MOSCOW - Russia has launched a criminal investigation into Ukrainian nationalist leader Oleg Tyagnybok for allegedly fighting Russian forces in Chechnya, the powerful Investigative Committee said Friday, in a largely symbolic move.
Tyagnybok, the leader of the parliamentary faction of the Svoboda (Freedom) party, is suspected of fighting "on the side of Chechen separatists from 1994 to 1995," the Investigative Committee said in a statement.
The agency, which investigates serious crime, named Tyagnybok as among a group of at least seven who are suspected of forming an "armed band" and taking part in attacks on Russians.
If they are convicted of being organisers of an armed band, they could face up to 15 years in prison.
"It is now becoming obvious that many radical Ukrainian activists calling for the destruction of Russian citizens and just (ethnic) Russians, have great experience not only in making calls but also in torturing and murdering Russian citizens, what's more on Russian soil," the Investigative Committee said.
The Invesigative Committee said it suspected Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of Pravy Sektor, or Right Sector, an ultra-nationalist movement, fought alongside Tyagnybok.
Last week, Russia said it was investigating Yarosh, whose supporters clashed with riot police at protests in Kiev, for allegedly inciting acts of "terror" in Russia.
Tyagnybok's biography on the party's website said he began serving as a local councillor in the western city of Lviv in 1994, aged 25.
The Kremlin waged a first war against separatist rebels in Chechnya in 1994-1996 and then a second in 1999.
The opening of such criminal cases seems to be aimed largely at discrediting Ukraine's new rulers in the eyes of Russians.
On February 21, Tyagnybok was one of the three opposition leaders to sign a deal with then-President Viktor Yanukovych aimed at ending the violence in Kiev.
He does not have a position in the new government but heads the party's faction in the Verkhovna Rada parliament.