war crimes.

Igor Salikov, 60, arrived in the Netherlands on Monday as Russian dissident-in-exile Vladimir Osechkin, who is the head of the anti-corruption project, a prisoners’ rights group, published an affidavit that he had submitted to the International Criminal Court (ICC), asking for “international protection and political asylum” for himself and his family.

Osechkin told Newsweek that as of Tuesday morning local time, Salikov remained at a hotel in Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, and that he had been working with “[special] services” since his arrival.

Salikov claimed that he served in the Russian military for 25 years and worked for the now-dissolved Wagner Group and the Redut Group, a mercenary unit controlled by the Russian Defense Ministry. He said he was involved in Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine in 2014, when Putin annexed Crimea, and that he also fought in Ukraine in 2022, after the Russian president launched a full-scale invasion of the country.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Bucha

Ukainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to the press in the Ukrainian town of Bucha on April 4, 2022. Zelensky said the Russian leadership was responsible for civilian killings in Bucha.

He said he has been providing information to Osechkin for more than a year in preparation for testifying at the Hague.

According Salikov, one of the leaders of the Wagner Group, Dmitry Utkin, personally gave orders for executions and reprisals against civilians in Ukraine and Syria, “transmitting orders from [late leader Yevgeny] Prigozhin, who carried out the will of Putin.”

“I wish to cleanse my soul and tell the international investigation and the Court, the facts of corruption, military aggression, and crimes known to me, to reveal the illegal schemes of [Russian President Vladimir Putin] about the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, and to provide detailed information about the facts known to me,” Salikov wrote in his letter to the ICC.

IT BEGINS: Igor Salikov, a 25 year veteran of Russian army intelligence (& then the Wagner Group) defected today in the Netherlands. Colonel Salikov said he’d testify in the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a witness to Russian war crimes in Ukraine.

— Chuck Pfarrer | Indications & Warnings | (@ChuckPfarrer) December 18, 2023

Salikov told the ICC he fully understands the risks that will come with his testimony and his arrival in the Netherlands, “but I consider it fundamentally important to publish this information and my testimony on the channel and in the media, to expose the criminal schemes of the dictator Vladimir Putin, through whose fault hundreds of thousands of people have already been killed, and millions have been dehumanized.”

Newsweek couldn’t independently verify Salikov’s claims. The ICC confirmed in a statement to Newsweek that Salikov had submitted information on alleged crimes to the ICC prosecutor, but said it is is unable to provide any further information with respect to ongoing investigations in line with the confidentiality of its activities.

“In particular, the office is unable to confirm or deny whether an individual is being engaged with as a potential witness or in any other capacity,” the ICC said.

He said in his letter to the ICC that he witnessed cruelty toward prisoners of war “and their subsequent execution” and the removal of children from Ukraine by Russian Federal Security Service employees to Belarus.

Salikov also said he was ordered by Russia’s Federal Security Service, the FSB, to shoot five individuals in the city of Bucha in Ukraine’s Kyiv region, where dozens of civilians were allegedly massacred in March 2022. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in April 2022 that Ukraine had “conclusive evidence” that Russia committed a massacre in Bucha.

“At the end of March, in the Bucha district, I received an order from counterintelligence officers to shoot five people held prisoner by us, whom the FSB introduced as saboteurs, although they were all residents of nearby villages. I did not carry out the order and released the people, thereby subjecting myself to prosecution under a military warrant,” wrote Salikov.

Putin and his children’s commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, are accused by the ICC of the illegal deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia. All ICC states are legally required to arrest Putin if he steps foot on their territory.

Russia has maintained that the ICC’s arrest warrant, issued on March 17, is legally void as it isn’t a member state.

Russia says it has transferred thousands of children out of Ukraine, but has maintained that the measure is to protect them during the ongoing war.

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Updated 12/19/23 at 11:15 a.m.: This article was updated with a statement from the ICC.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

Newsweek is committed to challenging conventional wisdom and finding connections in the search for common ground.

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