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01.06.2017 | Halya Coynash

Kremlin muffles question to Macron & Putin about jailed Ukrainian journalist

Roman Sushchenko, RIA Novosti, Putin & Macron, Kremlin.ru
   

The Kremlin’s transcript of questions put to the Presidents of France and Russia at their joint May 30 press conference and their answers omit any mention of imprisoned Ukrainian journalist Roman Sushchenko, although the question specifically asked whether his case had been discussed.  Human rights are also given a wide berth although they were also certainly raised at question-time.   

French President Emmanuel Macron reserved his refreshingly blunt words for the non-journalist activities of the Kremlin-funded Russia Today and Sputnik.  While not ducking the human rights questions raised, he was not prepared to be specific about which particular cases were discussed, saying that revealing this would not help to achieve progress on them.

For Sushchenko’s wife and 9-year-old son, as well as the families of other Ukrainian political prisoners, neither Macron’s words, nor Russian President Vladimir Putin’s silence, will have brought much hope.  Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov had promised that Putin would give a “comprehensive answer” if asked about Ukrainian prisoners and now claims the subject was never raised.  

In fact, with respect to Sushchenko, Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov or any of the 44 Ukrainians whom Russia is holding illegally in Russia or occupied Crimea, it is not enough to merely raise the subject.  Putin has on numerous occasions repeated the same lies, for example, denying the political nature of the ‘trial’ and sentences against Sentsov and civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko. 

What is vital is for real pressure to be brought to bear.

The case of Roman Sushchenko was the most obvious place to start since the 47-year-old journalist had been working as Paris correspondent for the Ukrainian Ukrinform news agency for six years when seized by FSB officers shortly after arriving in Moscow on September 30, 2016 and held incommunicado for two days.

On Oct 3, the FSB claimed that the Ukrainian journalist is a colonel in Ukraine’s Military Intelligence, who had been gathering secret information about the activities of the Russian army and forces of the National Guard.  The FSB asserted that the information, if leaked abroad, could have caused damage to the state’s defence capacity. 

Russia’s Foreign Ministry in its turn mentioned the fact that Sushchenko had not had journalist accreditation and had no right to engage in journalist activities. 

Sushchenko was in Moscow on a private visit and staying with relatives.  He remains a journalist, and would be quite possible for him to have learned of information that he thought would be of interest.  This is very far removed from espionage.

In fact, the story may be far more disturbing. As with other Ukrainian political prisoners, Russia has forced Sushchenko’s lawyer Mark Feygin to sign an undercoming not to disclose any details.  He has made it fairly clear that there is nothing to disclose, and believes that a disk which Sushchenko was asked to take back to Paris for another journalist was part of a deliberate set-up by the FSB.  The most distressing part of this is that Sushchenko had agreed to take the disk for a person he has known for 28 years.  Since he was arrested while receiving the disk, the person was almost certainly involved.

Although Russia is holding many Ukrainians prisoner, Sushchenko is the first journalist to have been arrested and on charges of spying in a country which he was not working or living in. 

Reporters without Borders recently demanded that Russia release the journalist, who was described as “a hostage of the conflict between the two countries”  The International Press Institute has also suggested that Sushchenko’s arrest is a politically motivated move to impact the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Moscow has thus far remained implacable, even to an appeal from Sushchenko’s son Maxim.  Angelika Sushchenko has been allowed one visit to see her husband, organized as the result of direct phone calls between Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. 

On the eve of Putin’s visit, relatives of Russia’s Ukrainian political prisoners and civic activists addressed an open appeal to President Macron.  They mentioned just some of the prisoners and spoke of the atmosphere of terror and intimidation which Russia has unleashed in occupied Crimea.

They called on the President to put their demand to Putin that he release all of the Kremlin’s prisoners.  They asked him also to increase the sanctions against Russia for the persecution, illegal imprisonment and torture of dissidents on occupied territory, and expressed the hope that defence of human rights will be a priority of the new presidency.

 

 

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