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Occupiers want to put Ukrainian ex-Presidents on trial for ‘terrorism’ over water problem Russia can’t resolve

05.05.2021
Halya Coynash

Crimea’s occupation parliament has asked the Russian FSB and Investigative Committee to initiate criminal proceedings against 12 Ukrainian citizens, including two former Presidents over what it calls the ‘water blockade of Crimea’.  Blustering threats to this effect are not new, however this time the charges that the country which invaded and annexed Crimea propose to bring against Ukrainians include accusing them of acts of international terrorism.

The so-called Crimean parliamentary working group has asked for charges to be brought against independent Ukraine’s first President Leonid Kravchuk and President from 2014 – 2019, Petro Poroshenko; against veteran Crimean Tatar leader and Ukrainian MP Mustafa Dzhemilev; Head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, Refat Chubarov and eight other Ukrainians.  They accuse them of involvement in organizing the so-called water, food, transport and energy blockade of Crimea.

According to Efim Fiks, first deputy parliamentary speaker, they are asking for a formidable range of criminal charges: ‘terrorist act’; ‘facilitating public calls and justification of terrorist activities’; ‘organizing terrorist societies and participation in them’; ‘organizing the activities of terrorist organizations’; ‘sabotage’; ‘ecocide’ and ‘an act of international terrorism’.  One of his colleagues, Sergei Trofimov, claimed that “the actions of the blockades’ organizers are united in one aim – disrupting the defence capacity of the Russian Federation’.  The overall amount, he said, estimated as the loss just from the closing of the Northern Crimean Canal came to “more than 1 trillion, 406 billion roubles”.

TASS mentions that what it calls the Crimean authorities reported earlier that they were lodging a suit against former President Poroshenko and four other Ukrainian citizens “for the losses caused by the water; energy; transport; and food blockades’.

Neither the occupation authorities, nor the Russian state press agency report why all such ‘law suits’ are grotesquely comical  According to the Geneva Convention, it is Russia, as occupying state, that bears full responsibility for all that happens on occupied territory, and for all such requirements, as water and food. 

Even denying, as it standardly does, that it is an occupying power will not help Moscow make such suits look anything but absurd.  Russia’s entire narrative about Crimea, the twisted historical justification, the other lies it has told, have all been focused on trying to prove that Crimea is ‘naturally Russian’, and that it was the years under Ukraine that were somehow and aberration.

The problem with water that Russia cannot resolve gives the lie to all such claims. Ukraine’s Dnipro, via the Northern Crimean Canal, provided around 85% of Crimea’s water requirements.  Seven years after Kyiv cut off such supplies following Russia’s invasion, the latter remains incapable of providing the peninsula it is illegally occupying with water for agricultural and industrial needs.  It is, furthermore, Moscow’s focus on military expansion in Crimea, and its insistence on trying to attract Russian tourists that are now even jeopardizing amounts of water for domestic purposes.  In many parts of Crimea, water is only available for parts of the day.

Krym.Realii spoke with a member of the occupation government, Alexander Molokhov, who clearly did not appreciate the fact that Ukraine’s Minister for Temporarily Occupied Territory, Alexei Reznikov called the threats of international law suits “comical”.  Molokhov began listing the articles of Russia’s criminal code and the sentences envisaged, with ‘an act of international terrorism’ potentially carrying a life sentence.

Molokhov mentioned, approvingly, the absurd 19-year sentence recently passed by a Crimean ‘court’ against Crimean Tatar businessman and founder of TV ATR, Lenur Islyamov.  One of the charges in this trial in absentia was over Islyamov’s alleged involvement in the energy blockade.

After banning Mustafa Dzhemilev and Refat Chubarov from their homeland, Russia is now ‘trying’ them in absentia on surreal charges. Dzhemilev is accused of ‘illegally crossing the Russian border’ over his attempt to return home to Crimea on 3 May 2014.  Chubarov is charged with ‘organizing mass riots’ over a demonstration, which was not a riot, and which took place on Ukrainian territory under Ukrainian law.  He is also accused of ‘public calls to action aimed at violating Russia’s territorial integrity’ because he expressed his opposition to Russian occupation.

With ‘convictions’ in those cases essentially predetermined, it would only require a small step for Russia to ‘sentence’ former Presidents Kravchuk and Poroshenko to 20 years for supposed ‘acts of international terrorism’. They might even end up on Russia’s notorious ‘list of terrorists and extremists’ together with at least 85 Crimean Tatar or other Ukrainian political prisoners.

There is no problem for Russian prosecutors to pull out a huge number of ‘victims of the water blockade’, nor for them to ensure that docile ‘courts’ order this Ukrainian or that to pay ‘damages’.  The ‘experts’ whom Molokhov says they are approaching will doubtless also oblige by finding a cause and effect link between the actions of Kravchuk, Poroshenko or Dzhemilev and the lack of water.

The only cause and effect is Russia’s invasion and occupation of Crimea and the problem with water which Russia cannot resolve by peaceful means.  The signatories to the Budapest Memorandum who failed to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity in 2014 should now be making it quite clear to Russia that any military action aimed at obtaining access to water will be one red line that cannot be crossed without real and painful consequences for the aggressor state.

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