Release of seized Donetsk journalist negotiated with people close to Russia
Kremlin-backed Donbas militants are refusing to let international monitors see Donetsk journalist Stanislav Aseyev whom they have been holding prisoner since early June. There has been no movement on securing his release and a volunteer group believes that the militants may have gone silent to try to ‘raise his price’, possibly so that he can be exchanged for a Russian. The volunteers see point only in talking with people “close to Russia”.
Aseyev, who writes under the pseudonym Stanyslav Vasin for Radio Svoboda, Dzherkalo Tyzhnia and other prominent Ukrainian publications, disappeared in militant-controlled Donetsk on June 2. The main source of information then and since has been Yehor Firsov, a politician originally from Donetsk who studied with Aseyev. He reported that after Aseyev failed to come to his mother’s home of June 3, as agreed, she and friends went to his flat, finding the door broken in and a lot of things missing, including his laptop. His Facebook page was still active, and letters had been sent from him, trying to find information about his contacts.
It took the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic [DPR] ministry of state security’ six weeks to acknowledge that Aseyev was in their custody. It was claimed on July 16 that he was suspected of ‘espionage’. Since just days earlier, they had declared Aseyev ‘missing’, there were real grounds for concern that the 27-year-old could have been tortured to death.
The good news is therefore that the young man is alive. After a chronic lung issue flared up, the militants allowed his mother to see him. It is also known where (in which basement) he is being held, though the information is not publicly divulged to ensure that the militants don’t move him.
Ukraine has tried to involve the UN and OSCE monitors in attempts to get Aseyev released, however Firsov notes that not one international monitor has been allowed to see him.
Firsov stresses that Aseyev had the courage, while living in militant-controlled Donetsk to write truthful material, often unflattering about the militants. This was enough to get him imprisoned. Firsov anticipates that some kind of ‘verdict’ could be passed soon, with the militants trying to claim he was engaged in espionage. “Stas was a journalist, made notes, publications, he had notebooks with his thoughts. And they seize a journalist and say that he’s a spy for Ukraine. It is a matter of honour to pull Stanyslav from his basement since you can’t even call that a prison.”
Oleg Kotenko from the Patriot volunteer organization drew the above-mentioned conclusion about the militants taking time out in order to raise ‘Aseyev’s value” in order to explain the lack of any progress on negotiations under the Normandy Four format in Minsk.
As well as the official talks at Minsk, Kotenko says that they are unofficially passing on offers to those holding Aseyev to get them to exchange him. There is no point, however, in negotiating with the militants themselves, and they talk with people who are “close to Russia” and in change of that direction (presumably exchanges).
There have been calls for Aseyev’s release from international journalists’ organizations. While it is possible that the pause in Aseyev’s case is to up the stakes, it should be noted that there are over 130 civilian hostages and POW being held by the militants and next to no progress of obtaining their release.
The self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ recently ‘sentenced’ Edward Nedelyaev, a Luhansk blogger, to 14 years’ imprisonment. This was, they stated, for having used social media for the purpose of “circulating negative information about LPR residents, denigrating citizens’ honour and dignity on the Internet, and trying to stir up hatred and enmity to the Russian nation.”
Other civilian hostages have also been ‘sentenced’ to periods of imprisonment. 63-year-old academic and religious expert Ihor Kozlovskyy and 23-year-old volunteer Volodymyr Fomichov have both been held prisoner since January 2016. While seized separately, it is not unlikely that the same planted grenade was used in both cases as the excuse for sentencing them to terms of imprisonment.