Monthly bulletin Prava Ludyny (Human rights)
Russian propaganda must be challenged
Russia’s must be challenged to provide evidence for the unsubstantiated allegations presented as the grounds for its occupation of Ukrainian territory. Let them present it now to an international committee whose findings would be made public including on Crimean and Russian TV
Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Monday regarding what it called the “US Secretary of State’s threats against Russia” which it deems unacceptable. It also made some extremely serious allegations against Ukraine which are worthy of scrutiny given that they supposedly make the measures Russia has taken “adequate and absolutely lawful”,
Russia asserts that the US and its allies “have turned a blind eye to the excesses of the Maidan fighters”, and are not bothering to “objectively assess the situation which continues to degenerate following the forced seizure of power in Kyiv by radical extremists”. This new Kyiv regime, it claims, “trampled on the Feb 21 agreement signed by Germany, France and Poland”.
This is a highly specific interpretation of the situation given that the Feb 21 agreement was also signed by the then president, Viktor Yanukovych who that same evening fled his residence at Mezhyhirya, taking truckloads of possessions with him. The president’s administration was also left totally unguarded.
Measures to deal with the ensuing power vacuum were passed by a constitutional majority in parliament the following day.
Yanukovych was only seen once on a pre-recorded video interview before re-emerging in Rostov on the Don (Russia) on Feb 28. On Monday Vitaly Churkin claimed at the UN Security Council meeting that Yanukovych had asked for the deployment of Russian forces. Judging from the way Churkin flourished the relevant document, this was seriously intended as a conclusive argument. Since the former president has been placed on the international wanted list in connection with the gunning down of unarmed protesters by police snipers from Feb 18 – 20, Russia’s view a likely Russian addition to that same wanted list should be mentioned.
On March 3 the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation announced that criminal proceedings had been initiated against the leader of the Ukrainian movement Pravy Sektor. Dmytro Yarosh, a prominent figure in the EuroMaidan movement, is suspected of “public calls via the media to carry out terrorist and extremist activities”. The committee claims that “in his speeches the head of the extreme national Ukrainian organization Pravy Sektor, Dmytro Yarosh has publicly incited anti-Russian forces to extremist actions and terror on Russian territory”.
A restraint measure will shortly be sought, after which Yarosh will also appear on the international wanted list.
Researcher on rightwing movements, Tetyana Bezruk has investigated all the claims in the Russian media over recent days regarding Yarosh and demonstrates how some of the material is a montage in which the negative comments about Russia are made by an anonymous activist, while the key claim against him is a banal fake. On March 1 it was claimed on Lifenews that Yarosh had made an appeal for help to the Chechen militant leader Doku Umarov This claim was rejected the following day by the Pravy Sektor press secretary Artem Skoropadsky. He explained that the social network VKontakte account of a member had been hacked, and that the fake had appeared during this period.
Bezruk cites other attempts to cast a slur on Pravy Sektor, and through it the EuroMaidan movement. These are then cited by Russia’s Foreign Ministry as the “excesses of Maidan fighters”. The US supposedly also ignores these fighters’ “militant Russophobia and anti-Semitism, desecration of the memory of heroes of the Great Patriotic War [World War II]. “ The same statement says that the West have taken on “overt neo-Nazis, destroying Orthodox churches and synagogues” as their allies.
These claims have been bandied about both by the Yanukovych regime and the Russian pro-Kremlin media for a long time. They have been categorically rejected by prominent representatives of the Jewish, Crimean Tatar communities, the Association of Jewish Organizations and Associations [Vaad Ukraine], religious organizations and others. Prominent British specialist on Ukraine, Andrew Wilson has pointed out that “only one Russian citizen has died in the current crisis, and he was shot by snipers in Kyiv”. Those felled by police snipers also included Jewish people, Armenians, Georgians and a Belarusian.
A huge amount of evidence can be presented which gives the lie to the myths which Russia is pushing. The problem is that this evidence is repeatedly presented, including most compellingly by such world-renowned historians as Timothy Snyder, Anne Applebaum and others. Russia simply churns they myths out once again, using its control over large parts of the media to circulate untruths. The purported “war declared on the Russian language” has no basis in truth. The law rather insensitively revoked by the new government (which is expected to be vetoed by the acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov) made no incursions on the use of the Russian language in Ukraine which is guaranteed by Ukraine’s Constitution, and the alleged war “against all that is associated with Russia” is pure fiction.
It is dangerous fiction being used for political ends with the likely cost in human lives apparently of no concern to Russia’s President Vladimr Putin. It is imperative that Russia is challenged to provide evidence for these claims. Let them present it to an international committee to be created immediately with its findings presented publicly on all major TV channels in the Crimea and the Russian Federation.
Putin’s Neo-Nazi Helpers
Pavel Gubarev in not-so bygone neo-Nazi days
Russian TV has a new hero, “elected” by the people and persecuted for his beliefs by the new baddy regime in Kyiv. Pavel Gubarev is certainly pro-Russian and, as of March 6, in custody, but his neo-Nazi background, seemingly shared by some of his most vocal defenders, makes him a curious choice. The Kremlin, after all, claims to be fighting what it labels the fascist hordes, not supporting them.
A Donetsk small-time business man and head of the “People’s Militia”, Gubarev took part in a big demonstration on March 1 in Donetsk during which he was supposedly elected “people’s governor”. On that and subsequent days Gubarev led crowds in storming the Donetsk regional administration building, hanging a Russian flag. On March 5 pro-Russian activists are reported to have attacked EuroMaidan activists on Lenin Square. The police say that about 10 people from both sides were injured, with three needing to be hospitalized.
Gubarev, claiming to be the people’s governor, demanded that the regional authorities oppose the new Kyiv administration and that a referendum be held on whether the oblast should secede or otherwise change its status. He also directly called for Russian military intervention in the oblast.
He was detained on March 6 and at the application of the SBU [security service] remanded in custody for 2 months. The SBU are charging him with violent acts aimed at overthrowing the authorities (109 § 1 of the Criminal Code) and seeking to undermine Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty (110 § 2). They have included a charge of seizing a public building (Article 341).
The Russian media mention only this last charge which they note was not brought against the pro-EU integration protesters in Kyiv who seized the Kyiv City Administration building and others.
This is just one of many geographical differences in presentation of these and other details. A popular Ukrainian blogger says that Gubarev was close to the local Party of the Regions people, and was earlier involved in organizing paid rallies and the party’s PR campaigns. On March 1, after a number of lacklustre addresses, Gubarev got up on stage and said what the audience wanted to hear. The author believes that this was a reflection of what he calls their “fascist, chauvinist views” based on Russian, great-state nationalism. “For just that reason the audience liked Pavel Gubarev. In the past he was a member of the fascist organization Russian National Unity.”
By declaring himself governor, Gubarev doomed his pro-Russian rebellion to failure. Instead of the promised 50 thousand people the following day, there were only around 5 thousand. Most were from Donetsk and the oblast however the most aggressive, the blogger believes, were probably from Russia. “The skinheads dressed uniformly were clearly not local. Here shaved heads and bomber jackets have long gone out of fashion with those on the right.”
Whether Gubarev was given reason to believe in Russian intervention of a military, rather than motley marginal nature is not clear. Certainly the benefit to the Russian propaganda machine of Gubarev the martyr seems far in excess of any uses as "people’s governor".
The state TV channel ORT calls him “the governor proclaimed by decision of the city residents themselves”, while NTV goes all out to present Gubarev as representing the people in battle with oligarchs, suggesting that the “February coup in Kyiv” was also of an oligarch nature. “The security service took custody of the people’s governor as if he were an especially dangerous terrorist, not bothering to observe the legally stipulated procedure”.
TV news broadcasts are ideal propaganda tools. Nobody asks for claims to be substantiated, and even if a viewer felt suspicious, switching channels in Russia would change only the presenter, not the lies and manipulation of information. Nor will you hear the facts mentioned above that make this choice of hero exceedingly strange.
Gubarev was a member of the neo-Nazi, Russian chauvinist Russian National Unity movement, and judging by his address on March 1, this chauvinism has not changed. According to reports in the Ukrainian media, Russian nationalists with xenophobic and far-right views may be involved in the separatist movements in Donetsk and the Crimea. A member of the “Other Russia” party led by National Bolshevik leader Edward Limonov, Rostislav Zhuravlyov is believed to have negotiated with the SBU attempting to obtain Gubarev’s release. Other members of Other Russia are currently being recruited as volunteers for the secessionist moves in the Crimea , while Igor Azar, a Russian journalist, asserts that Alexei Khudyakov from the migrant-bashing Russian organization “Shield of Moscow” is also helping Gubarev.
None of this is illegal, but it is surely worthy of investigation given the claims made by Russian president Vladimir Putin that his country is protecting Russian nationals from the “orgy of nationalists, extremists and anti-Semites on the streets of Kyiv”.
The western media has returned over and over again to certain topics, such as the role of the rightwing in the Maidan movement, claims of anti-Semitism, etc, especially with respect to the VO Svoboda party and Pravy Sector. However many times the claims are compellingly refuted, not least by prominent Jewish organizations, Ukraine’s Chief Rabbi, and others, journalists continue to dredge them out, reporting them as vague "fears", "concerns", etc..
One likely reason is that the Russian media, via major press agencies, are easier sources of information than Ukrainian media. Journalists thus miss the moving account given of the funeral in Chernivtsi of Aleksandr Shcherbanyuk, one of the Maidan defenders killed by Berkut police snipers on Feb 21. After prayers were read by the Rabbi, Pravy Sector members and police officers honoured the slain Maidan defender with a salute.
And they miss the obvious questions that should be asked when Russian TV is creating heroes out of motley neo-Nazis. With Putin’s use of “anti-fascist rhetoric” to justify real military intervention in Ukraine, the lack of attention to this is truly baffling.
Concept framework for a law on lustration
Lustration is the procedure of temporary restriction of the right to hold a list of posts set out by law in state bodies and bodies of local self-government in the event that a person has committed the actions envisaged by this law.
Body of power carrying out lustration
The lustration committee carries out policy in the sphere of lustration.
The committee is made up of 11 members, with the head of the committee being elected by the Verkhovna Rada for 5 years. The members of the lustration committee are elected by the Verkhovna Rada at the submission of it head, also for 5 years. The members of the lustration committee are guaranteed independence and may not be dismissed until they resign, are convicted of committing a crime or die. Seven of the election members of the lustration committee must have higher legal education.
Criteria for lustration
Lustration should be carried out according to the following criteria:
Having been in the leadership of regional committees of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union [CPSU] or Ukrainian Communist Party [CPU]; or the central committees of the CPSU and CPU; the regional committees of the Ukrainian Komsomol or its Central Committee up till August 19, 1991;
Having served in the fifth department of the KGB of the USSR; the KGB of the Ukrainian SSR or of other Soviet states as a member of staff or as a secret KGB agent;
Working for the Security Service of Ukraine [SBU] as a secret agent or secret employee;
Holding the post of president; prime minister; member of the cabinet of ministers; first, second or third category of public official posts, as well as posts equivalent; judge; MP; village or city mayor and deputies of local councils and carrying out the following actions:
Organizing and taking part in the rigging of the presidential elections in 2004;
Organizing and taking part in obstructing peaceful assembly during the period from 1 April 2010 to 22 February 2014;
Organizing and taking part in the persecution of people for their political or civic activities during the period from 1 April 2010 to 22 February 2014 through arbitrary detentions and arrests; initiation of criminal proceedings and the carrying out of investigative or operational activities;
Organizing and taking part in actions which resulted in losses to the state and local budgets in excess of 1 million UAH;
Action or inaction which led to violation of human rights as found by the European Court of Human Rights; the UN Human Rights Committee or other international institutions.
Range of posts
The Lustration Act covers persons holding or planning to hold the following posts:
President of Ukraine;
People’s Deputy [MP]; village or city mayor and deputies of local councils;
Prime Minister of Ukraine and members of the Cabinet of Ministers;
First, second or third category of public official posts as well as posts equivalent;
Positions in the Prosecutor’s office with the rank of public justice adviser; public justice adviser 1-3 class; senior justice adviser and justice adviser; junior justice adviser;
Posts held by military servicemen of senior and higher office rank;
Members of electoral commissions.
The profile laws stipulate that a prerequisite for holding these posts is the lack of circumstances set out as lustration criteria.
Any person holding these posts or seeking to hold them shall submit a declaration regarding the lack of circumstances set out in the lustration criteria. Should these circumstances apply, the person shall not be entitled to hold these posts and must be dismissed within 10 days. if the person is seeking to stand for elected office, the Lustration Committee checks the person on the basis of the declaration submitted during the election campaign.
Any person may voluntarily submit a statement regarding the fact of circumstances set out in the lustration criteria. The person must at the same time resign from the post held and take on the voluntary commitment to not hold the relevant posts during the space of five years. In this case information about the person will not be made public and the decision regarding the person shall be secret.
Mechanisms for application
There are two mechanisms each of which has its advantages.
The Lustration Committee checks the declaration by itself or at the application of any person;
The Lustration Committee considers a case regarding the submission of a false declaration. The person has the right to submit his or her evidence or comments. The Committee passes its decision which can be appealed in court within 10 days. The Committee’s decision may be examined by a regional court and higher court of appeal. The case may be examined according to general procedure or in separate specially created lustration chambers.
The Lustration Committee checks the declaration by itself or at the application of any person;
A lustration chamber is set up within a regional court, with Ukraine’s president appointing a separate judge. The case is examined by three judges at the submission of the Lustration Committee with observance of the standards for the right to a fair trial.
The court ruling may be appealed in a high court according to appeal procedure with such a separate lustration chamber being formed there as well. The decision of the high court shall be final.
Every person has the right to appeal against a lustration judgement in the courts with observance of the standards for the right to a fair trial.
A special lustration procedure is introduced for judges. The Lustration Committee checks judges when they are selected initially, and then when their indefinite tenure is being confirmed. For examination of judges who have violated human rights with their rulings an examination of such actions must be carried out in accordance with updated procedure of disciplinary proceedings for judges without participation of the Lustration Committee. This should be carried out by retired judges with public authority. This may be defined by this or a separate law.
Duration of lustration
The lustration procedure shall be carried out over a period of ten years.
Duration of the ban
In accordance with a ban by the relevant bodies a person can be banned from holding certain posts for 3-10 years depending on the person’s guilty and the assessment of their activities.
The most acceptable is a ban for 5 years.
Protection of private life
The judgement on lustration is made public only on completion of all domestic procedures for its appeal. The publication of the judgement shall contain a list of all the motives for the judgement. In the event that the person admits the relevant circumstances, this information shall be kept secret.
Explanatory note to the draft law on lustration
Lustration is a tool of transitional justice applied after transition from a dictatorship to democracy in order to protect democracy from a possible return to the past.
Lustration involves restriction of the right of certain stipulated categories of individuals to hold certain posts in the public service, including the right to hold electoral office.
Although lustration is not a punishment, in international law and the practice of the majority of countries, in is considered within the context of criminal law.
Lustration is not applied with respect to various types of actions which are classified as offences for which a person may face administrative or criminal charges.
The risks of lustration
Excessive interference in the private life of those suspected : according to international standards such interference is legitimate solely in the case of suspicion of committing a crime;
The application of lustration on the basis of falsified documents: many cases are known of false documents drawn up by the security services against a person;
The use of lustration for political purposes, especially in the case of vague criteria for its application; cases of corruption and blackmail are also likely through circulation of certain information about a person.
International law in this sphere
The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights in the context of Article 6 (the right to a fair trial) and Article 8 (the right to privacy): the European Court of Human Rights has examined a number of cases regarding lustration in Poland, Slovakia, Latvia and other countries, formulating certain standards;
See, for example, ECHR judgements in the cases of Turek v. Slovakia, 14 Feb 2006 (Application № 57986/00), Moczyczki v. Poland, 14 June 2011 (Application № 52443/07), Czodyniczki v. Poland, 2 September 2008 (Application № 17625/05), Adamsons v. Latvia, 24 June 2008 (Application № 3669/03), Matijek v. Poland, 24 April 2007 (Application № 38184/03), Liubosz v. Poland, 14 January 2008 (Application № 37469/05), Rasmusen v. Poland, 28 April 2008 (Application № 38886/05), Gorny v. Poland, 8 June 2010 (Application № 50399/07) and others.
PACE Resolution № 1481 (2006) «On the need for international condemnation of the crimes of totalitarian communist regimes”;
PACE Resolution № 1096 (1996) «On measures aimed at eliminating the legacy of former communist totalitarian regimes»
Judgements of Constitutional Courts in various countries.
These standards can be summarized as follows:
The guilt of each individual must be individually proven;
Each person has all the rights to defence that they would have in the case of criminal prosecution including the right to have the case examined by a court;
Lustration can be in force only for a limited period of time;
Punishment should be restricted in time and be proportional and individually determined for each person (usually no more than 5-10 years).
Lustration may not be used with respect to the work of a person in legal entities of private law, trade unions, civic associations, political parties and businesses.
The body of power carrying out lustration
In accordance with international standards, lustration may be carried out solely by a body with the relevant guarantees of independence. In Ukraine, for example, these are the courts, the Human Rights Ombudsperson, etc. The Lustration Committee therefore should have the relevant guarantees of independence. It can be created through various procedure but the main thing is that its members cannot be removed from their posts. It would be best if parliament confirmed the candidacies submitted by the head of the committee whom parliament had previously appointed.
With respect to specification of the range of posts where lustration is applied
The given list covers all leading posts in the central apparatus and many at local level.
The Cabinet of Ministers Decree of 29 July 1991 № 114 «On approving Provisions for the service of rank and file and managerial posts within interior ministry bodies specifies the relation of orders to the ranks of a civil servant therefore in cases not indicated, one would need to use the table showing the relation between the orders and ranks.
The law cannot cover posts which are not within public law, that is, to posts in state or private enterprises, institutions and organizations.
Lustration criteria must be clear and foreseeable. They cannot contain value concepts. Lustration is not punishment for certain offences, and it cannot therefore follow merely for those acts having been committed. On the contrary, lustration should apply where it is impossible to establish specific offences. One cannot therefore write that it should be applied to all who committed human rights abuses during some period. Lustration is in fact possible according to objective criteria, for example, the post, form of activities or belonging to a certain organization.
Violation of these requirements entitles a person to turn to the European Court of Human Rights and have a good chance of winning their case.
In general the stipulation of clear criteria of recent time is the hardest element of this law.
Archive of National Remembrance
In parallel, an Archive of National Remembrance needs to be created. For this the relevant legislative base needs to be created and procedure envisaged for its creation.
Within the archive, the branch state archives of the SBU, Interior Ministry, courts and other elements in the part of the archive fund created before 1 December 1991 need to be merged, as well as archival material regarding political persecution up till 20 February 2014. This archive should be included in Ukraine’s archival system and access to these archives should be ensured on the basis of a separate law. It would be sensible to unit the Archive of National Remembrance with the Institute of National Remembrance (and then the name Institute of National Remembrance could be retained).
Information channels at war
The West’s "robust response" to Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory has so far provided only entertainment value for the Russian propaganda machine. One of the supposed heavyweights on the US blacklist - Vladislav Surkov - has been reported widely on Russian TV as saying that he is "flattered" by US attention. Many of those on the list may not have western bank accounts to freeze, while those who do have been omitted. This fine message follows that received on Feb 27 when Ukraine and its neighbours discovered that a legally binding commitment (made with the Budapest Memorandum) to guarantee Ukraine’s territorial integrity if the latter gave up its nuclear arsenal meant as much, or as pitifully little, as all western statements of deep concern and strong condemnation.
Russian propaganda has, unfortunately, received support from unexpected quarters. In a more hands-on response to Putin’s annexation show in Moscow on March 18, several Ukrainian MPs from the rightwing VO Svoboda party physically coerced the head of the state-owned UTV-1, Oleksandr Panteleimonov to write a letter of resignation. Panteleimonov played a direct role in the flagrant distortion of information regarding the EuroMaidan protests, and the Stop Censorship movement had good grounds for accusing him, together with others, of having the blood of slain protesters on his hands. This does not change the foreseeable coverage that such thuggish methods will receive on Russian TV. These, we can safely assume, will assure Russians, and Crimean viewers, that the "fascists" in Kyiv are a menace.
Kremlin plans for intervention in the Crimea and full engagement of its propaganda arsenal began some time ago. Media monitoring reports that the Russian media were closely following the situation in the Crimea and Sevastopol from the beginning of the EuroMaidan protests in late November 2013. The most notorious Russian channels which were widely viewed in the Crimea and East of Ukraine, like ORT, Rossiya and NTV, pushed the idea that support for Viktor Yanukovych in the Crimea was linked with the wish of Crimeans to retain and deepen links with Russia. These ties, viewers were constantly told, were being jeopardized by the anti-government protests. The same channels followed Vladimir Putin in lying about a supposed "orgy of nationalists, extremists and anti-Semites on the streets of Kyiv" following the change of government. The lies were - and continue to be - ladled on thick, with gross distortion of facts preferred to fakes and total fiction, although the latter can also be found in abundance.
The hysterical propaganda reached such a crescendo that it did get noticed by western governments, even occasionally by the western media. It also prompted another decision in Kyiv which only fuelled the propaganda machine, though not necessarily fairly. On March 11 Ukraine’s National TV and Radio Broadcasting Council ordered all cable operators to stop transmitting four channels: Rossiya 1; ORT [Channel One]; NTV and the news channel Rossiya 24. The Council stated that the channels were a threat to national security.
They almost certainly were a threat however the ban created bad publicity, while not particularly achieving its aim. The puppet government in the Crimea had already replaced almost all Ukrainian channels with Russian ones, and certain Ukrainian channels had not in any case renounced the methods of distortion and lies which became so prevalent under Yanukovych. Russia’s Foreign Ministry lost no time in accusing Ukraine of "persecuting Russian journalists and restricting freedom of speech in Ukraine’s media. It called on the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media "to give a swift and unbiased assessment".
Dunja Mijatović reacted the same day, expressing concern "about new steps to restrict media plurality in Ukraine". In saying that she was repeating her call not to initiate repressive measures, she was possibly referring to a previous statement from March 8, criticizing "the continuous closure of television channels and attacks on journalists in Crimea".
Is there symmetry?
Over the last three weeks Moscow has gone all out to orchestrate a mirror image of the EuroMaidan protests and then condemn "double standards" in treatment of them. This has been especially marked in eastern oblasts, for example, Donetsk and Kharkiv, where disturbances and the storming of local administration buildings appear to have been instigated by young louts brought in from Russia.
Both the ban on channels and Tuesday’s forced resignation of Pantaleimonov were pure gifts to Russia. They create an impression of symmetry which is almost entirely false. Since the Russian invasion and installation of a puppet government, the Institute for Mass Information has reported over 70 violations of journalists’ rights in the Crimea, including abductions and serious assault. Many have been directly attributable to the authorities or Berkut special force officers. The pro-Russian government removed access in Ukraine to Ukrainian television channels. This is not equivalent to attempts, at a time when Ukraine has effectively been invaded, to restrict freedom to the media and journalists of the aggressor state who are disseminating demonstrably false information aimed at stirring up fears and antagonism
Mijatovic stresses that she "deplores any kind of state propaganda and hate speech", but insists that "any potentially problematic speech should be countered with arguments and more speech.”
All of this is undoubtedly laudable and correct in theory, as are the western media reports which give "both sides of the argument" with total lies about anti-Semitic attacks, fascist laws etc, being reported as one possible point of view against those who happen to hold an alternative position.
In the present situation such a stand is as impotent as the sanctions so far imposed in response to a real and grave danger to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and stability. This does not mean that the west should endorse restrictive measures which, in the case of the ban, were not necessarily the best option anyway. European bodies and the OSCE could, however, respond more proactively to constant barrages of lies, as did the US State Department on one occasion.
It is also difficult to understand why the OSCE representative on media freedom has been totally silent about the repressive measures taken during the same period by the Russian authorities against the Internet sites www.lenta.ru; www.grani.ru; www.kasparov.ru; www.ej.ru; and #39;s actions with respect to Ukraine and attempts to stifle them surely also warranted "expressions of concern"?
The reason given for the warning issued to Lenta.ru is particularly worthy of note. The website which was one of an ever-dwindling number of reasonably independent Russian information sources published an interview on March 10 with a member of the Kyiv branch of the Ukrainian right wing movement Pravy Sektor. It included a link to a 2008 interview given by the head of the movement Dmytro Yarosh in which the latter stated that "sooner or later we are doomed to fight the Moscow empire." This was deemed by the supervisory body Roskomnadzor to constitute "dissemination of extremist material" and contain statements aimed at inciting ethnic enmity. So much for "media plurality", but there’s more. The Russian authorities have placed Yarosh on the international wanted list over a supposed appeal for help to the Chechen militant leader Doku Umarov. The media report of this appeal was refuted the following day by Pravy Sector who said that their VKontakte account had been hacked with the fake appeal appearing during that period. Despite evidence corroborating this, and the sheer illogic of issuing a public appeal only to deny it the very next day, Russia has insisted on going ahead with the attempted prosecution. Lenta.ru has now sacked the editor and brought in a new person from a pro-Kremlin media source. This is undoubtedly not aimed at expanding media plurality.
Russia’s behaviour since Feb 27 has flagrantly defied international law and basic rules of play, and thus far only gained from western consternation and ineffectual measures. No pathos-filled rhetorical questions in conclusion: we all know where this leads.
Was Yanukovych’s Removal Constitutional?
When he resurfaced in Russia, Ukraine’s Viktor Yanukovych claimed he had been the victim of a coup. Was his removal from power by the Verkhovna Rada unconstitutional? As with many statutory questions, the devil is in the details. The new Rada majority was in a challenging constitutional situation by the disintegration of the Yanukovych government. The Rada made the best attempt to resolve the conundrum while in a limited timeframe and with no independent and legitimate Constitutional Court able to provide aid.
How was Yanukovych removed?
The Rada did not follow, or claim to follow, the impeachment route. They passed a resolution that established that Yanukovych had removed himself from fulfilling his constitutional duties. The resolution stated that due to the fact that Yanukovych had unconstitutionally stopped fulfilling his presidential duties, the Rada was calling early presidential elections as is their right under Article 85/7. It seems that nothing in the constitution prohibits parliament from passing such a resolution, which has the full legal force of a law, according to Article 91. The speaker of the Rada signed the resolution, again in accordance with the constitution (Article 88/3).
Why didn’t the Rada impeach Yanukovych?
The impeachment process, as outlined by the Ukrainian Constitution, was not the most obvious constitutional option in the situation that existed on February 21-22. The impeachment process is a drawn-out procedure that is reserved for cases when the president has committed treason or other crimes. The immediate problem on the evening of February 21 was that the Yanukovych regime had dissolved and Yanukovych had left the capital, apparently not intending to return for a while. The dissolution of his regime was evidenced by the Interior Minister and the Speaker of Parliament also leaving the country, the departure of several important Party of Regions MPs, and, furthermore, the chief of the army resigned.
While we cannot know Yanukovych’s intentions for certain, the dumping of his documents in the lake at his fancy Mezhigorie residence and the traces of hectic packing suggest that the president was indeed fleeing rather than just going to a meeting in Kharkiv, as he later claimed. His midnight disappearing act left the country effectively without a president and a government.
The Ukrainian Constitution (like many other constitutions) does not provide any stipulation about how to remove a president who is neither dead nor incapacitated, but is nonetheless absent or not fulfilling his duties. The lack of such provisions creates a dangerous loophole. Any leader who is about to lose power, whether because his government dissolves, or because loyal supporters abandon him, or because he is about to lose an election just as the last vote are in, could simply skip town and doom any government by declaring it as constitutionally illegitimate. Leaving the scene would undermine the constitutionality of any acts subsequently passed by whoever succeeds the missing president and would allow him to keep a minimally legitimate constitutional claim to returning and claiming his office back.
Why couldn’t the Constitutional Court resolve the constitutional impasse?
Ideally, a country’s Constitutional Court should be best positioned to close such loopholes. If the president of a consolidated democracy with a strong rule of law, had a nervous breakdown, disappeared without a trace, and could neither be proven dead nor impeached for a crime, parliamentary leaders would immediately approach the Constitutional Court and ask for guidance.
However, the Ukrainian Constitutional Court has been highly politically dependent and its credibility has been low. Whatever they might have ruled after Yanukovych’s departure, would have lacked legitimacy. A ruling in favor of Yanukovych would have likely reflected their fear/dependence on him; a ruling against him would have likely reflected their fear/dependence on the incoming government.
Previous studies on judicial behavior in environments with low judicial independence have found that high courts often strategically defect right before a turnover in government. Neither option would have produced a preferable constitutional situation to the one produced by the Rada resolution.
The solution that took place within the Rada was more legitimate than any strictly legal solution that could have come from the Constitutional Court. The Rada was legitimately elected in 2012, and the majority of its members participated in the important debates on February 21-22. Moreover, a big majority (close to three quarters of all Rada deputies) voted for the Rada resolution, including many MPs from the Party of Regions.
Maria Popova is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, McGill University. The article was originally published at PONARS Eurasia http://ponarseurasia.org/article/was-yanukovych%E2%80%99s-removal-constitutional
Russian propaganda claims Jewish organizations supporting Maidan are bringing on "second Holocaust"
Rabbi Mikhail Kapustin’s forced exile from his native Crimea linked with his protest at the Russian occupation has been presented on the Kremlin-paid Russia Today as flight from Ukraine due to rampant anti-Semitism
Russia may have the military and economic clout to annex another country’s territory but its propaganda efforts have been foundering spectacularly of late. Prominent Jewish organizations and public figures have publicly condemned Russian lies; the latest fake demonstrates primitive disinformation, and an attempt on Sunday to present Jewish and Russian organizations supporting Maidan as bringing on "a second Holocaust", as they allegedly did Shoah could backfire. None of this will matter for those in Russia and the Crimea fed only such lies, but the western media could well take note - and adequate measures for filtering murky information channels.
The easiest thing to do when Jewish organizations, religious and public figures deny Russian claims that rampant anti-Semitic hordes have seized power in Ukraine is to pull out other Jews willing to wax hysterical about the anti-Semitic "threat". Last week four Ukrainians told Israel’s Knesset that Ukraine’s Jews are not complaining about anti-Semitism because they’re terrified for their own lives.
An open letter to members of the Knesset was issued almost immediately and signed by many people in Ukraine and Israel, including Viacheslav Likhachev who has been monitoring anti-Semitism in Ukraine for over 10 years. The letter expressed "outrage at the revolting provocation against Ukrainian Jewry on March 19." The event in the Knesset, it said, had been organized by professional political spin doctors and had invited four individuals who are not experts on anti-Semitism, had been given no authority to speak on behalf of the Jewish community, and who are all well-known for their Stalinist views. Monitoring carried out by the Jewish community has not found any increase in anti-Semitism and the authorities in Kyiv have taken a clear position against any manifestations of anti-Semitism and xenophobia. Any claims of an "increase in anti-Semitism and neo-Nazism in Ukraine, as well as a possible threat for the safety of the Jewish community" are dismissed as not only overt lies, but also a cynical attempt by Russia to use the Knesset for Russia’s political ends. It warns the honourable members that they are being misled and points out that the event in the Knesset was organized by Avigdor Eskin who has been prosecuted in the past for provocation. "He recently published an article called for Russian military aggression and is now trying to draw the Knesset into this campaign".
The Russian propaganda machine has used two approaches against the undoubtedly inconvenient number of authoritative Jewish voices who condemn Russia’s military aggression and its propaganda. The most common are primitive fakes, spread by such propaganda vehicles as the international TV channel Russia Today. Last week Rabbi Mikhail [Misha] Kapustin of the Progressive Judaism Communities of Simferopol and Ukraine told Juedische Allgemeine and the Ukrainian media that he had been forced to leave Simferopol for Kyiv with his wife and family. This was explained as being because he doesn’t want to be a foreigner in his own country. Any fears for his and his family’s safety are linked with his active protest and the appeal he initiated against the Russian occupation.
In the Russia Today version of reality, Rabbi Kapustin has been forced to leave Kyiv with this being because of the supposed anti-Semitic hordes now in power. A particularly cynical touch is the attempt to produce photos of foul anti-Semitic graffiti in Simferopol as proof of such rampant anti-Semitism in Kyiv. As reported, the graffiti in question appeared after Russian troops seized control in Simferopol and provoked statements from Rabbi Kapustin and the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, Yaacov Dov Bleich. Both warned of likely provocation, with Rabbi Kapustin saying that this could be used in an attempt to discredit Ukraine’s new government.
Such primitive manipulation discredits only Russia Today and those in the Kremlin pulling their strings.
The latest line of attack, seen in an interview on Rossiya 24 on March 23 is no better. Vladimir Putin and others have already tried to brush off the large number of public figures in Ukraine who have denied the Russian claims of anti-Semitism, by suggesting that these are oligarchs and businessmen with venal motives. The argument does not go down well when you’re dealing with rabbis, well-known public figures whose principled stand cost them years in Soviet labour camps like Josef Zisels and Mustafa Jemiliev. The new offensive heard on Sunday night from Russian writer Alexander Prokhanov and pushed by the presenter, Evelina Zakamskaya deserves to be quoted in full.
Prokhanov: "It’s strange that Jewish organizations, Jewish and Russian, are supporting Maidan. What are they doing? Don’t they understand that they are with their own hands bringing on a second Holocaust?
Zakamskaya: "They brought on the first the same way".
The calculation is, presumably, that people will be silenced by the mere suggestion that they could be collaborating with such evil. There is, of course, another reason explaining such "curious" support for Maidan. It has not just been given as opinion by highly-respected religious figures, former political prisoners, historians and analysts, but backed up by facts. The latter can easily be viewed and assessed when you just turn off the propaganda channels.
Rinat Akhmetov goes for media criticizing his failure to counter separatists
The US lawyers for Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest oligarch, are demanding that Ukrainian and Azerbaijani media remove material about the billionaire. The law firm, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP have, for example, approached the provider for TV channel Еспресо.TV demanding that an article entitled “Why Akhmetov won’t stop Donetsk separatism” be removed.
The article was a reprint of a facebook posting by journalist Serhiy Vysotsky who considers Akhmetov’s position regarding the situation in Ukraine to be akin to “treason” since the latter is not carrying out any policy aimed at stabilizing the situation or fighting separatism in the Donbass region. “There is another possibility. Akhmetov may himself be provoking the conflict in order to be able to do a deal with Kyiv”
The lawyers assert that Akhmetov is linked in the article to a criminal gang which is detrimental to his reputation. They demand removal of the article and that nothing similar reoccurs.
Espresso.tv is angered firstly that the lawyers approached the provider, not the channel. It comments that it has no idea how the provider could force it to remove the material, which it quotes in full. Given the reaction by Ukraine’s richest man who was until recently closely associated with Viktor Yanukovych, a summary of the text which has riled him seems in order.
Vysotsky comments that after another oligarch, Ihor Kolomoisky became governor of the Dnipropetrovsk oblast, “all, shall we say, issues of dispute in the region were resolved within two days”. The author then goes on to suggest openly enough that the process in Dnipropetrovsk may have resulted in casualties buried in some forest or another.
He then points out that in Donetsk the problems are only growing, with three people already killed, he alleges, by Russian “tourists”, i.e. people brought into Eastern Ukraine to take part in separatist activities.
In the meantime, Akhmetov continues making bland statements about Ukrainian unity. This is despite the fact that Akhmetov has at least the same level of possibilities as Kolomoisky, possibly more.
It is presumably the following that has elicited the reaction from Akhmetov’s lawyers:
“Rinat is the absolute boss for the oblast, he controls the border, has key influence on the local enforcement bodies, a wide network of his own members of criminal gangs and could easily put a stop to this whole nightmare. But he doesn’t.”
The author asserts that this was the same situation with Maidan – fine-sounding statements (about the inadmissibility of violence against protesters - HC) against a background of total inaction. There is, however, a difference. If Maidan could to some degree have been seen as anti-Akhmetov, failure to react at the present time is akin to treason, the author asserts.
Espresso.tv acknowledge that the quote above alleging criminal ties should have been removed. They apologize and offer to allow Akhmetov or his media to present their point of view on the channel as to what is happening in the Donetsk oblast.
They do, however, point out that the article was published on March 14 immediately after people were killed in Donetsk and after Kolomoisky called on Akhmetov to head the Donetsk regional administration and take personal responsibility for what was happening in the oblast (see, for example, Donetsk front in Putin’s dirty war)
Espresso.tv does not have the money to fight Akhmetov in a London court, and has no idea how events will develop. There are grounds for concern since the same format seems to have been followed against the Azerbaijani website haqqin.az.
In both cases the providers have been approached, not the media itself, with a foreign law firm simply demanding that the material be removed and that such material does not appear again. LB.ua reports that the material was taken up by a number of publications including Kyiv Post, Newsweek Polska, Le Figaro and others. Akhmetov’s lawyers apparently claim that after similar approaches to those media, the material was removed.
Since the lawyers have bypassed the channel although the latter is willing to give Akhmetov a chance to air his point of view, it seems likely that these measures are an unorthodox method of silencing criticism, rather than a prelude to seeking legal redress for defamation.
Russia continues its false narrative as defender of oppressed minorities in Ukraine
Vladimir Putin and Russia’s Rabbi Berel Lazar
The Russian Foreign Ministry’s latest allegations regarding minority rights in Ukraine have avoided the Kremlin’s customary accusations of rampant anti-Semitism. This was probably wise, coming just a day after a full-page statement from a number of prominent Ukrainian Jewish figures was posted in major US, Canadian and Israeli newspapers. The statement accuses Vladimir Putin of spreading lies about the treatment of minorities, including Jews, in Ukraine. It points out that “the Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine are not being humiliated or discriminated against, their civil rights have not been limited.” It suggests that since Putin’s claims of an increase in anti-Semitism in Ukraine are at odds with the facts, he is perhaps confusing Ukraine with Russia where such a trend has been recorded.
Rebuttal of the Russian propaganda is nothing new. Ukraine’s leading rabbis, Jewish organizations, researchers monitoring anti-Semitism and xenophobia and many others have repeatedly denied all such claims both with respect to the Maidan protests and to Russia’s annexation of the Crimea. They were forced to reiterate their position in the New York Times and its international version, Israel’s Haaretz and Canada’s National Post because of the public statements made by Russia’s Chief Rabbi, Berel Lazar on March 24. Lazar criticized the Ukrainian Jewish community, including Ukraine’s Chief Rabbi Jacob Dov Bleich for calling for an end to Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine. He claimed that the Jewish community should not be meddling in issues that, in his opinion, did not directly concern the Jewish community. He also, however, said that he was concerned about anti-Semitism in Ukraine under its interim government.
The argument that this is not the Jewish community’s business is clearly untenable. Putin justified military intervention on the grounds of purported infringements of the rights of Russian nationals, Russian speakers and “anti-Semitic mobs” under the interim government.
It is extremely easy to fabricate “anti-Semitic attacks” if they suit ones narrative. Since the only anti-Semitic vandalism in Simferopol occurred after Russian military forces seized control, there are practical reasons for disputing the claims about an “anti-Semitic threat”, not to mention those of a moral nature. There are also the compelling arguments presented by disrupted lives. Rabbi Mikhail Kapustin, for example, has been forced to leave the Crimea following his strong denial of Russian claims and criticism of the intervention.
Lazar has claimed that Ukrainian Jewish leaders don’t feel free to decry anti-Semitic acts. Viacheslav Likhachev from the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress who has monitored anti-Semitism in Ukraine for the last 10 years responds that it is Lazar who is not able to speak freely and who must go along with the Kremlin line.
The Jewish leaders who are supposedly fearful of telling it how the Kremlin says it is are certainly proactive – and united – in presenting a different point of view, one that corresponds to monitoring reports. The Jewish Chronicle Online reports conversations with Ukrainian businessmen, like Gennady Bogolyubov, who will not only support Ukraine’s war effort if Russia invades the mainland, but will personally take up arms against the aggressor.
Russia’s claim that it is defending national minorities are, in short, finding little understanding among those minorities. Its allegations about the interim government in Kyiv and about its reasons for military intervention have been just as strongly rejected by the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People; by the authoritative Congress of National Communities and others.
The calculation is presumably that Russian channels will not report the inconvenient exposures of Kremlin lies and that faced with a choice between sensational reports and having to report that there’s little or nothing to say, many western media channels will opt for sensation.
Confident, therefore, that the Foreign Ministry will not be asked to substantiate its claims, the latter repeats the standard line about the interests of Russian-speaking residents of Ukraine being ignored, citing the one fact in the entire statement, namely the removal from air of four Russian TV channels. One can theorize about freedom of speech, however these channels are provably churning out lies, distortions and other forms of propaganda in conditions of the gravest danger to Ukraine’s territorial integrity from a military invader. In conditions of war, many western countries have not proven more tolerant.
The ministry claims that the situation is “no less dramatic” for ethnic Germans, Czechs, Hungarians and other national minorities. “They are concerned about the instability of the political situation in the country and seriously frightened for their lives, directly encountering those outrages which home-grown extreme nationalists and neo-fascists are continuing to commit. As a result of this in recent times there has been a significant increase in the number of people wishing to temporarily or permanently return to their historical homeland. More and more residents of Ukraine are seeking refuge in Russia as well.”
Prove it. The onus must be on those making such allegations to substantiate them. Not via one or two, say, Hungarians willing to tell horror stories and plaintively ask for Russian “protection” on TV Russia Today, but through hard facts.
At the present time, large numbers of Crimeans are leaving for the Ukrainian mainland, many believing themselves and their families to be in danger. Numerous cases of aggression against Ukrainian-speakers, Crimean Tatars or others in the Crimea who speak out against the Russian annexation have been reported by Human Rights Watch and other international organizations. The first person killed in the Crimea, Reshat Ametov, was abducted while protesting silently against the Russian invasion. From May 9 it will be a criminal offence with a conceivable sentence of up to 5 years to call for Russian withdrawal and restoration of the Crimea as part of Ukraine. Infringements of the rights of Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians and those Russians in the Crimea who do not support Russian invention can be proven.
It certainly doesn’t look good to say that you’ve annexed another country’s territory because you wanted it. Or that you’re amassing troops on that country’s border trying to decide if you can get away with grabbing more. That, however, is the truth unlike the endless barrage of lies about anti-Semitism and discrimination.
Two men charged over 2012 Dnipropetrovsk bomb blasts released
In a very welcome move, a Dnipropetrovsk district court has released two men held in custody for two years in connection with the 2012 bomb blasts in the centre of Dnipropetrovsk which injured around 30 people. As reported here, Dmitry Reva and Lev Prosvirnin were both facing highly questionable charges of being accomplices.
In court on Tuesday the prosecutor stated that there was no evidence against either man, both of whom have been in custody since May 31, 2012.
Two men accused of organizing the blasts and planting the explosive devices – Viktor Sukachev and Vitaly Fedoryak remain in SIZO [remand prison]. Fedoryak is the only one who has fully confessed.
Both Sukachev and Fedoryak have been adamant from the outset that the two supposed “accomplices” were totally innocent. Sukachev appears to have given testimony on the basis of an agreement that Reva and Prosvirnin would be released, and has twice gone on hunger strike in protest at their continued detention.
The four bomb blasts on April 27, 2012 came 5 weeks before Ukraine was to co-host the Euro 2012 Soccer Championship. The arrests of four men were announced one week before the first match with the Prosecutor General publicly informing Viktor Yanukovych that they had all evidence to convict the four.
The flawed nature of the case has been clear for almost two years yet the court consistently refused to release Reva and Prosvirnin from custody.
His case was perhaps the most shocking since it was not only any evidence at all that was missing. There were also no elements of a crime in the indictment against him.
He was accused of having gone to the centre of Dnipropetrovsk on the day of the blasts in order to “observe the reaction of the police and public to the explosions, and if necessary pass on information to Sukachev and Fedoryak, so that the latter could coordinate their further actions”.
The indictment received a damning assessment from criminal law expert Mykola Khavronyuk because he was accused of behaviour which was not criminal. It would also have been entirely senseless. The chemical detonators could have triggered at any time and in any order, whereas Reva had only taken a slightly longer lunch break to pay a bill and needed to return to work. In the event he witnessed two of the four explosions. What he could have reported was always quite unclear.
Please see: A Public Watchdog with a Difference for more information, including about the reprehensible behaviour of the state-owned TV channel UTV-1 in his case.
The charges about Prosvirnin were not so absurd, but were still very worrying. Just two weeks ago, Prosvirnin’s lawyer gave a press conference where she reported that a crucial item, namely a black plastic bag alleged to have been used to carry an explosive device had gone missing.
The release of Prosvirnin and Reva is excellent news. It would be appropriate now for a proper investigation to be carried out into how the charges were brought in the first place, and into the behaviour of the prosecutors and judges in the case. That, unfortunately, seems less likely.
Justice at long last in the Zaporizhya Church bomb case ("Справа паламарів")
Three young men are to be released under the amnesty law for political prisoners after spending almost 4 years in custody charged with a crime that nobody ever believed they committed. The first young man was taken into custody the morning after President Yanukovych demanded arrests within the week.
Amendments to the original law No. 4271 on the Release of Political Prisoners were passed on March 11 with a majority of 235. These changes to the bill were made on Feb 27 and then reviewed by a parliamentary profile committee. They included the three young men convicted of the Zaporizhya Church bomb in July 2010 who had not been included in the original law passed on Feb 23. .
The full list is not yet available however Olga Dyomina, mother of two of the men – Anton Kharytonov and Serhiy Dyomin – is returning to Zaporizhya and hoping to take her sons home after their four-year ordeal.
Questions can legitimately be raised about the use of such a law, rather than proper judicial review of cases which arouse concern. They are probably also warranted with respect to the criteria applied in deciding who should be amnestied. Some names have probably not been included through oversight, while in some cases although the sentences were doubtless too severe, it is not clear that the offences were not committed.
These are all issues for discussion, yet not now and most certainly not in the case of three young men whom Ukraine’s justice system let down so badly.
It was with good cause that one of the appeals for a review of their case was entitled “A Trial with Grave Consequences”. It was signed, among others, by former political prisoners, lawyers and human rights activists.
The trial of these three young men was gravely flawed and one of the most shameful under the Yanukovych regime.
Yanukovych’s “personal control” of this case coincided almost to the day with adoption of a “judicial reform” law which had, as predicted, disastrous consequences, including the grave erosion of judges’ independence and increasing interference by public officials and politicians in the justice system.
While the world watched with dismay as Yanukovych had his main rival Yulia Tymoshenko, former Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko and others imprisoned, the list of victims of interference in the work of the law enforcement bodies and courts was much greater.
As reported (repeatedly), the first young man was taken into custody the morning after Viktor Yanukovych, on nationwide television, ordered the enforcement bodies to arrest “the culprits” within a week. He was informed just as publicly 6 days later that the culprits were all in custody and the case solved.
Most of those who took part in the investigation and prosecution received awards for their swift work. Those above them had boasted that the crime had been solved, and nobody wanted to admit having arrested the wrong people. There is no evidence that the other leads in the crime were investigated at all. Once Anton Kharytonov had been detained, and then his brother, the process just went on. Seven “confessions” were extracted and no attempt was made to investigate the men’s allegations, once they finally received real lawyers, that they had made them under duress. The list of infringements at all levels, including those committed by judge Volodymyr Minasov, is enormous.
The Zaporizhya Regional Court of Appeal noted many of these irregularities which, according to Ukrainian legislation, demanded that a mistrial be declared. It even seemed at the penultimate hearing that this was the inevitable outcome. Whether the judges came under pressure is not clear however on Oct 25, 2013, they upheld the original verdict, only reducing each sentence by one year – to 13 and 14 years imprisonment.
Please see the links below for more details about the case. Information in Ukrainian, here http://khpg.org/index.php?id=1382905086 and in the links below.
Ukraine’s faiths unite in response to Russian military aggression
It was doubtless not Vladimir Putin’s intention, but Russia’s military aggression has proven a strong uniting force among religious believers. Ukraine’s three main churches are working together in providing spiritual and moral support to Ukraine’s soldiers stationed on the southern border between mainland Ukraine and the Crimea. At the same time, pressure on the Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate has prompted the Crimean Tatars to offer their mosques for church services. Archbishop Zorya has expressed gratitude and said that they will certainly take up the offer if the situation gets worse.
The situation in the Crimea is also likely to deteriorate for the peninsula’s Muslim community. Said Ismailov, Mufti of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Ukraine, believes it possible that muftis from Russia could be brought in to the Crimea, although he predicts that the Crimean Tatars will not recognize them. “There is no schism in the Crimea. At present we are seeing that the Crimean Tatars have united more closely because misfortunately has come to their homes and is consolidating them.”
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (linked, at least until now, with the Moscow Patriarchate) and Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate have announced that they have begun dialogue on various issues, including possible merger into one united Orthodox Church of Ukraine. While noticeably absent from Putin’s speech to the Russian Duma on March 17 regarding Crimea, Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church has certainly not criticized the military aggression. Furthermore, Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Department for External Church Relations is reported to have strongly criticized the heads of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church for supposed “meddling in politics”. The Russian authorities have begun criticizing what they claim to be religious discrimination against Moscow Patriarchate believers.
Some of the priests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church; the Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate; and the Greek Catholic Church in the Kherson oblast can be seen in a moving video here http://risu.org.ua/ua/index/all_news/community/faith_and_weapon/55905/ . They are concerned only to provide whatever support the Ukrainian soldiers and their families need at a time of enormous tension and hardship.
Father Serhiy Dmitriev (UOC) explains that at the beginning they also provided practical assistance, finding out what the men needed, acting as messengers to the community and the local regional administrations.
Residents of neighbouring regions immediately set to answering the call for practical items and over 200 thousand UAH was collected (a substantial figure for any region of Ukraine where incomes in general are very low).
Father Serhiy says that the situation at the border, especially in the Trans-Dniester and Odessa regions, has become much more acute over the last three days. Additional military forces have been sent and priests have therefore gone to hold prayers, and counsel the men. He adds that Russian compound helicopters fly over them about 5 times a day, and they all waiting for “further development of events”.
Mobile groups of priests travel between military units along the border. Fortunately, the abductions originally reported where Russian soldiers tried to take prisoners stopped once the numbers increased at Ukrainian stop-posts.
Both local inhabitants and church representatives are also helping to catch provocateurs and Russian reconnaissance agents.
No mention is made of how Jewish soldiers are coping, however during the three months of protests on Maidan and at the funerals of some of the Jewish Maidan activists killed by Berkut police snipers, both rabbis and representatives of Christian churches joined in prayer. Jewish religious and secular figures have, as reported, also come out firmly against the Russian propaganda, especially the claims of mounting anti-Semitism.
The messages pushed by Russian propaganda of a country deeply divided, of religious discrimination and minorities, especially the Jewish community, under siege and terrified by the “fascists” in power are once against foundering. Whether the weight of sheer military force prevails, Russia’s moral bankruptcy is absolute.
All-out attack on press freedom in the Crimea
This protester’s placard reads: Putin Supporters: With him you won’t speak in Russian. You will BE SILENT in Russian!
If Russia is still maintaining an unconvincing pretence regarding its military intervention in the Crimea, the full-frontal offensive on media freedom is undisguised. Journalists and film crews have come under attack, and a number of media outlets have been taken off air. While many of the attacks are carried out by pro-Russian thugs, the removal of independent media indicates that the Crimea’s self-styled leaders and their patrons want the people of the Crimea to receive only the almost caricature-like distortion of reality on Russian and some Crimean channels.
It is unfortunately easy to see why the independent media should already be under attack. The line taken by the Kremlin and most Russian TV channels is that arch-“fascists” and anti-Semites seized control in Kyiv; that Russian nationals and Russian speakers have been persecuted, threatened and stopped from speaking Russian and that Russia is “defending” them.
As reported, the largest independent television channel Chornomorska which could be watched by 84% of the Crimea was taken off air on March 3, shortly after sustaining a massive DDoS attack. A number of other media have also been subjected to cyber attacks over the last week or so.
With Chornomorska removed, the only channel broadcasting throughout the Crimea is the state-owned TRC Krym. This is now under the control of the supposed new government led by Sergei Aksenov whose Russian Unity party gained only 4% of the vote in the 2012 parliamentary elections. TRC Krym was seized on March 1 by armed men without insignia who said that they were soldiers from the Russian Federation’s Black Sea Fleet.
That same day masked men seized the building where the Centre for Journalist Investigations has its office. They said that they were from the “Crimean Front” and gave a press conference under a Russian flag.
On Thursday, March 6, armed individuals seized the Simferopol Radio and TV Transmission Station [RTTS]. They disconnected Channel 5 and “1 + 1” and installed the Russian state-owned TV channel Rossia 24. RTTS reports that the armed men appeared together with a Rossia 24 representative, and appear to have tried to connect other Russian stations as well.
On March 6 Zair Akadirov, Chief Editor of Argumenty Tyzhnya – Krym resigned in protest at censorship and interference in editorial policy. Akadirov had been with the newspaper from when it was founded. He says that the pressure began over coverage of the presence in the Crimea of Russian soldiers. The interference included texts and headlines being changed, material removed, and propaganda texts reposted without his being informed.
The Institute for Mass Information reports that journalists coming from Kyiv or other regions to cover the situation are being prevented from entering the Crimea by armed men who stop their cars, threaten them, brandish their weapons and make them turn back. On March 1 the Deputy Chief Editor of Kyiv Post, Katya Gorchinskaya was stopped by men in military clothing who accused her and other journalists of “one-sided coverage”.
According to the TV channel “1 + 1” and news service TSN their journalists have also come under attack. TSN’s special correspondent Oleksiy Bobrovnikov was assaulted on March 5 during an attempt to storm the military unit at Yepatoria. This was the second time in a week. There has also been pressure on TSN correspondent Hryhory Zhygalyov and cameraman Pavlo Myasnov.
There are many more cases where journalists have been put under pressure to distort the situation, or at least keep silent, as well as assaults on journalists.
If Russia’s military intervention could seem unexpectedly brazen, there should be no surprise about the virulent attack on the media. Back during the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko, shocking cases of hate speech could be found in the most read Crimean media. In 2008 approaches were made to the prosecutor’s office over an article by Natalya Astakhova which clearly incited enmity against the Crimean Tatars. Nothing was done. Not so long afterwards, presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych made the author of another hate-filled and defamatory article about the Crimean Tatars the head of his election headquarters. Anatoly Mohylyov then went on to become Interior Ministry and then Crimean Prime Minister.
The effects of a long-term diet of toxic hate speech and a caricature version of reality became clear in the Crimea during the EuroMaidan protests. Civic activists were targeted in hate campaigns which incited people to take measures against alleged “traitors”. The Russian propaganda machine, like its Soviet predecessors, prefers to present military intervention as defence against “fascists”. Since the latter can include people daring to carry a Ukrainian flag, little else has changed. The situation is immensely dangerous for those in the Crimea – and there are many – who have no wish for Russian “protection”, nor for an accompanying purge on the media.
Monthly bulletin Prava Ludyny (Human rights), 2014, №03