• Topics / Human Rights Abuses in Russian-occupied Crimea
Russia continues Crimean arrests with debunked ’Ukrainian nationalist’ proof
Two more Crimeans have been arrested and remanded in custody accused by Russia of planning acts of ‘sabotage’. Typically the main news source was provided by Dmitry Kiselyov, described by the BBC as ‘Russia’s chief spin doctor’, in a long feature under the title ‘The latest failure by Ukrainian intelligence: saboteurs failed to harm Crimea”
Any doubts about the propaganda motive behind the latest arrests are dispelled at around 02.09 on the video of Kiselyov’s program. The same business card from the Ukrainian nationalist organization ‘Right Sector’ which first caused Internet mirth back in 2014 (when it was triumphantly displayed after being supposedly found intact in a totally gutted car) is yet again demonstrated. This is straight video montage, with the card supposedly found a week earlier at the home of one of the first men arrested, but is simply displayed without any explanation between the two men’s ‘confessions’.
Oleksiy Stohniy is claimed to be an officer of Ukraine’s Military Intelligence [HUR], while Hlib Shabliy is referred to as a Ukrainian officer, a Rank 2 captain in the Ukrainian Fleet. Stohniy works in a shop selling toys and office supplies, and Shabliy is also described as a businessman, with Kiselyov claiming that in both cases the men’s jobs were ‘cover’ for their actual activities working for Ukrainian intelligence.
Both men were remanded in custody initially for 2 months, during a court hearing in Sevastopol held behind closed doors. There was no information about them before the Russian media reports, and it is most unlikely that either man was allowed access to a proper lawyer or contact with their families.
The confessions are thus given by men totally under the control of the FSB. In Stohniy’s case, the detention itself was clearly carried out in very rough manner.
He states that he received remuneration for providing information, that he went to Kyiv several times and also received it from Dmytro Shtyblikov, a world-known analyst and expert on the Black Sea region whom Russia is claiming was the leader of this ‘plot’. Shtyblikov allegedly brought the money to him in his shop. He was supposed to provide information about infrastructure of the Black Sea fleet and about those employed on it.
After the ‘Right Sector’ interlude, Shtabliy also says, as though reading a text, that he worked for Ukrainian Military Intelligence.
This is all that the two men are heard ‘confessing’ to.
Five men have thus now been arrested in Russia’s latest ‘Crimean sabotage’ case, with the first arrests on Nov 9 of two well-known academics - Dmytro Shtyblikov and Oleksiy Bessarabov - having elicited outrage both in Ukraine and beyond. They were arrested together with a retired Ukrainian military officer Volodymyr Dudka.
Dudka is supposed to have travelled to Kyiv with Shtyblikov and then delivered the money. He also says, on another of these videoed ‘confessions’ that he was supposed to bring “a maximum amount of trotyl”.
The program claims that the men were planning to blow up major items of infrastructure, with an electricity station even mentioned. Worth noting that the FSB came up with precisely the same claims when they first announced the arrests on May 30, 2014 of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko and two other opponents of Russia’s occupation of Crimea. Since Sentsov and Kolchenko stood firm and provided no ‘confessions’, their eventual trial demonstrated the lack of any evidence against them at all. This did not stop Russia from sentencing Sentsov to 20 years, Kolchenko to 10. Both remain in Russian prisons, as do almost all of the Ukrainians arrested on charges that bear no scrutiny.
It was reported earlier that Shtyblikov and Bessarabov were not being allowed to see proper lawyers. Dudka was allowed to briefly see a lawyer and told her that his ‘confession’ was extracted through threats to his family. His son expressed concern that his father was under pressure to reject an independent lawyer. It is standard (illegal) procedure for the investigators and FSB to either actively obstruct real lawyers from seeing their clients, or put major pressure on the prisoners to themselves reject them. This leaves them with state-appointed ‘lawyers’ who normally encourage them to ‘confess’ and are there essentially to sign documents.
On earlier videos Shtyblikov stated that he was a Ukrainian Military Intelligence colonel and had worked for Intelligence since 1998. Bessarabov also claimed to be a Ukrainian Military Intelligence colonel, with this dating back to 2008.
In an appeal launched on Nov 13, a large number of academics, journalists and civic activists from Ukraine and abroad condemned the arrests. They pointed out that until the spring of 2014, Dmytro Shtyblikov had been the Director of International Programs for the Nomos Centre [in full, the Centre for furthering research into geopolitical issues and Euro-Atlantic cooperation in the Black Sea Region]. This was a Ukrainian non-government think tank founded in Sevastopol in 2003. Bessarabov was one of his colleagues, and the Deputy Editor of the journalist Black Sea Security. The journal published works by Ukrainian, and foreign experts.
For almost 10 years Shtyblikov and Bessarabov had researched issues of international and regional security and published a large number of texts in this field, as well as appearing in the media and expert meetings. The authors of the appeal note that the absurdity of the charges against prominent experts is clear to all who had any dealings with the Nomos Centre. They demand the men’s release and call on Ukraine to take all efforts to defend the men just arrested and all other innocent victims of repression, using also the potential of international organizations. The appeal can be endorsed by sending an email to [email protected]
Judging by the maximum propaganda mileage which Russian state-controlled television is taking from all these alleged ‘Crimean sabotage’ stories, it seems likely that the arrests will continue with any Ukrainian effectively at risk.