Tortured Ukrainian spoils Russia’s most absurd ‘Crimea Saboteur’ case by refusing to ‘cooperate’
A Russian-controlled ‘court’ has again extended the detention of Yevhen Panov, the 40-year-old Ukrainian who is single-handedly obstructing the Russian FSB’s first ‘Crimean sabotage plot’ Not only did he retract the ‘confession’ tortured out of him for Russian television, but he has continued to refuse to collaborate in any way. This is highly inconvenient for the FSB, since the ‘case’ is so absurd that two of the other three men have so far ended up convicted of charges quite different from those that they had also ‘confessed’ to. According to Panov’s mother, attempts are constant to break him, with these including promises of better conditions and a shorter ‘sentence’ if he agrees to take on Russian citizenship. Yevhen has withstood them all, as well as being held in cells with rats and bed bugs, and is adamant that he a citizen only of Ukraine. The pressure on him remains ferocious. According to his brother, Ihor Kotelyanets, the FSB and prison staff keep trying to convince him that his lawyers have stopped coming and that Ukraine is not fighting for his release. Panov has been ’offered’ a 5-year sentence instead of 20 years if he ‘confessed’, with imprisonment “closer to Ukraine”.
On February 7, ‘judge’ Yelena Mikhailova, from the Russian-controlled ‘High Court’, extended Panov’s detention for a further two months, until April 9. Such ‘hearings’ are essentially a formality, with there being no question of Panov’s release, however it is significant that it was held behind closed doors. Secrecy is convenient when, despite the involvement of M. Golyshev, ‘senior FSB inspector on particularly important cases’, there really are no charges, sensible or other.
As reported, the ‘trial’ of a fourth person, Andriy Zakhtei, has just begun. Here the FSB has recently had more success, though again it is only limited. After inflicting the same treatment on Zakhtei back in August 2016, they then put him under massive pressure in detention. He agreed to ‘cooperate with the investigators’, i.e. not deny guilt, enabling the ‘court’ to not consider the supposed ‘evidence’. Even better for the FSB, the whole ‘trial’ is to take place behind closed doors. This cannot, however, obscure the fact that he gave detailed testimony about the torture he was subjected to. This testimony is similar to Panov’s and has already been sent to the European Court of Human Rights.
At least four men remain imprisoned after being seized and having ‘confessions’ extracted from them back in early August 2016. This was part of a grandiose attempt by Russia to claim that it had foiled terrorist acts planned by the Ukrainian Defence Ministry’s military intelligence and targeting critically important parts of Crimea’s infrastructure. The story was treated with deserved scepticism from the outset, not least because the occupation regime in Crimea had blocked access to all independent Internet sites days before this alleged ‘offensive’.
Two of the men – Redvan Suleymanov; and Volodymyr Prysich - were eventually convicted of charges that bore little or no relation to these supposed confessions. While Suleymanov remained reticent amount the motives for his ‘confession’, Prysich stated quite clearly that he had given the initial ‘confession for television’ under torture. The same, as mentioned, applies to Zakhtei as well, and it seems likely that the court in Strasbourg will have no difficulty in understanding why, after a year and a half of appalling conditions of imprisonment and constant pressure, he has agreed to cooperate.
On August 10, 2016, the FSB claimed that it had foiled terrorist acts planned by the Ukrainian Defence Ministry’s military intelligence and targeting critically important parts of Crimea’s infrastructure. This was aimed, the FSB asserted, at destabilizing the situation in the run-up to Russia’s elections which were illegally held in occupied Crimea.
It asserted that there had been major incidents, with shelling from mainland Ukraine, during the nights from 6-7 and 7-8 August, with 2 Russians – an FSB officer and a soldier – killed. Although two Russians did die, there are independent reports suggesting that at least one of the men was killed in a drunken brawl. There was nothing to back the claims about the second night and supposed shelling from Ukraine.
The claims were trumpeted by Russia’s leaders and state-controlled media, but based solely on videoed ‘confessions’ from four men, and a supposed ‘stockpile of weapons’ which could not be linked to Panov and Zakhtei.
The first video shown widely on Russian television was of Panov’s ‘confession’ and the accusations against him. The video was extremely sloppy, with the full moon visible in one shot indicating that it had been taken three weeks earlier when Panov was still working as a driver in Enerhodar [Zaporizhya oblast].
Panov, who shows signs of having been beaten, ‘confessed’ to working for Ukrainian military intelligence, and having been recruited for a group formed to carry out acts of sabotage in Crimea. He reeled off various names of people supposedly from Ukrainian intelligence. Neither he, nor any of the other men, mentioned each other.
Zakhtei, a taxi driver living in Yevpatoria, also spoke of having directly fulfilled tasks from Ukrainian military intelligence in transporting saboteurs and their things around Crimea.
On August 12, Redvan Suleymanov also stated on a video broadcast on Russian TV that he had been recruited by Ukrainian military intelligence in October 2015. He was supposed to find places to plant bombs in the Simferopol Airport and Bus Station, with the criteria being: the possibility of hiding them and large number of people around.
He was also instructed to make a dummy model of an explosive device, place it somewhere and phone the police, remaining at the airport to study and photograph how the police behaved. This was what he was doing (with a camera!) when, according to this account, he was arrested on July 30, 2016.
On August 22, 2016, in a report on Russian TV claiming that the so-called ‘sabotage in Crimea’ had been planned at a very high level, the confession was broadcast of Volodymyr Prysich, a truck driver from Kharkiv. Reciting his ‘confession’ as though reading from a script, Prysich said that he had been recruited by a military intelligence officer called Oleh, and was supposed to follow the movement of technology, and pay attention to its type, any marks identifying it and number plates identifying the region. He had been in Crimea 8 times, he said, up till August, and passed photographs of military technology, etc. to the military intelligence man 5 times.
Prysich was sentenced on May 18, 2017 to 3 years’ imprisonment on a charge of possession of a narcotic substance.
In court Prysich denied all charges. He said that he had been seized by masked men in Sevastopol at around 11.30 a.m. on August 13, 2016, and taken to a building for ‘questioning’. The ‘interrogation’ was highly specific: he was asked a question and then given an electric shock and warned to think carefully about his answer.
Suleymanov was sentenced on August 10, 2017 to 1 year and 8 months imprisonment, on a charge which was vastly removed from the accusations of involvement in what Russia claimed was ‘Ukrainian state terrorism”. He was accused only of making a false bomb threat, though Natalya Skholnaya, ‘judge’ at the Zheleznodorozhny District Court, chose to accept the unsubstantiated claim that this had resulted in an incredible three and a half million roubles damages. This was despite compelling grounds for believing that, if not the charge itself, then the supposed damages were always aimed at hiding vast amounts of money siphoned off by corrupt officials.
Panov was prevented from seeing a lawyer, with this effectively only achieved two months after his seizure, thanks to the European Court of Human Rights’ intervention.
Panov, Zakhtei and Prysich have all alleged torture, with Panov and Zakhtei both giving harrowing details and saying that they were willing to sign anything to stop the pain, inflicted through electric shocks, including to their genitals.