Moscow — A Russian court's verdict in a bribery case last month appears to have inadvertently referenced the presence of Russian troops in the rebel-held Donbas area of. A district court in Russia's Rostov region, on the Ukrainian border, disclosed that the manager of a company called Tekhnologiya LLC was responsible for stocking and selling food to Russian troops stationed in eastern Ukraine.
The court sentenced the manager to five years in prison on charges of transferring about $13,500 from his boss to a local government official, to curry favor with authorities and avoid disruptions in the supply chain.
"These rations were intended to be sent to military units of the Russian Armed Forces stationed on the territory of the DNR and LNR," the court said in the verdict that was posted online, referring to the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk "people's republics" in eastern Ukraine.
After the document started spreading on Russian media, the page was quickly taken down from the court's website. CBS News has reviewed an archived digital copy of the verdict. The document was first spotted by a Ukraine watcher who posts under the Twitter handle Necro_Mancer and reported by RFE/RL.
Moscow has repeatedly denied the presence of Russian soldiers in Donbas, where rebels have been fighting Ukrainian government forces since 2014. President Vladimir Putin's government insists Russia is not a part of the conflict. The U.S. and the European Union accuse Russia of supporting the separatists with troops, hardware and funding.
Probably "a mistake."
The Kremlin on Thursday said the information contained in the document was "a mistake."
"This is probably the mistake of those who wrote this text. Because this is impossible," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said. "There have never been and there are no Russian Armed Forces present on the territory of the self-proclaimed republics."
The verdict from the court, however, included details on the complications of the seemingly clandestine logistics operation. The defendant had told the court that some drivers were paid relatively large sums of money — between $880 and $1,090 — for one delivery route due to "the complexity and danger of the route."
The defendant said the drivers were "risking their own lives at the border," had to remove their government license plates, hand over documents and proceed to unloading docks escorted by the receiving party.
Food supplies to the people's republics were scheduled once every two weeks, the verdict said. One caravan consisted of more than 70 vehicles, capable of transporting 1,300 tons of cargo, including flour, canned food and fresh vegetables. One such shipment was estimated to have cost over $1 million.
Ukraine, Russian invasion and "red lines"
The conflict that broke out withaway from Ukraine in 2014 has now claimed more than 13,000 lives. On Friday, the Ukrainian military said in a Facebook post that a soldier was killed in a new "ceasefire violation by the Russian occupational forces."
The tense military standoff has escalated in recent weeks amid U.S. intelligencealong its side of the Ukrainian border.
Washington has been pushing its European allies to prepare a new round of tough economic sanctions against Moscow, and warning Putin against any invasion of Ukraine. U.S. officials previously told CBS News that Russia could have around 175,000 troops deployed to the border area by early next year, making an assault possible as early as January.
The State Department has said, however, that the U.S. doesn't yet know whether Putin has made a decision to attack.
The Kremlin has consistently denied any plans to invade Ukraine and Putin has repeatedly called NATO's eastward expansion a threat to Russia. He has demanded that his "red lines" when it comes to Ukraine be respected — most importantly that the U.S. shut Kyiv's door to NATO membership.
U.S. President Joe Biden rebutted the accusations of NATO aggression and said it wasn't up to Moscow whether a country is admitted to the alliance. Last week, the two leaders held a two-hour video summit to discuss the crisis. They agreed to deploy representatives to working groups to start looking for ways to ease the tension.
Not an ultimatum, a "warning"
Earlier this week, Putin demanded "immediate" high-level talks to address Moscow's security concerns. Russian diplomats have sent the U.S. a list of proposals for mutual security guarantees, passing it to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried, who was in Moscow after holding talks in Kyiv.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Friday that Russia was no longer willing to let the current situation stand, and he called on the West to engage immediately in serious talks, without preconditions, to try to mend ties.
"We do not use the language of ultimatums with anyone, we approach our own safety and the safety of others very responsibly. The question here is not whether we have put forward an ultimatum, it is not one," insisted Ryabkov, adding: "But the matter is that the seriousness of our warning should not be underestimated."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Air Force One on Friday that the U.S. had seen Russia's proposals, but that there would be "no talks on European security without our European allies and partners."
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