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Russian ex-soldier gets 20-yr sentence for starting deadly nightclub fire

(Reuters) - A former Russian soldier who had fought in Ukraine was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Thursday for starting a fire in a nightclub that killed 13 people, Russian media reported.

Reports of Russian soldiers committing violent crimes after returning home from Ukraine are widespread and have presented problems for the Kremlin.

Many of the offenders are men who were released early from prison, where they were serving time for serious crimes, in exchange for fighting in the war.

In November 2022 Stanislav Ionkin, 23, got into a drunken fight in a nightclub in the city of Kostroma some 200 miles (320 km) from Moscow and fired shots from a flare gun that set the building's roof on fire, killing more than a dozen people inside.

Ionkin's lawyer argued in the military court that the ex-soldier was undergoing treatment for a concussion suffered in Ukraine, which could have affected his behaviour at the time, media reported.

"In a difficult situation, Ionkin gets lost and is prone to implementing ill-considered decisions, which is confirmed by a psychological and psychiatric examination," independent news outlet Mediazona cited his lawyer as saying.

The Telegram channel Baza, which has links to Russia's security services, said Ionkin had been wounded by shelling in Ukraine and had returned to Russia in August 2022 to spend time in a hospital and then on sick leave.

Ionkin was stripped of his rank of guard sergeant and of a medal given for courage in battle by the Moscow court on Thursday.

He was also ordered to pay 14.5 million roubles ($158,000) in civil claims to the victims and 45 million roubles to the nightclub owner and organiser, Interfax reported.

($1 = 91.5680 roubles)

(Reporting and writing by Lucy Papachristou; Editing by Hugh Lawson)