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Ukrainian judge orders former US Army soldier wanted for US murder back into custody

Gavel (Observer-Dispatch/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

A Ukrainian judge has ordered a former U.S. Army soldier wanted for a double murder in the United States back into Ukrainian custody amid uncertainty over whether he will be extradited.

The order against Craig Lang was handed down on October 8 by the Court of Appeal in the central city of Vinnytsya, where Lang has been detained since crossing the border from Moldova in August.

Lang, who fought for a Ukrainian right-wing paramilitary unit, is one of two U.S. Army veterans implicated in the killing of a couple in Florida in 2018.

The Vinnytsya court had ordered Lang freed from pre-trial detention on September 28, after prosecutors said they hadn’t received proper paperwork from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv.

During the October 8 hearing, Lang, who does not face any criminal charges in Ukraine, was asked by the judge why he had returned to Ukraine.

“I wanted to help,” he said. “You still have a war going on…there are still people dying.”

According to U.S. court records, Lang and another ex-U.S. Army soldier, Alex Zwiefelhofer, were accused of robbing a couple in Florida in 2018 and then killing them in an effort to get money to travel to Venezuela to “participate in an armed conflict against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.”

In the September 2016 complaint, Zwiefelhofer was said to have told federal agents that he and Lang had fought in Ukraine with a group called Right Sector.

Originally an alliance of ultranationalist groups that formed during the Euromaidan protests in November 2013, Right Sector transformed into a volunteer fighting battalion after Russia fomented a separatist war in eastern Ukraine in April 2014.

Lang’s name also appeared in a criminal complaint filed in the U.S. state of Kansas last month against another U.S. Army soldier who has been charged with plotting to bomb a unnamed U.S. television network and attack left-wing activists.

According to the Kansas complaint, that soldier Jarrett Smith discussed on Facebook in 2016, as well as later dates, that he was interested in traveling to Ukraine to fight with the Azov Battalion, another paramilitary unit that has fought against Russia-backed separatists and also espouses an ultranationalist ideology.

The case is one of a growing number involving former U.S. veterans and U.S.-based extremists and white supremacist groups who have cultivated ties with Ukrainian right-wing groups in recent years.