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Russia demands investigation into claims Finns joined fighting in Ukraine

The Russian foreign ministry has called on Finland to look into claims published in an Italian newspaper that Finnish citizens are among those who have joined an extreme-right armed group to fight alongside the government in east Ukraine. Neither Finland’s secret services nor the foreign ministry say they are aware of any Finns having joined the conflict.

Niin sanotun Azovin pataljoonan miehiä valatilaisuudessa Kiovassa viime kesäkuussa. LKS 20140623
Men from the so-called Azov Brigade in Kiev last month Image: Sergeri Supinsky / AFP / Lehtikuva

Finland’s secret services Supo and the Foreign Ministry say they have no knowledge of any Finns having left to fight in eastern Ukraine, Supo terrorism specialist Tuomas Portaankorva said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a demand on Monday for Finland, Sweden, the Baltic countries and France to investigate claims published in Italy’s Il Giornale newspaper that citizens from these countries have voluntarily left to fight alongside government troops in east Ukraine.

The article in Il Giornale, published over the weekend, said the international fighters had joined the armed volunteer group the Azov Brigade, said to be made up of around 300 far-right extremists fighting against pro-Russian separatists.

Il Giornale featured an interview with one Italian volunteer who had joined the brigade, who says he and his colleagues are there of their own will and for their own ideological reasons.

“Many have joined us from the Nordic countries, like Sweden, Finland and Norway,” the fighter says.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry and the country’s media are describing the group of foreign fighters as “mercenaries”, suggesting they are salaried – a claim denied by the Italian interviewee.

Last week the BBC ran an interview with a Swedish sniper,  Mikael Skillt, who served seven years in the Swedish army and has now joined the Azov Brigade.

In the interview Skillit describes his extreme-nationalist views, and says some of his comrades in the group wear swastikas.

Portaankorva says Supo are following media coverage of the group.

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