Anti-Kremlin rebels claim to have taken prisoner a number of Russian soldiers in the city of Belgorod close to the border with Ukraine.
The paramilitaries opposed to Vladimir Putin’s regime had challenged the governor of the city to meet them so they could hand over the prisoners and hold talks.
However, the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Liberty of Russia Legion said in a joint statement that Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov “had not found the courage” to meet them and they would hand over their captives to Ukraine.
Russia has blamed Ukraine for recent attacks in its border territories, although Kyiv denies being directly involved.
The Russian army said today (June 4) that its artillery had hit a “terrorist” group near the village of Novaya Tavolzhanka, adding that “the enemy scattered and retreated”.
READ MORE: Two-year-old killed and 22 people injured in Putin’s missile raid on Ukraine
The rebel video purported to show both captives, although the BBC reports that it has not been possible to independently verify their identities.
Gladkov said on Telegram that he had agreed to the talks if the soldiers were shown to be still alive, but he thought they had probably been killed.
Later, the RDK posted a further video appearing to show even more captives. It said “neither the military nor the civilian leadership is interested” in the fate of the captured men.
The legion branded the Russian authorities as “rotten and cowardly” and said they would hand over the captives to Ukraine to be exchanged for Ukrainian prisoners of war.
Ukrainian officials say the two paramilitary organizations consist of Russian citizens who desire to create a “security zone” for Ukrainians.
The volunteer corps conducted a cross-border raid in Russia’s Bryansk region in March, while the FRL fights alongside Ukrainian troops against Russian forces.
In his video, Mr. Gladkov labeled the fighters “scoundrels, murderers, fascists”, but promised to “guarantee safety” if the talks took place.
The BBC reported that Mr. Gladkov has not commented on the events since the video, but posted pictures of a meeting with regional and federal officials.
Belgorod has seen a spate of attacks recently that included a cross-border incursion last month which Moscow claimed ended in the deaths of 70 insurgents.