Ukraine’s Security Service’s strange collaboration with Russia in its political persecution of opponents
Ukraine’s Security Service [SBU] appears to be collaborating with its Russian FSB counterpart even where there are strong grounds for believing that FSB interest in Russian citizens living in Ukraine is as politically motivated as its persecution of Ukrainians in occupied Crimea and Russia. The extradition of one young man - Zelimkhan Belkharoev - was stayed only after the European Court of Human Rights got involved and another man is now directly in danger of being handed over to the Russian authorities. This is despite legitimate suspicion about Russia’s motives and real fears for Ruslan Meyriev’s safety in Russia.
32-year-old lawyer Ruslan Meyriev is an Ingush national, and lived in an area on the border with Chechnya. He says that there is permanent pressure by the Russian authorities on Muslims, and in Ingushetia people constantly disappear. Sometimes their bodies are later found, showing clear signs of torture.
Meyriev left the Russian Federation in 2012, going first to Egypt where, he says, he studied Arabic and the Koran until 2013. He had a spinal injury dating back to 2009 and it was this that prompted him to move for treatment to Crimea in 2013.
He says that he felt much freer in Crimea than in Russia, and also met his Crimean Tatar wife, Kamila.
Then Russia invaded, and at the beginning of March 2014, he fled together with Kamila and a group of Crimean Tatars to the Vinnytsa oblast. One of the Crimeans who fled was Isa Akaev, who became the commander of the volunteer Krym [Crimea] Battalion. Meyriev was invited to take part but due to his disability status because of the spinal injury, was active only as a volunteer, taking food and clothing to the soldiers.
It was after this, in June 2014, that Russia suddenly decided to bring criminal proceedings against Meyriev, and then, in May 2015, to put him on the international wanted list.
By that stage he had lived outside the Russian Federation for over two years without any trouble, and he and his Ukrainian wife were already parents, living peacefully in her country. It is telling that even two months after he was placed on the wanted list, Meyriev was still able to renew his Russian passport at the Russian consulate with no mention made at all of any criminal proceedings.
He was first stopped by Ukrainian police in the middle of 2015. They told him that he had been put on the wanted list by Russia. He was understandably taken aback, and asked what was going on, were they really working for the Russian FSB? On that occasion, the police appear to have themselves had doubts and released Meyriev.
On Jan 16, 2016, he was detained and this time remanded in custody. A month later he was formally placed under arrest, pending extradition. Although he and his wife have three small children, and Meyriev certainly wants to remain in Ukraine, the courts have since stubbornly refused to at least release him from custody.
Meyriev applied for political asylum in April 2016. At a hearing of the Zaporizhya Regional Court of Appeal on Nov 18, the prosecutor stated that Ukraine’s Migration Service has turned down the asylum application.
There is now a real danger that the Prosecutor General’s Office will order Meyriev’s extradition.
If it does so, the European Court of Human Rights will almost certainly find Ukraine to have violated the European Convention on Human Rights. By then, however, Meyriev will have been handed over to the Russian Federation where his very life would be in danger.
The fact that charges only emerged after Meyriev began working as a volunteer for the Asker civic organization providing assistance to ‘Krym’ Battalion fighters defending Ukraine in Donbas should have already made Ukraine’s SBU and prosecutor wary. Such support alone would place Meyriev in danger of reprisals in Russia.
There is plenty more. The Russian criminal case is under the same ‘terrorism’ articles (205.1, 205.5) which Russia commonly uses against Ukrainians, in particular Crimean Muslims. No evidence is provided to substantiate claims of involvement in organizations which Russia claims to be ‘terrorist’.
Meyriev is alleged to have, “together with other unidentified individuals”, “at a time which has not been established, but no later than 2013” entered into an international terrorist organization called ‘Imarat Kavkaz’ (declared terrorist in Russia in 2010). He supposedly received instructions, again from unidentified individuals to help them obtain the components for explosive devices which would then be taken to the North Caucuses and Syria to be used to carry out terrorist acts. He is alleged to have persuaded a person identified only as R.R. Mann to provide radio-technical advice for such devices. Again at a time, etc. that the ‘investigators’ have proven unable to establish.
The allegations are all of this quality and depressingly reminiscent in style and lack of any substance to the politically motivated charges brought against Crimean political prisoners, as well as other Ukrainians held in Russia.
It should be noted that Russia has used ‘radical Muslim’ charges against those who oppose Russian occupation of Crimea since back in 2014. After banning veteran Crimean Tatar leader and former Soviet political prisoner Mustafa Dzhemiliev and the Head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis [representative assembly] Refat Chubarov from their homeland, it has since even accused them of recruiting for the so-called Islamic State. Both men are now also facing surreal criminal charges in Russia, as are a large number of Ukraine’s leaders. These charges are treated with the contempt that they deserve.
At parliamentary hearings on Nov 18, Chubarov blasted the SBU, accusing them of criminal collaboration with Russia’s FSB. He is aware of occasions when SBU officers put pressure on Meyriev, while the latter was in custody, to ‘confess’ to illegal possession of weapons. Either present Meyriev with charges and prove them, or release him from custody, he demanded.
Instead, he believes, it is the SBU who were behind the Migration Service’s refusal to grant asylum.
Although the cases of Meyriev and Belkharoev are the most immediately pressing, there are believed to be 11 Russian citizens facing similar danger in Ukraine.
The FSB has played a major role in most of the politically motivated prosecutions of Ukrainians in Russsian-occupied Crimea and Russia. Chubarov is not alone in feeling bemusement that the SBU should be abetting Russia in carrying out politically motivated persecution of Russian citizens.