Russian mother of seven accused of treason over Ukraine

Tanks of pro-Russian separatists drive towards the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on January 22, 2015 (AFP Photo/Aleksander Gayuk) (AFP/File)

Moscow (AFP) - A mother of seven has been accused of treason for calling the Ukrainian embassy about Russian troop movements in the latest sign of Moscow attempting to cover up its intervention in its neighbouring state.

Svetlana Davydova, 36, was arrested last week by a group of men in black uniforms who burst into her apartment in the town of Vyazma, west of Moscow, her husband Anatoly Gorlov told AFP.

She was still breastfeeding their youngest child, a two and a half month old girl, when she was taken away, he said.

The woman -- who faces between 12 and 20 years in prison -- is being held at the high-security Lefortovo jail in Moscow, her lawyer Andrei Stebenev told AFP.

"She called where she was not supposed to call and said what she was not supposed to say," said Stebenev, who has been appointed by the state.

He said he could not comment further because the Russian General Staff said details of the case constituted a "state secret."

He added that the woman managed to keep her composure in detention. "She is keeping her chin up."

A spokeswoman for Moscow's Lefortovo district court confirmed the existence of the "secret case".

The FSB security service, successor to the Soviet-era KGB, whose investigator is in charge of the case, declined to comment.

Davydova's husband told AFP that his wife, who had taken an anti-war stance over the Ukraine conflict, phoned the Ukrainian embassy last April and apparently told them the local military base in Vyazma was empty, suggesting soldiers there had been deployed across the border.

She also apparently informed embassy staff she had overheard a serviceman saying troops of the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU, would be sent on a mission.

The troops would wear plainclothes and remain away at least until elections.

Davydova suspected the troops would be deployed to Ukraine which held presidential elections last May, Gorlov said.

The fighting between Moscow-backed separatists and government troops broke out in eastern Ukraine in April.

The Kremlin has denied Russian troops have been fighting alongside insurgents.

Last year Russia charged an elderly rights activist with fraud after she challenged Moscow's denials that its troops were on the ground in Ukraine.

Lyudmila Bogatenkova was released in October after an outcry but her criminal case remains open.

- 'Monstrous mistake' -

Davydova has four children with Gorlov and they are also raising three children from his previous marriage.

He insisted that his wife did not betray her country.

"She does not want our military to take part in some kind of plot," Gorlov said, adding that they both opposed Russia's seizure of Crimea last March.

He said he was told to cooperate with the investigation or risk losing custody of his children.

"We were in shock," said Davydova's sister, Natalya Gorlova, "This is a monstrous mistake."

"I first thought they were bandits," she added, referring to the men who raided the family's apartment.

- 'Spies without war' -

Vladislav Yusupov, a lawyer and rights activist, said the case was an embarrassment for authorities who have enforced a virtual blackout on any information related to Russia's intervention in Ukraine.

"The opening of this case is an acknowledgement that troops have been deployed to Ukraine."

President Vladimir Putin said in December that any Russians fighting in Ukraine had gone there "following the call of the heart".

The case brings to mind some of the worst excesses of the Soviet repressive machine.

When reports of the arrest first appeared online, some appeared reluctant to believe such a case was even possible in modern Russia.

"There is no war but there are spies," one woman, Tatiana Tutaeva, wrote on Facebook.

Opposition lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov said he had requested that the General Prosecutor's Office provide more details about the case, while a leader of the opposition party Yabloko, Sergei Mitrokhin, said he had filed an inquiry with the FSB security service.

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