war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Politics and human rights

Moscow’s fictitious “civil war in Ukraine”

At least three major surveys carried out over recent weeks have demonstrated that the supposedly imminent “civil war” that Ukraine is plunging into is an entirely artificial Russian construct.  Not one of the surveys has shown any significant level of support for federalization or for parts of the country joining Russia.  A majority do not want Russian to become a second state language.  

The authoritative Razumkov Centre has just published the results of a survey it carried out together with the Rating Sociological Group from March 28 to April 2 in all regions, except the Crimea.  It found that the majority of Ukrainian citizens support one State language; EU orientation and a unitary type of state.  The only good news for Russia comes in the 45.9% opposition to joining NATO against 39.5% support.   

Some of the results (of a hypothetical referendum):

71.4%  would vote for Ukraine as a unitary state; 17.1% against;

16.3% would support federalization; 69.3% - a unitary system with decentralization of power;


56.5% want Ukrainian to remain the sole official language against 37.6% who would be prepared to have two state languages.

54.5% would support joining the EU; 23.9% would be in favour of joining the Customs Union.

As mentioned, 35.8% would be in favour of joining NATO; 47.9% against.

Only 7.5% would be in favour of becoming part of the Russian Federation; 84.8% would be against this.

8.5% support the idea of their oblast joining Russia; 85.3% are against.

The results coincide with the findings of a survey carried out by Civic Watch; the Democratic Initiatives Foundation; and the EU-Ukraine Bridge in all regions, including the Crimea from March 16 to 30.  

An absolute majority (89%) consider Ukraine to be their motherland.  Only 8% support the idea of regions breaking away from Ukraine and joining another country.  Even in Donbas [Donetsk and Luhansk regions]  only 18% were in favour (against 0.5% in the West of Ukraine). 

9.5% in southern Ukraine support the idea of south-eastern regions joining Russia; 11% in the east; and 27% in Donbas.

Only 6% of the population would like their oblast to secede from Ukraine and create its own independent state (the largest number were in Donbas – 17%; the least in the West – 2%).

All of the above tallies with a third study carried out by the International Republican Institute. In reporting the results, the authors note that “when asked what the status of Crimea should be, a majority in all regions said it should remain a part of Ukraine in some manner (West – 91 %, centre -  85%; South – 57%; East – 52%. This is in stark contrast to the 97 percent of voters who supposedly voted in support of the referendum to join Russia”.

IRI also found that a majority of Russian-speakers did not feel under threat.

A substantial survey carried out by the newspaper Dzerkalo Tyzhnya in the 8 oblasts which Vladimir Putin chose to call Novorossiya [“New Russia”], came up with a number of interesting results and it is hoped that the government will take notice.  Two points only will be mentioned here: the survey found no real unity of thought at all, with only the Donbas region [Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts] tending to show results closer to those pushed by Russia.

Virtually half the population of all 8 oblasts [49.9%] doubt that Russia is justly defending the interests of Russian speakers in the south east.  Only 32.6% were convinced of the opposite with the others answering that they didn’t know.

70% do not consider Viktor Yanukovych to be the lawful president and there was not one oblast where less than half considered him illegitimate. Dzerkalo Tyzhnya points out that in regions which for so many years demonstrated loyalty to Yanukovych and the Party of the Regions, only one in five considers him the legitimate president, against one in three for Oleksandr Turchynov and prime minister Arseny Yatsenyuk.

So what is Russia left with?

Unfortunately quite a lot: brute force and the money and professionals to provoke “separatist uprisings” in Donbas and the Kharkiv oblast and a massive propaganda machine which ploughs on, tank-like, trampling inconvenient facts in its path.  And, most disastrously, western countries still unable to understand the danger of doing next to nothing to stop Moscow before it’s too late.

Pro-Russian, anti-Roma, anti-Semitic and hunting out Ukrainian speakers

The Ukrainian authorities may have suspended anti-terrorist operations over Easter, but there is no let-up in violence and aggression from the pro-Russian militants in east Ukraine. In Slovyansk there have been reports of attacks on Roma and threats against Ukrainian-speakers.  It’s not safe there for journalists either, while the prominent stand in countering the so-called separatists by Ihor Kolomoisky, now Governor of Dnipropetrovsk has also aroused anti-Semitic diatribes from Russia’s fans. 


Donbass News reported on Saturday that attacks were being carried out against Roma.  The website cited witnesses as saying that armed men with rifles have burst into and robbed the homes of Roma people.  They are reported to have beaten people, including women and children and claim to be acting on the instructions of the self-styled “people’s mayor”, Viacheslav Ponomorev.  The witnesses said that the plundered property was then taken away in trucks.

This brief text has been widely reported in the media without any effort to supplement the meager report. According to a representative of the Roma Council of Ukraine, there was an attack, although there is no actual proof that the assailants were "separatists".  Both the Roma Council and the International Renaissance Foundation have issued statements of outrage.

A specific type of “mayor”

Russian propaganda channels have doubtless said only good things about Ponomarev and other self-proclaimed mayors.  It is likely that they have avoided showing video footage of him for reasons that will become clear from the following video (he’s the man trying to speak).

According to a local resident and civic activist who prefers not to give his name since somebody needs to stay and report what is happening, Ponomarev, a former Afghanistan veteran, has gained notoriety in the city. His drug addiction may now be a thing of the past, although on the video he certainly looks at least drunk.

He is reported to have asked local residents to report to the “people’s guard” any suspicious individuals, “particularly those speaking Ukrainian”.  And banned the Batkivshchyna, Udar and VO Svoboda political parties and any campaigning for them

Ponomarev also announced that the first session of what he termed the city council would take place on April 22.  There would be a “referendum”, he said, on May 11 about federalization and the Russian language 

As well as political parties which don’t share their views, Ukrainian speakers and the Roma, the pro-Russian militants are also reported to be extremely aggressive towards journalists. The head of the Slovyansk branch of the National Union of Journalists and chief editor of Slovyansk News, Oleh Zontov says that journalists are being forced out of the city. He has been attacked, as has another journalist, Roman Huba, who is also leaving.  It has become dangerous to appear on the streets with a video recorder or camera.  “The city has come under an information blockade”.

It should be noted that journalists, especially from Ukrainian language or western media, have generally found it difficult to work in areas under pro-Russian militant control.


If the Kremlin wanted their claim to be defending Russian speakers against the “anti-Semites” from Maidan to be convincing, they should have tried a bit harder with their own protégés,   As well as a fair contingent of primitive thugs using Russian rifles to carry out attacks and robberies, there are also many activists from parties with neo-Nazi leanings and pronounced anti-Semitic views. 

Cursor reports that “Slavonic Shield”, a group in favour of Donbas and other regions joining the Russian Federation has come out with anti-Semitic attacks against Boris Filatov, an aide to the new Dnipropetrovsk Governor and billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky, as well as against the latter.  The text, posted on Facebook, is too primitive to be worth repeating, but clearly anti-Semitic.  It was prompted by the announcement of a reward (provided by Kolomoisky) to people who hand in their weapons, as well as one for “each “little green man” [armed soldier in camouflage, assumed to be Russian] handed over, this is a mercenary on our shared land and trying to push us into a fratricidal war”.

Cursor notes that the anti-Semites prefer to ignore Filatov’s words about how the Yanukovych clique, having plunged the country into an abyss of hopelessness, are now handing out money stolen from people so as to provoke calls to join another country.  It points out as well that flags of the anti-Semitic group “Chornaya Sotnya” [“Black Hundred”] have been seen on separatist demonstrations in Donbas.  The organization, it says, has supporters among members of the authorities at all levels in Russia.  Other such links are presented by Anton Shekhovtsov, one of the most knowledgeable researchers on far-right movements in Ukraine and Russia.

No let-up

The west has also opted for a wait and see approach, although Russia’s failure to comply with the Geneva Agreement signed on April 17 seems entirely clear.  There has been no let-up in propaganda, and no surrender of weapons.  As well as extracting an agreement which did not mention the Crimea, Russia has thus gained more time for destabilizing the situation in Ukraine.  

It does not seem improbable that the agreement was a ploy, a continuation of the attempts to liken the pro-Russian militants’ actions to EuroMaidan.  Maidan refused to accept an agreement which would have let a president who had unarmed protesters gunned down remain in power for 10 months, and this led to Viktor Yanukovych fleeing.  Now Russia has supposedly shown willingness to cooperate, but the “separatists” refuse to leave. If the Kremlin wanted this comparison to bear scrutiny, it should have looked for a better cast.  

Seven differences between Donetsk separatism and EuroMaidan

Over the last four months the media, including Russian, talked of how residents of the Donetsk region don’t support the uprising and rebels on Maidan because eastern workers prefer stability and labour rather than senseless demonstrations.  Despite this, some of the same media in covering the separatist provocation in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk draw parallels with Maidan.

It is worth analysing in detail how justified such comparisons are.

1.  Maidan was the epicentre of resistance to repression from the Yanukovych regime and was in defence of basic rights and liberties.  The separatists in the east of Ukraine, on the other hand, are injuring people who don’t agree with them and terrorising local residents.

Whereas Maidan emerged, from Dec 1 2013 onwards, as a reaction to the bloody lawlessness of the Berkut police, the separatists in the east of the country have set about intimidating and terrorising the local population.

The Maidan protesters achieved a “Revolution of dignity”, calling through mercy and kindness to bring participants in the “anti-Maidan” demonstrations and internal forces conscripts on to their side (until the protesters began being shot at).  The separatists, together with Russian provocateurs are brutally beating and even killing Kharkiv and Donetsk supporters of Ukrainian unity.

2.  The Maidan protesters rejected the idea of seizing administrative buildings because they didn’t want to just change those in power, but a corrupt and repressive system of power.  The separatists have aimed at seizing administrative buildings in order to organize pseudo-referendums and the appearance of popular support for splitting up Ukraine according to the Crimean scenario.

The Kyiv administration building was occupied by Maidan protesters only because the previous authorities had deprived the people of Kyiv of elections. The Kyiv Council’s term had ended in May 2013, the disgraced mayor Chernovetsky had resigned back in June 2012.  For that reason Kyiv’s people had the right to exercise power in the city. Other buildings were used by the protesters with the agreement of their administrations, for example, the House of Trade Unions and the October Palace.

One sees in the separatists’ actions openly undisguised traces of the Crimean scenario aimed at Ukraine’s division. Defence of Russian-speakers is simply a slogan used to destabilize the situation in the region, including by local officials who are frightened that they will face justice for their criminal corrupt dealings. Other horror stories at pro-Russian rallies, for example, about concentration camps in the EU and about the supposed financing of Maidan through the sale of the organs of abducted Russians to foreign sales are hard to even describe to a person able to think adequately.

3.  Maidan defended Ukraine’s sovereignty in internal and foreign affairs, whereas separatism in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv is directed against Ukraine as an independent state.

The ideologues of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic see the future of their creation within Russia. Yet illegal annexation, along the lines of the Crimea will not save Donbas from international isolation, legal chaos and the ensuing carving up of property, collapse of business and the subsidy-based coal industry which the gas monopolists from Russia will see no sense in financing. As a result the naïve expectations of a higher pension and better future risk leaving the workers of Donbas in real penury and loss of jobs in closed mines and other businesses of the region.

In contrast to this, Maidan was against the decision of the previous regime to reject the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement which would open for the country European markets while not encroaching on Ukraine’s sovereignty. Only full membership of the EU would involve delegating a part of Ukraine’s powers to European structures in foreign policy issues, finance and security. However this is a question for the future and at present still very much up for discussion.

4.  For more than two months Maidan protested peacefully until the police began shooting at demonstrators. The separatists immediately went for weapons, seizing the police and Security Service [SBU] ammunition stores, and organizing armed checkpoints.

Witnesses of the storming of Maidan during the night from 10 to 11 December 2013 remember how till morning unarmed protesters with their bodies alone held back  several thousand police officers coming from three different directions. Right up to the first shots from Berkut police officers on Jan 19, 2014, Maidan activists did not use any special means or weapons to defend themselves.

We are now seeing in Slovyansk, Kramatorsk and Horlivka in the Donetsk region well-armed and identically equipped fighters with Russian-made weapons (for example, AK-100). Their actions cannot be called a peaceful demonstration or the defence of citizens’ rights since the majority of local residents are outraged by the actions of the provocateurs from outside. This is confirmed by videos from the scene and by public opinion surveys

5.  The obvious differences between the Maidan and separatists’ checkpoints

The checkpoints set up by Maidan supporters outside Kyiv and in other oblasts were organized as a form of self-defence against the dozens of coaches with titushki or hired thugs and Berkut officers whom the previous regime was bringing from all over Ukraine to the capital to cause disturbances and intimidate local residents.

Separatists in Donbas are organizing checkpoints with armed fighters in order to prevent Ukrainian soldiers defending the border with Russia, to stop journalists from covering the seizures of administrative buildings and to stop the Ukrainian security service from reacting swiftly to subversive activities. All of this is justified by stories about the supposed invasion of “Banderovtsi” [Bandera supporters] whom nobody’s seen.

6.  During moments of extreme danger on Maidan women were asked to leave places of confrontation and they were not allowed into the epicentre of conflict. The pro-Russian fights in Donbas, following Putin’s call, at times use women as a human shield against anti-terrorist operations.

Here we evidently have significant differences of a moral nature.

7.  Maidan activists regarded the centre of Kyiv as a territory of freedom since they found salvation there from the repression of the former regime and selfless support from compatriots. The actions by separatists are rather frightening ordinary residents of Donbas who have always been inclined to support stability rather than rallies and armed disturbances.

You won’t find many positive comments about the separatists’ actions in the social networks. It is extremely hard to present a picture of genuine happiness against the background of a state administration surrounded by barbed wire, or riflemen with an accent which is not typical of the region.

Disturbances provoked by saboteurs against the new Kyiv government are based on lies and purported threats and do not therefore have wide public support.  The pretence was well-illustrated by the supposed Kharkiv residents who couldn’t cope with the Kharkiv metro, burned a “Bandera-supporter” flag which was actually that of the Donetsk Shakhtar football club and speak in a dialogue which is not understood in Donbas.

So what do we have?

The values of Maidan were truth and human dignity because the regime had cynically distorted the essence of the protests and had tried to destroy freedom of thought.  Real goals made it possible for people to give up their lives for the freedom of all Ukrainians from tyranny and the total corruption of the previous regime.

Separatists are increasingly winding up the situation in Donbas. Their aim is to create the pretext and platform for Russian occupation, after all Russian troops are very near the Ukrainian border. Some local residents support them, but for what?  Are they willing to not only be plunged into chaos but to sacrifice their lives in armed conflict provoked by separatists?

Maksym Vasin, lawyer (Kyiv – Donetsk)

No mechanisms in place for dealing with refugees from the Crimea

In an interview given to Ukrainsky Tyzhden, Maxim Butkevych, Coordinator of the No Borders Project, speaks of the situation following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea; on those who have already left and those who may in future; Ukrainians’ hospitality and more

The first wave of displaced people began before the so-called referendum of March 16 and then intensified after it. It involved the most vulnerable groups: Crimean Tatars; the families of Ukrainian soldiers; people who feel connected with the Ukrainian community.

He believes it possible that there will be a second wave of migrants who understand that they are not prepared to live under occupation. This could be because of a deterioration in socio-economic conditions; in the situation with respect to crime; or an increase in pressure from both formal and information armed gangs and occupation forces.  Some predictions speak of tens of thousands of people, and Ukraine needs to be prepared.

On the number of displaced people

Butkevych notes that the number of people applying to be resettled is higher now than a week or two ago. According to the most recent statistics, over 3 thousand people have registered in various regions and / or approached NGOs.  This is clearly not the full figure since it doesn’t include people who have gone to stay with relatives or have not informed anybody of their intentions. 

Only some regional administrations, Lviv for example, are actually registering people.  There is no general state registration at all.  One of the tasks of a newly formed coordination council, which the No Borders Project is part of, will be to gather as much information as possible about internally displaced people.

The problems they face

They first of all confront logistical problems due to the lack of registration; a job; places in kindergartens and schools.  They can’t get medical check-ups and businesspeople don’t know where to pay tax.  This is a totally new situation for Ukraine, unlike in Moldova or Georgia.

There are no mechanisms, and these need to be established, preferably at legislative level.  Butkevych points out that some of the problems are beyond the scope of NGOs, and politicians are in no hurry to resolve them.

The Ministry of Social Policy has started up a help line, however their information suggests that the people who ring it get general information about how to register in a new place according to normal procedure.  This is obviously not what is needed in the present exceptional circumstances.

The civic sector can find people who can put people up for a week, or even 6 months, but it can’t ensure registration, employment, etc. Butkevych believes that there should be somebody in the Cabinet of Ministers coordinating the efforts of different departments.  This is not even a question of money, but of swift and competent work.

Butkevych notes that in the second half of the 1990s, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted a special decree on temporary status for Georgian refugees from Abkhazia.  Even before the current law on refugee status and ratification of the UN Convention on refugees, this made it possible for people to get registration and live.  At least they had some kind of formal status.  There were several thousand who have since settled in Ukraine, with many receiving Ukrainian citizenship.

Butkevych believes that the most simple solution now would be to take that experience into account and introduce special status for people who have moved from the Crimea.

The draft law “on ensuring the rights and freedoms of re-settlers”

The first version of the draft bill, tabled by Serhiy Sobolyev, aroused a huge amount of criticism from lawyers, NGOs, and from people displaced themselves. Butkevych notes that despite the name of the draft bill, it chiefly concentrated on restrictions and had taken into consideration parts of Georgian legislation which did not apply to the Ukrainian situation. He points out that over 200 amendments have been made to the bill.

Not alone

The number of civic initiatives to help people who have moved, Butkevych says, show how important Crimean people are for the people of Ukraine.  There are at least 10 initiatives working on a voluntary basis around the clock, with call centres helping to match people in need of accommodation with those offering a place to stay.  It is indicative that up till a week ago there were around 30 people offering accommodation for every 10 who needed it.  Supply and demand have now equalled out, and there are also ever more difficult situations. For example,   there may be  families with 8-12 people which is not unusual for Crimean Tatar households.  A flat with only one bedroom is obviously not sufficient.

The offers of accommodation are coming from very many regions, however in terms of demand, Kyiv and the Kyiv oblast are top because of the greater likelihood of being able to find work.  The Lviv oblast is second in terms of popularity. There are some offers from the east of Ukraine, but people fleeing the Crimea are frightened to go to the Luhansk or Donetsk oblasts as they fear ending up in the same situation.

The problem is now getting very serious with people moving not only from the Crimea, but from eastern regions where activists are sending their families to Central or Western Ukraine to avoid them becoming targets.

There are for the moment only isolated cases where people have left the Crimea, but moved outside Ukraine – mainly eastern European countries. The best-known case was when 30 Crimean Tatars sought asylum in Poland.  Butkevych stresses that they did not believe that the Ukrainian authorities would persecute them, but rather that Ukraine would prove incapable of helping them.

To or from Russia

The Russian authorities have claimed that large numbers of Ukrainians are fleeing to Russia.  Butkevych notes that over the last 2 months they have received far more applications from Russian nationals for refugee status that over the previous year.  Some have faced persecution in Russia (over the Bolotnaya Square and other protests); others were seen on Maidan, were on the barricades and were injured. They have received reports that Russia’s security service is engaged in collecting information about those people, and they need particular attention from Ukraine. 

Kremlin-orchestrated "federalist" protest and western inaction

 Donetsk, April 6

The seizure by pro-Russian separatists of administrative buildings in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv on Sunday was widely expected.  The conflict was predicted not because of the “sharp rise in tension” in Russian-speaking eastern regions reported by western information agencies.  This tension is not borne out by the relatively small numbers involved in the disturbances and dramatically at odds with the results of yet another survey just posted.  It is, however, fully in line with evidence of Russian interference and plans to repeat the Crimean scenario.  Over the last weeks, NATO and western governments have been lavish with stern warnings against attempts by Russia to use its forces on Ukraine’s mainland, and very sparing with sanctions.  As of late Monday morning, there is silence about the conflict unfolding in three eastern regions although everybody knows that the disturbances in eastern parts of Ukraine are  being deliberately orchestrated to justify the Kremlin’s demands for Ukraine’s “federalization”, a euphemism for Russia exerting major influence over a large area of Ukraine.

Figures talk

An IRI survey just published, which included the Crimea, noted that “when asked what the status of Crimea should be, a majority in all regions said it should remain a part of Ukraine in some manner (West – 91 %, centre -  85%; South – 57%; East – 52%. This is in stark contrast to the 97 percent of voters who supposedly voted in support of the referendum to join Russia”.

The numbers in all three regions involved in Sunday’s disturbances were not large  – around two thousand, with around 50 involved in seizing the buildings.  One of the problems in all cities involved was – and remains - the failure by the enforcement bodies to act decisively.

Late Sunday evening the head of the Donetsk Regional Police, Konstantin Pozhydaev denied that the police had changed sides and joined the separatists.  These claims were fuelled by the separatists themselves, but also by police passiveness.  The police claimed that they showed little resistance to avoid bloodshed, both out on the street and when a group of around 50 pro-Russian demonstrators, most masked, with balaclavas, broke into the regional administration building, pulled down the Ukrainian flag and hoisted a Russian one.  The separatists set a deadline of midnight for their demand that deputies vote for a referendum on the status of the Donetsk oblast. Such a referendum would be as illegal as that held in the Crimea since any decision involving Ukraine’s borders, status, etc., must be decided by a nationwide referendum.   

There have been three seizures of the Donetsk regional administration and numerous disturbances in the largely Russian-speaking region which Viktor Yanukovych and most of the Party of the Regions people he installed in power are from. It is widely believed that some of them are playing a major role in stirring up the present troubles. There has been effective silence from billionaire and former Party of the Regions MP, Renat Akhmetov.  In fact, his US lawyers recently adopted heavy-handed methods to silence Ukrainian and Azerbaijani media which dared to criticize their client for this silence.

There may well be residents of this region, and others, who genuinely want to join Russia, and know what they mean when they chant "We want Russia and Stalin!" and express support for the Berkut riot police accused of involving in the gunning down of unarmed protesters in February. It would, however, be overly charitable to assume ideological motivation for the actions of most of those masked young men who seized the government building.  A large number are almost certainly titushki, or hired thugs, either local or brought in from Russia.  It is noteworthy that in Dnipropetrovsk where titushki worked in close cooperation with the police against EuroMaidan activists in January, there has been no trouble since oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky was made governor.  Akhmetov’s influence in Donetsk is probably even greater, making his silence particularly telling.

In Luhansk itself, separatists seized the SBU [Security Service] building and forced the release of six separatists detained after previous disturbances. EuroMaidan SOS has posted video footage showing money being paid out to demonstrators outside the building. In Severodonetsk, around one thousand pro-Russian demonstrators prevented a flash-mob in support of Ukrainian unity.  The Luhansk regional branch of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] points out that the disturbances had been openly discussed on social networks. It demands the dismissal of the head of police, Anatoly Zhdanov, or prosecution of those responsible for the violence which left six people injured, particularly those who spent the last two days calling others on social networks to take part in the violence.  CVU calls on all those political parties in opposition to the separatists to refrain from mass events in the near future. “You shouldn’t help Russia in increasing the activity of their fifth column and in destabilizing the situation

Both in Donetsk and Luhansk, the media report that the separatists have been extremely aggressive towards Ukrainian journalists.

In Kharkiv the roughly 2 thousand separatists were not so selective, demonstrating aggression all around.  After going to picket both the Russian and Polish embassies, a rumour went around that some members of the nationalist Right Sector were nearby and the mob set off in search.  They found musicians and other EuroMaidan supporters, and basically set upon them.  How much or little the police did is unclear, but it was manifestly not enough.  The same applies to the later seizure of the Kharkiv regional administration building.  

On Monday morning Interior Minister Arsen Avakov announced that police had freed the regional administration building in Kharkiv.  There is disturbing disagreement amongst human rights activists apparently all at the scene as to whether or not this is true.  There are equally worrying reports of apparent collaboration between separatists and local police.

 “Unfortunately, it’s all like in the Crimea”

This was the response of Oleksandra Dvoretska, a human rights activist from the Crimea to such conflicting stories. The situation is critical, not only because of the human cost of taking measures which could result in bloodshed. Since Russian troops seized government buildings in Simferopol on Feb 27, Ukraine’s government, the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people and other groups have been actively trying to avoid being drawn into conflict and with good reason.  The Kremlin has continued to push its line that it is “protecting” Russian-speakers and Russian nationals, and nothing would be more convenient than violence which could be used as a pretext for intervention.  However stern the minister’s promises of tough measures may be,  four years of the Yanukovych regime took its toll on a police force which had never inspired any particular trust.  The constant reports of the police standing and watching while peaceful protesters come under attack suggest that at least some in the police force are not answering to the top management. 

All of this has been spelled out any number of times in the media, as have the painfully clear analogies with Hitler’s annexation of Austria and subsequent aggression culminating in World War II.  The disturbances appear to have been coordinated both between themselves and as backup for Russia’s demands for Ukrainian "federalization".  The involvement by Russia that this entails effectively constitutes an act of aggression by the latter and encroachment upon Ukraine’s sovereignty.  Western signatories to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum have already breached their commitment to Ukraine and let Russia annex the Crimea.  Are they also going to pretend that this is not the aggression the “serious consequences” of which they keep warning? 

Right Sector’s increasing problems with credibility

The extreme nationalist group Right Sector [Pravy Sector] will never be the same again, though what exactly it was and who was behind at least some of the events of the last week remain unclear.  Since the still largely unreformed police have whitewashed their  officers over the violent death in a police raid of one scandalous member, Oleksandr Muzychko, and have detained a number of others, it seems worth articulating the questions, if answers are still thin on the ground.

Right Sector, a loose organization including some members of far-right and / or neo-Nazi formations, was undoubtedly a huge propaganda weapon both for the Yanukovych regime and for Russia.  It became widely known when the first main demonstration following the adoption of gravely repressive laws on Jan 16 turned violent.  That circumstance is crucial.  The draconian laws made it a question of days before mass arrests and long terms of imprisonment crushed any protest.  It was then that large numbers of Maidan protesters, while remaining committed in principle to non-violent protest, found it impossible to condemn those who chose active resistance. 

The Maidan protests remained democratically orientated and untainted by xenophobia, anti-Semitism or “fascist ideology”. This should have been too obvious to need stating. The anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s, for example, always manned its non-stop pickets and similar from a core of Trotskyite activists, without others automatically being attributed the same political views.  Not so in Ukraine thanks mainly to Russian efforts which have been especially stepped up the latter’s annexation of the Crimea. 

Maidan ended, the Russian military aggression began, and Right Sector “fighters” dressed in black remained in Kyiv, while others, such as Oleksandr Muzychko, addressed a defiant – and insulting – challenge to the police by rejecting any suggestion that they hand in all weapons.  On the other hand, Dmytro Yarosh, the movement’s leader, and now presidential candidate, consistently stressed commitment to democratic values, rejection of anti-Semitism and xenophobia.  The Kremlin’s campaign against him, and criminal proceedings brought, are over what certainly appears a primitive fake.

It is worth noting the assessment given by one of the main researchers of far-right movements in Ukraine, Anton Shekhovtsov. 

He first heard of Right Sector in November 2013 when they set up a tent on Maidan Nezalezhnosti [Independence Square].  Interestingly, his concerns at the time were concentrated on paramilitary groups within the right-wing VO Svoboda party.  He warned that events like the neo-Nazi march in Lviv on Nov 23 could be used to discredit EuroMaidan.

Shekhovtsov sees the high profile given Right Sector due both to its successful propaganda in which it presented itself as the most radical group of EuroMaidan, and to the work of the Russian media foisting the idea of a “fascist coup” in Kyiv.

In January Right Sector  informed him that they had around 300 fighters.  Following the events in February, the number rose and various estimates suggest around two and a half thousand members. “With respect to ideology, - he says - Right Sector is a broad movement. If you take Tryzub [Trident], led by Dmytro Yarosh, that’s the least radical group. I’d call its ideology national conservatism, not right-wing radicalism. They’re hard to compare with western parties, but if you leave out economic issues, I’d liken them to the Tea Party in the USA. At the same time, UNA-UNSO [Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian People’s Self-Defence] is a far-right organization.

On the fringe of PS were groups like “Bely Molot” [White Hammer], Patriot of Ukraine and the Social-National Assembly [SNA]. Patriot of Ukraine is a Kharkiv outfit, while SNA was created on its basis in Kyiv. They have one leader – Andriy Biletsky.  These are neo-Nazi groups. It’s interesting that they collaborated with the Kharkiv city authorities. Patriot of Ukraine was basically involved in a protection racket. As for SNA, it’s based in Vasylkiv in the Kyiv oblast. They collaborated with the regime of president Viktor Yanukovych and blocked observers and journalists covering the elections. As a result, the elections were falsified.”

Asked about the alleged attempt to storm parliament following the death of Muzychko, Shekhovtsov says that he saw who came up to parliament, including members of Patriot of Ukraine. “These are people who worked for the previous regime. It was provocation. I’m inclined to think that Yarosh is not in control of the situation”.

Shekhovtsov notes that Pravy Sector has little electoral support and that most people understand that “it discredits Ukraine in the eyes of the civilized world.  They had a high level of trust after the events in Kyiv, but lost it.”  He believes the movement is likely to collapse, with “key figures, provocateurs from Patriot of Ukraine” being arrested.  

VO Svoboda’s popularity has also plummeted to around 5 percent, with its ideology increasingly understood to not be democratic.  Shekhovtsov suggests that VO Svoboda was deliberately pushed by Yanukovych and notes that the party began getting huge amounts of broadcasting time after Yanukovych became president.  He believes that Yanukovych was hoping to get the VO Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnibok into the second round of presidential elections in 2015.  The calculation would have been correct, since many people, even if not prepared to vote for Yanukovych would not have voted for VO Svoboda.

The last opinion poll which gave Oleh Tyahnibok 1.7% of the vote in the presidential elections now scheduled of May 25 this year, and Dmytro Yarosh just 0.9% came just before a series of events and scandals which will almost certainly not have improved the level of support.

The first remains the most disturbing, this being the death on March 24 in a police shoot-out of Oleksandr Muzychko, known as Sashko Bily.   Details about Muzychko’s extremely chequered background can be found here.  The results of the investigation into Muzychko’s death was not in any way unexpected: Muzychko accidentally killed himself and the police did everything correctly.  The fact that Muzychko had publicly stated very recently that he expected the authorities to kill him or get him handed over to Russia – a mere detail.

If the disturbances outside parliament following the death of Muzychko could still be called protest, other incidents were simply squalid.  There have been embarrassing scandals which suggest that Right Sector members effectively looted some of the sumptuous residences that were revealed to the public after Yanukovych and others fled in late February. A Right Sector member has just been remanded in custody over an incident on March 31 when an argument with a Maidan Self-Defence activist led to shooting in which three people were injured. This prompted a vote in parliament the very next day ordering all organizations to hand in their weapons. It has also led to a flurry of articles with insinuations as to who Right Sector has been in contact with and who therefore is behind their successes.  

The latest is based on a “fact, without any conclusions” noted by head of the Committee of Voters of Ukraine, Oleksandr Chernenko.  He points out that Tetyana Lukash, member of the Central Election Commission and sister of the former Justice Minister, Olena Lukash who has also fled the country, was the main lobbyist for Yarosh’s registration as presidential candidate. goes further and quotes its sources within the Party of the Regions as saying that the party has informally decided “to support “Right Sector” as an organization which discredits the new authorities and allows itself to be used in a PR campaign”. 

The events of the last week have certainly discredited Right Sector.  On the other hand, the police have also proved spectacularly successful over the last four years at destroying any public trust.  Whoever is behind any right-wing group or party in Ukraine, investigations and police measures which don’t bear scrutiny are not the way to regain it. 

Council of Europe: Ukraine is not infringing the rights of Russian-speakers

Strasbourg, 31 March 2014. The protection of national minorities and their languages continues to enjoy a high level of legal recognition in Ukraine, says the Committee of Experts of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In respect of the Russian language, most undertakings chosen by Ukraine under the Charter are fulfilled or partly fulfilled. However, several of the Charter undertakings still need to be implemented for the Belarusian, Bulgarian, Crimean Tatar, Gagauz, German, Greek, Hungarian, Moldovan, Polish, Romanian, Slovak and Yiddish languages.

Ukraine is a State Party to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the Council of Europe’s convention for the protection and promotion of national minority languages. The Charter applies in Ukraine to the Belarusian, Bulgarian, Crimean Tatar, Gagauz, German, Greek, Hungarian, Moldovan, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Slovak and Yiddish languages. An independent Committee of Experts monitors the implementation of the Charter.

In light of its recent evaluation report on Ukraine (ECRML (2014) 3) and following consultations with experts on-the-spot, the Committee of Experts underlines in a statement that the protection of national minorities and their languages continues to enjoy a high level of legal recognition in Ukraine. Certain recent improvements can be noted with regard to the use of some minority languages in the media.

In respect of the Russian language, most undertakings chosen by Ukraine under the Charter are fulfilled or partly fulfilled. Some shortcomings may still be observed concerning the use of Russian in the fields of judiciary and administration.

As far as the other aforementioned minority languages are concerned, however, several of the Charter undertakings still need to be implemented in practice.

In the field of education, Ukraine has a long-standing tradition of monolingual and bilingual schools operating in minority languages. Teaching in minority languages does, however, not exist in practice for all minority languages.

Except Russian and to a certain extent Hungarian and Romanian, minority languages are not used by local and regional authorities. Particular problems exist with regard to the official use of place-names in minority languages which should be promoted.

The use of Russian before judicial authorities is on the whole satisfactory. However, the relevant Charter undertakings are not implemented in practice for the other twelve languages.

During the last years, there has been a general decrease of the broadcasting time in minority languages, which for most of the minority languages had been very limited in any case. Since the adoption of the Committee of Experts’ evaluation report, the broadcast time on television has been increased for the Hungarian, Romanian and Slovak languages, but decreased for German.

The Language Law, which has received considerable political and media attention recently, has to a significant extent been inspired by the Charter. At present, this law is inter alia being applied to Russian, but not to most of the other minority languages.

It is important that the Ukrainian authorities take active steps so as to ensure the application of the Language Law to all minority languages concerned by the ratification of the Charter. Such steps include, for each language, the identification of local administrative units where the law will be applied.

Link to the Committee of Experts’ evaluation report on Ukraine (ECRML (2014) 3):

The right to a fair trial

Creating a trustworthy judiciary

Rally demanding lustration of judges, March 27

Revolutions most often fail because only the faces in power change.  This was the fate of the 2004 Orange Revolution, and a pressing imperative now is to ensure that the same thing does not happen again.  The demands from the popular Maidan movement are for total lustration – a cleansing of all ranks of power.  The first problem is, of course, the faces.  Almost all now in power have been around for a long time, and they are unlikely to support measures which could touch them.  There are numerous other issues  – regarding criteria for lustration; the consequences; who makes the decisions; and major dangers inherent in such procedure  – which will be addressed separately.  The following concerns one specific law which may shortly be passed on lustration of judges.

It is appropriate that initial steps should address the judiciary which Viktor Yanukovych set about subordinating within months of being elected president in 2010.  The politically motivated trials of Yulia Tymoshenko, Yury Lutsenko and others were only the most visible aspects of a much deeper malaise.  Major legislative and staffing changes, the increased role of the High Council of Justice [HCJ] and of the prosecutor’s office resulted in most judges passing the rulings expected of them, as well as cases where judges lost their jobs for demonstrating independence.

During the three months of the EuroMaidan protests, a number of judges banned peaceful protests; remanded people in custody for 2 months and more without any legitimate grounds.   It is worth noting that the High Council of Justice obtained the dismissal of the sole judge – Iryna Mamontova - who applied house arrest, rather than remand in custody with respect to young students against whom there was no evidence at all.

A revised “Law on reinstating trust in Ukraine’s judiciary” [No. 4378-1] was passed in its first reading on March 27.  Attempts to get it passed in full failed.  The draft law proposes to create a special commission which will have one year to carry out checks of general jurisdiction court judges in response to applications from individuals or legal entities.  The checks will concern cases where a judge either alone, or as part of a panel of judges, passed rulings which:

1)    Restricted the right to peaceful assembly from Nov 21 2013 till the draft law comes into force;

2)    Remanded people in custody, upheld such orders or prolonged periods of detention; convicted or upheld convictions in cases where people have been declared political prisoners for actions linked with their political or civic activities;

3)    Remanded people in custody, upheld such orders or prolonged periods of detention; convicted people who were participants in the protests from Nov 21 2013 to the day that the law comes into force;

(4) to (7) refer to punitive measures against protesters, including those taking part in the AutoMaidan car processions and other actions, using the Code of Administrative Offences.  Such rulings handed down by first instance or appeal court rulings stripped drivers of their licence; imposed administrative penalties for supposedly disobeying the legitimate demands of a police officer or similar; or for infringing the procedure for holding meetings, rallies etc.

The final items include checks of court rulings which stripped five MPs elected at the Oct 2012 parliamentary elections of their parliamentary mandate; of court orders allowing phone tapping and other forms of surveillance against participants in the protests from Nov 21 2013 to Feb 21 2014. 

The last (10) refers to violations found by the European Court of Human Rights, including of Articles 14 and 18 of the European Convention on Human Rights, where these involved actions or inaction of a judge which may indicate infringement of their oath.”  With respect to the detention of both Lutsenko and Tymoshenko, the Court in Strasbourg found violation of Article 18, with the authorities found to have had motives other than those stated, or inadmissible, for their detention.

The special commission will contain 15 members – five selected by the Supreme Court; five by the Government Representative on Anti-Corruption Issues and five by the Verkhovna Rada.  Only the Supreme Court’s five need to be retired judges; the other 10 members must simply have a higher legal education.

The special commission is attached to the High Council of Justice, and it has power only to report its findings regarding infringement (or not) of a judge’s oath to the HCJ. The latter then has three months to make a decision.  Where there are indications that a criminal offence has been committed, the commission applies to the Prosecutor General’s Office for a check to be carried out.

The most crucial innovations come in the Final and Transitional Provisions.  With the entry into force of the law:

1)    All heads, their deputies and the secretaries of the court chambers of high specialized courts and of courts of appeal are dismissed from their administrative posts, as well as the heads of local courts and their deputies;

2)    The powers of all members of the High Council of Justice and the High Qualification Commission of Judges are terminated.  New members are appointed in accordance with current legislation.

It was the heads of the courts who played the key role in carrying out political orders and intimidating other judges into following suit.  The draft law stresses that such dismissals pertain only to the judge’s administrative duties. Both Ukraine’s Constitution and legislation make it difficult to dismiss a judge and this point must not be ignored. 

There are also restrictions on who can now become a member of the HCJ or Qualification Commission.  A crucial point is that those on either body before the law came into force may not be members of it, unless they are members ex officio.

The HCJ under Yanukovych was given much greater power than that envisaged by the Constitution, and the power was used to intimidate and / or get rid of judges who did not provide the rulings expected of them.  The need for new members seems undoubted, although unfortunately the new provisions for selecting members still fail to meet European standards.  

Likely problems

The Centre for Political and Legal Reform which is participating in drawing up a Reanimation Reform Plan  points to some areas which need addressing.  Most damningly they envisage that in its present form, the law could result in judges applying to the European Court of Human Rights and winning the right to reinstatement as did Alexander Volkov, a Supreme Court judge dismissed in 2010.

The reasons are simple: European standards demand that most members of the HCJ should be judges chosen by other judges; the law does not establish a time bar for dismissing a judge for infringement of their oath; and appeals will be considered by a chamber of the High Administrative Court whose judges are also liable to checks under the law.

The Centre also points out that the special commission could be declared unconstitutional since five of its members will be formed by parliament which is not given this power under the Constitution.

These are not trivial considerations if they can result in the measures being found in breach of the European Convention.  They are also of major importance and could defeat the purpose of any “lustration”, if the role of parliament leads to political influence on the makeup of both the commission and the HCJ.

Ukraine’s justice system was seriously eroded over the last four years, and it does seem inconceivable that the same people who just months ago were prepared to remand people in custody or gravely restrict their rights to order can be left to exercise justice further.  On the other hand, “restoration” of trust may be too optimistic, given that many courts and individual judges provided the rulings required of them, or were guilty of corruption earlier too.  Some of those currently holding political power were involved in politically commissioned court rulings under the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko.  The “court ruling” from the Kyiv Court of Appeal in January 2010 which found Joseph Stalin and others guilty of Holodomor-Genocide in 1932-1933 was much less disastrous for individual lives, but it was no less politically commissioned than the politically motivated trials of Yanukovych’s opponents. The court in 2010 worked in close coordination with the Security Service, then and now under the leadership of Valentin Nalyvaichenko. 

There are cogent reasons for removing any political influence on the judiciary and that is not achieved by draft law No. 4378-1.

The danger of disciplinary measures for “infringement of oath” has previously been criticized as giving scope for abuse by the Venice Commission, and was widely abused under Yanukovych.   Even the criteria listed above for initiating an investigation could come under scrutiny, either in Ukraine or by the European Court of Human Rights.  The “political prisoners” mentioned above were classified as such by a parliamentary majority, not the courts.  The same quibble could be made about participants in the protests detained or even convicted of offences.  The decision to waive all charges was effectively a political one, not made by the courts.

The process has to begin somewhere and it needs to start soon.  It must however avoid any possible minefields, and looking consistently to the court in Strasbourg may be the way forward.  It is clearly only a very small part of a much greater list of vital reforms to make it inconceivable that the degradation of the last four years could be repeated. 

Freedom of conscience and religion

Crimea and religious freedom

Besides the difficulties with citizenship and relationships with mainland Ukraine, many problems in Crimea may arise in delicate areas such as faith.

According to official statistics, in the beginning of 2013 in Crimea (Ukraine), there were 2074 religious organizations, among which 682 have the right to engage in religious activities without registering as a legal entity. Another 132 registered religious organizations are in Sevastopol city.

However,  the right of religious freedom in Crimea is under threat after Russian occupation.

This is not solely due to the lawlessness of the self-proclaimed government, which distinguished itself by kidnapping the priest chaplain Fr. Mykola Kvych in Sevastopol, followed by a search of his property and an eight-hour interrogation; an inventory of one of the Orthodox temples of the Kyiv Patriarchate; and threats directed against other Ukrainian priests and their families. 

It is known that three Greek Catholic and two Orthodox priests of the Kyiv Patriarchate have already left Crimea. All clergy of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and Kyiv Patriarchate were forced to take their families out of the Crimean peninsula. Due to all kinds of difficulties and threats, some pastors of Evangelical Churches and some Roman Catholic clergy have already left the peninsula. Immediately after the Russian occupation, anti-Semitism increased in Simferopol, manifesting as threats against Jews inscribed by vandals on the walls of a synagogue.

In addition to this,  Russian legislation will be a problem for the Crimean people.

Compare the basic positions of the laws concerning religious freedom and religious associations in Ukraine and Russia.

Rights concerning religious freedom



All religions, faiths and religious organizations are equal (Article 5 of the Law)

Special role belongs to Orthodoxy. Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism are recognized religions (preamble of the Law)

Notifying the government of the establishment of a religious community is not obligatory (Article 8)

Religious groups may act without registering. But citizens who form a religious group with the intent to further develop it into a religious organization as a legal entity must notify the local authorities at the very beginning (Article 7)

A religious community can be registered by a minimum of ten citizens who have reached the age of 18 (Article 14)

A local religious organization may be founded by a minimum of ten Russian citizens who have reached the age of 18, who reside in the same locality, who are united in a religious group, with confirmation issued by local authorities of its existence in the territory for at least 15 years, or confirmation of joining the structure of a centralized religious organization of the same faith, issued by that organization.

Fee for registering a religious organization as a legal entity is not required.

A fee is required for the official registration of religious organization or changes in its charter (Article 11): for the creation of a legal entity, 4000 rubles (~USD 100); for state registration of changes in the charter or liquidation of the legal entity, 800 rubles (~USD 20).

Ukrainian legislation does not use the concept of extremism. Instead, liability is incurred for a specific infringement by a specific person.

Extremist activities are grounds for the liquidation of a religious organization and legal prohibition of the activities of religious group or organization (Article 14, paragraph 2)

These few examples demonstrate the desire of the Russian authorities to keep the religious sphere under strict control. This is especially apparent in the Federal Law of Russia ‘On Countering Extremist Activities’ and related laws, according to which religious organizations, their literature, and even internet resources may be prohibited.

The requirement concerning 15 years of service for religious organization is discriminatory against the current Crimean communities, because those which were registered after 1998 cannot be independent religious communities any longer. From the standpoint of Russian law, they will have to either cease to exist as legal entity or become a part of one of the existing centralized Russian religious associations.

By the way, it was recently reported that the Russian Union of Evangelical Christian Baptists was instructed to absorb all the communities of Christian Baptists in Crimea. Other denominations probably received the same orders.

The situation is vividly illustrated by the Crimean Tatars allowing Christians to use their mosques for prayers and services if they sense a threat to their temples or if the temples are taken away from them in the next wave of ‘nationalization.’ Moreover, not the Mejlis, but the press secretary of the Kyiv Patriarchate announced  this proposal as a possible means of ensuring the rights of believers in Crimea.
On top of everything else, last year President Putin inserted rather contradictory changes to the Criminal Code of Russia and to the Code of Administrative Violations, aimed at countering insult to the religious beliefs and feelings of the citizens. Taking into account the preamble of the Russian law on religious freedom, it is not hard to understand whose feelings will be defended first.

Still, we want to believe that religious freedom and peaceful interfaith relations in Crimea will be preserved in spite of migration, financial, and other difficulties. In my opinion, intensive international monitoring by the OSCE and the Council of Europe of fundamental human rights on the Crimean peninsula can contribute to it.

Maxim Vasin is a lawyer and the Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Freedom.  This translation of his blog entry is taken from the IRF site with the kind permission of the author.  The original blog can be found here:


Law enforcement agencies

The Police must not be a threat to the public

Stop police lawlessness!

The Interior Ministry has published a list of 33 candidates for the post of head of police in the Kyiv, Lviv, Volyn and Ternopil oblasts, and is inviting the public to take part in discussion of these candidates. 

This is the first step in measures initiated by the new Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, aimed at ensuring that the most fitting candidates are selected for managerial posts throughout the country. 

Yevhen Zakharov, head of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group, explains that Avakov approached him after some initial appointments were met with strong protest in western regions.  A small commission has been organized with Zakharov, well-known civic activist and journalist Yehor Sobolyev and journalist Yury Butusov.  Their task has been to carry out an initiative vetting process of people wishing to be considered for the new managerial posts.  Then five days are given for public discussion and further collection of information about the people.  The role of journalists here is important since the aim is to find out in time if these prospective candidates have been implicated in any corrupt setups, etc. in the past.  Only after this stage has ended will appointments be made.

The list is published on the ministry’s site, and at  comments are left.  Asked how one deals with the fact that comments are given anonymously, Zakharov asked how else one can hold a public discussion. He stresses that it is not only those anonymous signals that will be considered, but information received by other means, including through journalist investigations. “It’s possible that the system has nothing against the person and he has never been prosecuted, but that doesn’t mean that he did not carry out unlawful actions. Impunity is one of the main reasons for the lawlessness of Ukraine’s police.”  He adds that with regard to some of the candidates, he is looking at the material and that it’s clear to him, and to others as well, that the people should not have applied. 

Zakharov notes that there is considerable scepticism both among police officers and the public about this initiative, with many believing that the posts will still go to those earmarked for the jobs, and that the procedure is for appearances.  It would be impossible to totally dismiss such scepticism.  He is convinced that Avakov is not taking money for posts, but believes it possible that MPs who are presently lobbying this or that candidate could have taken bribes.

“Avakov wants to break this system which is why he began this procedure. For that reason I agreed to this thankless work which takes a huge amount of time, energy and nerves, to help the ministry, the ministry and all of us.  It would be good if people were appointed who aren’t implicated in corrupt setups, and not involved in flagrant human rights abuses. Whether it works is hard to say since there are a large number of interests which are tangled up and clashing.

Zakharov says that he is not certain that their views will be heeded.  There are only three of them on a commission which also includes the minister, his deputies and other people from the ministry. If it transpires that a person who absolutely should not have been appointed gets the job, then he, Sobolyev and Butusov will be forced to give up, this being the most they can do. He hopes this will not happen.

An expert council on human rights attached to the ministry is being set up as well. This will be engaged in drawing up initiatives on reforming the Interior Ministry in order to humanize its work.

Zakharov was co-chair of the Ministry’s Public Council on Human Rights from 2005 to 2009.  He says that Avakov is proposing to reinstate all the civic control projects which were stopped shortly after the new regime came to power in 2010.  This includes public councils; mobile groups carrying out monitoring of police detention facilities; regional human rights advisers to the minister, etc.

Since Avakov is likely to be in this post only till November at the latest, Zakharov believes it vital to get as much done now as possible, while they have a minister who appears committed to making real changes.


Deported peoples

Mustafa Dzhemilev : Crimean Tatars full of foreboding about the future

Mustafa Dzhemilev , MP, former political prisoner and champion of Crimean Tatar rights, and Refat Chubarov, head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people were detained for an hour on the border of the Kherson region and the Crimea on Saturday.  Six men with rifles surrounded the two men and removed their documents.   They initially said nothing about why they were stopping them, then they stated that they were on a persona non grata list of people not allowed into the Crimea under its occupation government.  However after an hour, the men were allowed to continue.

Jemiliev had not been in the Crimea since its annexation and Radio Svoboda reports that he was greeted by supporters along the way. 

The Crimean News Agency reports, however, that the Ukrainian flag raised over the Mejlis building in Simferopol to mark Jemiliev’s arrival provoked a visit from the local police.  Riza Shekiyev, member of the Mejlis told the officers that he has a citizen of Ukraine, the building belongs to his civic organization, the Crimea Foundation, not to the state. He said it was therefore unclear why they had come to ask about the flag at all.  He was told that there had been “a phone call from concerned people”.  The officers also tried to claim that the Ukrainian flag could cause various forms of provocation and attacks on the building. They were rightly told that it was the responsibility of the law enforcement bodies to prevent such incidents and to punish those who resort to such provocation.

Mustafa Jemiliev told Hromadskie.TV that according to his sources in the Russian Security Service [FSB], a majority within the FSB is in favour of deportation and of creating the sort of conditions that will force the Crimean Tatars to leave.  There are also those who believe that this will damage Russia’s reputation.

Jemiliev added that manifestations of xenophobia on an everyday basis in the Crimea have increased. “For example, the so-called “Cossacks” ask: “When are you leaving? After all they’re going to evict you and I want to move into your flat.”  He says that this is said by neighbours who used to visit each other.  Children are beginning to attack Crimean Tatars especially if they’re speaking their own language. The children are picking this up from adults.  He says that among Crimean Tatars there is a sense of foreboding and anxiety regarding the future. 

News from the CIS countries

The World through the eyes of Russian State television

Have you heard about the nefarious Polish general who made Napoleon invade Russia?    No? You must not have been watching Rossia-1 television on March 31.

According to a documentary aired on Russia’s main state-run channel, General Michal Sokolnicki’s goal was the dismembering of the Russian Empire and the establishment of a Greater Poland extending from the Baltic to the Black Sea, buffered from a rump Russia by a series of garrison states. ​​"From the report of General Sokolnicki: ’Cut back thus to its natural limits, cut off from the shores of the Baltic and the Black Sea, separated from the Great Empire [eds: Napoleonic France], watched over by buffer states, and constantly in the sights of an army that is always ready to give a decisive response to aggression, Russia will be forced to give up greedy plans and any temptation to try any kind of usurpation forever.’"

The text of Sokolnicki’s report, which Rossia’s investigators visited in a military archive near Paris, scrolls over a graphic of Europe in flames as the narrator reads it. The documentary, called "The War of 1812: The First Information War, " notes that part of the Polish design against the Russian Empire was to stir up ethnic conflicts, including with the Crimean Tatars and the peoples of the Caucasus.

Oasis From Europe’s Fascism

March 31 was a relatively staid day on Rossia-1. None of Russia’s most aggressive spokesmen -- Dmitry Kiselyov, Aleksei Pushkov, Aleksandr Dugin, for example  -- was anywhere to be seen. Even President Vladimir Putin was only fleetingly present.

Nonetheless, certain themes and moods ran through the entire day: Russia is an oasis of calm good governance in a world of chaos. Fascism is on the march in the world and Russia must be vigilant. The motif of "Europe in flames" plays out repeatedly through the day.

In the early evening, there is an hourlong, nonjournalistic talk show called "On Air Live" devoted to events in Ukraine. A range of guests representing positions from the rabidly anti-Maidan to the extremely rabidly anti-Maidan argued on the theme of "the morals of the new Ukrainian elite" while behind them large screens played loops of the burning tires of the Kyiv demonstrations last month.

In passing we learn such "facts" as that former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko finds domestic and foreign enemies "no worse than Stalin did." That the radical nationalist Right Sector activists are "her storm troopers." That "hundreds were killed, thousands were crippled, and downtown Kyiv was destroyed" by the Maidan protests.

At one point a man introduced as a psychologist connects Tymoshenko with the figurehead of the White Brotherhood, a bizarre cult that began in Donetsk and swept through the newly independent countries after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The psychologist says he "noticed" from his research that people who were involved in this sect went on to become "national socialists."

Toward the end, Sergei Khizhnyak, identified as the head of the NGO Stop Maidan, tells how he had to flee the Kyiv suburb of Boryspil and how his apartment was allegedly looted in this exchange with program moderator Boris Korchevnikov. ​​Korchevnikov: "What happened to your apartment?"
Khizhnyak: "I came here, evacuating my family. My neighbors called me and said that some people came in masks with guns. They cut down the door and the apartment was completely looted. Everything was removed."
Korchevnikov: "How can this be in this day and age in the center of Europe?"

The program ends with a priest denouncing the Femen protest movement as "devilish" and saying that Maidan actually began on August 17, 2012, when a topless Femen leader Inna Shevchenko took a chainsaw to an Orthodox cross in support of the Russian performance-art group Pussy Riot.

What Is Not Said

In many ways, the 8 p.m. news broadcast brings the themes of the day together. It is a masterwork of mentioning controversial points as if they were indisputable facts. What is unsaid is as important as what is said: Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry spent four hours discussing "the federalization of Ukraine" in Paris. President Vladimir Putin criticized the "economic blockade" of Moldova’s Transdniester region. The United States "firmly backs terrorists" in Syria.

What was not said was that Kerry told Lavrov there would be no discussion of Ukraine’s domestic affairs without the participation of Ukraine; that Moldova, Ukraine, and the EU deny there are any problems or delays on Transdniester’s borders; and that Russia politically and militarily supports the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which has killed tens of thousands of its own citizens over the last three years.

It shows Putin and Sberbank head German Gref discussing the creation of a new Russian electronic-payments system in the next six months. What was not said was that the move is necessary because U.S. sanctions over Crimea prevent Visa and MasterCard from working with Russian banks.

Don’t Look Too Close

Ukraine, of course, is the center of attention and the newsreader betrayed obvious distress when introducing the segment by highlighting the alleged unfair application of justice in southern Ukraine. ​​ 

"A major scandal in Odesa. Supporters of the new government held a public demonstration in the center of the city. The press secretary of the local office of [Vitali Klitschko’s] UDAR party brazenly burned several St. George ribbons in the eternal flame. And she was not punished. At the same time in Odesa, and also in Kharkiv and Donetsk were reported more detentions and criminal investigations of local residents who liberated government buildings from Nazi groups and who disarmed the outsider Banderites." Russian sources often refer to Ukrainian activists as followers of World War II-era Ukrainian nationalist Stepan Bandera.

"Vesti" even skirts delicate issues that could evoke unpleasant comparisons with Russia if viewers stopped to think. In one segment, Ihor Massalov, head of an NGO called Honor and Dignity in Kharkiv, complains of harassment from police and security forces, about bias and propaganda in the media, and about the "right" of Ukrainian citizens to hold unauthorized mass demonstrations against the authorities. "People come here to learn the truth and to express their views, " he says. "That is their constitutional right."

"Vesti’s" coverage of elections in France again evokes the theme of "Europe in flames" and a looming fascist threat to Russia even beyond Ukraine’s horizon. The coverage emphasizes the showing of the rightist National Front and says Europe’s right-wing parties are poised to make a big showing in the next European Parliament elections. The successes of rightist forces across Europe is attributed to the social tolerance of Western governments, including the legalization of same-sex marriage.

That segment provides an excellent segue to allow the day’s broadcasting to end where it began -- in Napoleonic Europe. March 31, we are told, is the 200th anniversary of the Russian Army’s triumphal entry into Paris after chasing Napoleon back all the way from Moscow. ​​
"Today in Russia we are marking the 200th anniversary of the entry of the Russian Army into Paris. On March 31, 1814, the Russian Empire brought an end the epoch of the bloody Napoleonic wars and became the leading military and political power on the continent. The events that took place in the capital of France laid the foundation for many years of peaceful development in Europe."

After that, the dulcet tones of the theme song to "Good Night, Little Ones, " followed by a short, animated bedtime story. Then an evening mix of Russian-made serials, an episode of "Law And Order, " and a documentary about the effort to extend human life.

It has been a long, exhausting day. But the flames of the outer world have not breached Russia’s stronghold. And in six months, Rossia-1 says, the Motherland will even have its own credit card.


Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty © 2014 RFE/RL, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2014, #04