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.


So will anybody answer for the non-election fiasco in Mariupol?

     The ballot papers that never had a chance of reaching the ballot box [Photo: EPA]

The head of the OPORA election watchdog warns that the elections sabotaged in Mariupol and Krasnoarmiysk on Sunday cannot be repeated before the New Year. Who was to blame should be the subject of a criminal investigation.

OPORA has reported a surreal sequel to the squalid sabotage of the local elections in Mariupol.  According to the OPORA and Committee of Voters of Ukraine [CVU] representative, the Mariupol election commission gathered at 20.00 and accepted the oaths given by two replacement members.  With 16 members present, they formally acknowledged that:

1.     The voting papers had not been given to the precinct electoral commissions;

2.     The elections in Mariupol had not taken place

The disruption to the elections, both in Mariupol and in Krasnoarmiysk, had been predicted.  It is less clear whether it could have been prevented.  The signs of trouble had been present for some time, yet just a few days ago OPORA stated that it saw no reason for the elections not to be held. 

Commentator Adrian Karatnycky from the Atlantic Council was scathing about the mess. He wrote that “weeks of manipulations and scandalously irresponsible behaviour by affiliates of Ukraine’s ruling parties in the Donbas, has disenfranchised the voters of Mariupol and Krasnoarmiysk.”.  He attributed a fair share of the blame to the Donetsk governor Pavlo Zhebrivsky, asserting that he had been trying for weeks to disrupt the vote.

Mykhailo Okhendovsky, Head of the Central Election Commission, is reported to have approached the police and suggested that the actions of some members of the Mariupol Territorial Election Commission [TEC] bear the hallmarks of obstruction of the electoral process (Article 157 of the Criminal Code).

The previous night at the printing company responsible for the ballot papers, the TEC passed a decision to declare the papers invalid and to block them from being delivered to polling stations. 

The Deutsche Welle Ukrainian Service notes that the scandals over the TEC began two weeks ago, with the members changed three times, and the chair replaced twice.

Members of the TEC worked without the proper documents and candidates were not issued with ID.  Serhiy Zakharov, the Donetsk artist twice held hostage by Kremlin-backed militants and now candidate for mayor of Mariupol, drew his own ID document in order to demonstrate how the law was being infringed even in such details as ID.

There are conflicting stories about 22 ballot papers which either had the same party on the list twice, or had been opened.  Whatever the fault, it was with 22 papers only, yet was was used to block all ballot papers leaving the press.

The printing press is owned by millionaire Rinat Akhmetov, former ally of Viktor Yanukovych and seen as close to the Opposition Bloc (the successor to the former ruling Party of the Regions).  Members of the TEC noted that the same printing press was printing Opposition Bloc campaign material.

Members of the TEC spent the night at the printing press, with staff also forced to stay there with them.

The polling stations even opened, only to close again for want of ballot papers.

In Krasnoarmiysk they never opened with the district administrative court having declared the ballot papers to be invalid.  The chair of the TEC apparently resigned in protest and the voting did not take place.

The elections were also declared invalid by the Svatovo TEC [Luhansk oblast] which, according to OPORA, stated that mistakes in printing the ballot papers had been through the fault of members of the TEC.  

A representative of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc stated on Sunday that the elections in Lisichansk had been declared invalid, although as of the early hours of Monday morning, there was no confirmation of this from either OPORA or CVU.

The apparent sabotage, at least in Mariupol and Krasnoarmiysk, comes at a time when large numbers of Ukrainians from Donbas were unable to vote.  Some are in areas under Kremlin-backed militant control, or areas adjacent deemed too dangerous to hold elections, but up to 1.5 million Ukrainians, forced to leave their homes in Donbas or Crimea were effectively disenfranchised through the local elections law

Olha Aivazovska, head of OPORA, told journalists that the disruption of the elections in Mariupol had occurred because “an opened packet with 22 ballot papers led to the electoral process for 300 thousand people entitled to vote being stopped. That is, the TEC led to the disruption of the elections. However it is the police who should investigate this”. 

She dismisses statements that elections could be scheduled to coincide with the second round of voting, and believes it unlikely that they will be held before the New Year.

How long it will take to identify those responsible for criminal obstruction to the electoral process is even less clear, or, unfortunately, whether anybody will be held accountable.


Politics and human rights

Russia backtracks over Ukrainian citizenship in Crimea

    Photo: Simferopol, soon after the so-called March 16, 2014 referendum [Ed Flanaghan, NBS]

It seems that Crimeans were not in a hurry to renounce their Ukrainian citizenship. Faced with the prospect of embarrassing queues from Jan 1, 2016 when Crimeans will have 60 days to inform of dual citizenship or face criminal liability, Russia has made a complete turnaround  Although the relevant law was adopted after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and was widely believed to be linked with it, the Russian Federal Migration Service [FMS] has now said that it does not apply to Ukrainian citizens in Crimea.   

A formal announcement was posted in the second half of October, stating that “Crimeans recognized as Russian nationals according to the Agreement between Russia and the Republic of Crimea do not need to inform the FMS about their Ukrainian citizenship.  Crimeans must inform of dual citizenship if they are or plan to become nationals of another country, the US or Germany, for example, or if they gained Ukrainian citizenship after the above-mentioned Agreement is considered to have come into force. 

This seems to be a total turnaround for the Russian authorities and probably indicates the failure of previous efforts to convince Crimeans to formally renounce Ukrainian citizenship and take on Russian.  

The agreement which FMS cites was between Moscow and the regime it installed when Russian soldiers seized control at the end of February 2014.  Neither it, nor Russia’s annexation, are internationally recognized and a UN General Assembly Resolution from March 27, 2014, calls on countries to not recognize any change in Crimea’s status.

A one month period was allowed, from March 18 to April 18 for Ukrainians to formally register their wish to retain Ukrainian citizenship. 

Attempts later to deny political prisoners Oleg Sentsov and Oleksandr Kolchenko their Ukrainian citizenship specifically referred to the fact that they had not formally declared that they were remaining Ukrainian citizens.  Very few people did, but almost certainly because they were required to turn up in person, with only three or four offices provided throughout Crimea.  There was also very little publicity about the requirement and many would have objected on principle to having to ‘apply’ to retain what was their fundamental right. An application has been lodged with the European Court of Human Rights over the refusal to accept Kolchenko’s Ukrainian citizenship.

A later Russian government directive from July 19 established a quota for non-Russian residents of the Crimea (Ukrainian citizens or nationals of other countries) to receive  Russian Federation temporary residence permits.  Five thousand could receive such ‘permits’ for the whole of Crimea, and a further 400 for Sevastopol.  According to information issued on a federal migration service site, people living in the Crimea on March 18 2014 who formally declared their wish to retain their Ukrainian citizenship had the right to receive a residence permit for Russia.  

The Russian authorities made exaggerated claims about the number of people who had received Russian citizenship and people were certainly placed under pressure to become Russian nationals.  Over the first year after annexation, the Crimean Human Rights Field Mission reported widespread cases where people had been threatened with dismissal,  told they couldn’t leave the Crimea without Russian citizenship or faced losing their right to land if they don’t become Russian nationals.  

The Crimean Human Rights Group (which took over monitoring reports after Russia effectively criminalized as ‘undesirable’ the Crimean Human Rights Field Mission) has reported that a significant number of people were ‘automatically’ assigned Russian citizenship where they had not registered their wish to retain Ukrainian citizenship during the month given. 

Some Crimeans, like Svetlana from Krasnoperekopsk, was unable to formally registered during the month given, but refused to take Russian citizenship.  She applied for a residence permit [вид на жительство] but was turned down as she had been ‘automatically’ assigned Russian citizenship.  She has been trying to get rid of this unsolicited Russian citizenship for the last year. 

Russia’s new position also raises a number of questions about the Crimean Tatars who have been ‘deported’, like Sinaver Kadyrov, or banned from their homeland while it remains under Russian occupation like Mustafa Dzhemiliev and Refat Chubarov.

Considering the pressure and threats placed on Crimeans for not wanting Russian citizenship, and the constant claims that it was Crimeans who “chose to join Russia”, this is a telling climb-down.  


What is meant by amnesty for the separatists?

At the negotiations between the ‘Normandy Four’ leaders, the decision was taken that before elections according to Ukrainian legislation, that the militants must go through an amnesty procedure.

Full amnesty for people who have killed or tortured is simply impossible since leaving certain grave and particularly grave crimes without punishment would guarantee that these people would continue carrying out the same activities.

Judging by what President Poroshenko said in an interview after the summit, there is basically the same understanding there.  What is involved is that those who did not commit crimes, but simply took part in some separatist protests, stood guard at roadblocks, etc. should not face prosecution. This is indeed possible, whereas a full amnesty would be a total aberration.

Furthermore, the very use of the term ‘amnesty’ in the context of this agreement sounds rather strange since you only amnesty people convicted of a crime through court proceedings.  The very fact of an amnesty suggests that a punishment has been made less severe.  It is impossible to amnesty those whose guilt has not been proven by a court.  Presumption of innocence means that a person is not a criminal until a court sentence has entered into force. Amnesty for a person who has not been recognized as an offender is a nonsense.

Therefore all Paris agreements are, strictly speaking, beyond the realm of law.  This is solely a question of political expediency and therefore it is in principle incorrect to use the word ‘amnesty’.

There is no chance of implementing these agreements in the present circumstances.  This is not because Ukraine does not want to, but because Russia will not allow them to be implemented.

Of course the Paris summit has resulted in one more step towards peace. Tanks and weapons over 100 mm. calibre are being moved from the demarcation line and this is extremely important. However artillery weapons remain, together with mines which the separatists are planting and which our soldiers are constantly being blown up by. In addition, there are Russian military bases along the Ukrainian-Russian border and this means that it could flare up with new force at any moment that Russia wants, as we have observed on many occasions.

On that subject, up till now all agreements have been accompanied by intensified action at the front,   There was escalation after the first Minsk agreement, and the seizure of Debaltseve took place after the second lot of negotiations. I therefore have no confidence in the strength of the ceasefire since the main reason for what is happening is Russia and its leaders’ unwillingness to let go of Ukraine.

The main aim of all of this is to keep us in a state of tension, to stop us from living, to ensure that we spend over 100 million UAH per day on military needs, and not on the development of the country.  Hot spots of tension have been created by Russia in Donbas, with people having so fallen out with one another that it is difficult to imagine their future peaceful co-existence. How will those who left and returned live with those who remained?

This conflict will drag on for a long time, it will take decades to achieve full peace in the region. However the whole problem is that there are no signs of the Russian Federation’s leadership planning to change their current policy. I am therefore sceptical about the possibility of implementing their agreements.

It is nonetheless necessary to engage in this. It has long been said that a bad peace is better than a good conflict.  Furthermore any such steps mean that there will be less shooting, and therefore less killed and wounded and after all that is the most important thing.

6 October 2015

Odesa 2 May Suspect: We were financed by Moscow

   Earlier pro-Russian rally in Odesa

Serhiy Rudyk, one of the men facing charges over the May 2, 2014 disturbances in Odesa, is in no doubt that the anti-Maidan protests on Kulikovo Pole in the Spring of 2014 were paid for “by Moscow”*.  Rudyk, whose organization cannot be suspected of an anti-Russian bias, names the specific amounts paid for living at the anti-Maidan camp, and mentions rumours that Moscow paid 2 million dollars for the entire ‘Kulikovo Pole project’. 

Rudyk was speaking very openly with a representative of the May 2 Group, a non-partisan civic initiative,  investigating the tragic disturbances and fire at the Trade Union building on Kulikovo Pole.  While remaining the assertions of one individual, Rudyk’s account does seem to correspond with other reported findings and hypotheses presented by the Group over the last year or more. 

Rudyk’s group – Odesskaya Druzhyna [OD] – was one of various anti-Maidan groups, pro-Russian and pro-federalist, involved in the Kulikovo Pole protests and demonstrations in Odesa in March and April against the post-Maidan government in Kyiv and in support of ‘federalisation’. The core of OD, according to Serhiy Dibrov from the May 2 Group, was made up of activists from ’Slavonic Unity’, a movement with pronounced neo-Nazi views.   Rudyk is now convinced that they were set up, and used, and states at the outset that what the organization was supposed to be, and what it actually was, were two different things. 

Odesskaya Druzhyna emerged, he asserts. on March 8, 2014 as a “military-patriotic camp” on Kulikovo Pole aimed at “educating youth” and “defending Kulikovo Pole” from the ultranationalist Right Sector.   They also “accompanied” all demonstrations and marches, including, for example, a march in favour of a referendum on March 16, the day of the pseudo referendum on Crimea’s status used by Russia as pretext for annexing the peninsula.  Rudyk asserts that OD were promised all kinds of training, uniforms and special vests.  When the interviewer notes that such vests are regarded as special equipment, Rudyk confirms that yes, initially, OD was supposed to be about establishing ‘law and order in Odesa’.  At whose initiative is not specified.

Rudyk claims a distinction between those who were in OD for ideological reasons and those who became part of the tent camp once it became clear that they would get paid for spending the night there.  From around 4 people, the number rose dramatically because of the 50 (initially 150) UAH paid per person per night.  Rudyk was not in Odesa when, during the night of April 30, the OD camp moved from Kulkovo Pole to another location altogether.  He mentions the rumours that the leader of OD received 150 thousand dollars for moving the camp. 

Some of those who took part in the disturbances and who were on Hretska St, where four of the six who died of bullet wounds were killed  were former OD members disgruntled over the OD move. While Rudyk states that they were annoyed over the excessive financial aspect to OD activities, it is also clear from his words that many of them were unwilling to relinquish the chance to beat up pro-Ukrainian activists during the coming pro-unity march.

He and other OD members were in the Athena shopping centre on May 2 where, he says, they were handed petrol free of charge for making Molotov cocktails.  They were basically surrounded and eventually arrested and, briefly, placed in a remand prison.  Around 20 people are facing charges of involvement in the disturbances.  As reported, the May 2 Group has expressed concern over the charges and believe they could with just as much justification be laid against most participants in the riot that afternoon. 

The May 2 Group reported quite early on that there were grounds for believing money had been paid for moving from Kulikovo Pole which the authorities and police wanted cleared before Victory Day on May 9. 

The assertion that Russia was financing the anti-Maidan protests in Odesa is harder to prove, but difficult to reject.  By mid-March Russia had carried off its invasion and annexation of Crimea and within weeks a not dissimilar scenario appeared to be unfolding in Donbas, as well as in Kharkiv.  One of the people who fled Sloviansk after it was seized by Kremlin-backed militants spoke of how everybody knew that the people seizing power were Russian.  One of the key figures in the seizure of control and subsequent fighting was Igor Girkin, a Russian military intelligence officer, who had recently played a major role in Russia’s occupation of Crimea.  In Kharkiv the situation was almost comical with the militants trying to seize control of the opera house, believing it to be the city administration. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ominous pronouncements in April about a so-called ‘Novorossiya’ including the Kharkiv and Odesa oblasts only intensified anxiety that these two oblasts were likely to be the next to fall.

Both Kharkiv and Odesa have suffered the most from terrorist acts over the last 18 months, and ongoing attempts are underway to push the Besarabian People’s Council, a Russian-registered separatist organization.  This ‘Council’s’ claims that it is defending ‘minorities’ in the Odesa oblast have been condemned as provocation by the most prominent minority groups of the region.

It is very widely believed, including by the members of the May 2 Group, that the bloodshed on May 2, 2014, was the jolt needed to stop Odesa slipping into the same abyss as Donbas.  Whether this was the case will thankfully never now be known, but it is significant that even one of those who played an aggressively active role in pushing the ‘Russian Spring” is quite clear who was pulling the strings. 

* There are three videos:

The May 2 Group has produced a film about the events of May 2, 2014 which can be viewed with English subtitles here

More details about the events here and in the links below the text

The right to life

How Dutch Investigators Rebuffed Russia’s Alternative MH17 Theories

Dutch investigators repeatedly rebuffed Russian efforts to insert alternative theories into an authoritative report about the July 2014 downing of a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane over eastern Ukraine, according to documents released along with the anxiously awaited report on October 13.

Appendices published [here and here] with the Dutch Safety Board’s report show that Russia attempted to convince investigators to invoke "other scenarios, " such as the possibility that Flight MH17 was struck by an air-to-air missile.

Critics have accused Moscow of floating the air-to-air-missile and other theories in order to deflect attention from substantial evidence indicating the Boeing 777 was downed by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile system known as a Buk, fired from an area controlled by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

But the documents released with the report show that, behind the scenes, the Dutch Safety Board also rejected alternative scenarios proposed by Russia as essentially baseless before concluding that a Buk missile exploded next to the Boeing 777 and sent it crashing to the ground, killing all 298 people on board.

With arcane discussions of physics, telemetry, and military technology, the conclusions of the 15-month investigation largely match up with theories put forth by Ukraine, the United States, and other nations.

Here is a snapshot of some of the back-and-forth between Russia and the Dutch investigators, who appear to have met with Russian officials and technicians on several occasions to gather evidence and hear arguments.

It Was An Air-To-Air Missile

On July 21, just days after the crash, the Russian Defense Ministry claimed that that a Ukrainian Air Force Su-25 fighter jet had been tailing MH17 and may have shot it down. Russia’s Investigative Committee has claimed that a Ukrainian soldier gave evidence suggesting MH17 was shot down by an air-to-air missile. An October 2014 documentary broadcast by the Russia’s state-owned TV channel, RT, which was formerly known as Russia Today, further publicized that theory.

Here, Russia complains that the air-to-air missile theory "is practically not presented" in the report. Dutch investigators, however, says the issue is "adequately addressed" and that they are “not aware of any evidence that suggests that other weapon systems both capable of causing the crash and containing the distinct preformed fragments were present in the region."

It Was A Ukrainian Missile

Dutch investigators combined data from MH17’s flight data recorder along with the projected flight path of the missile with details such as how shrapnel entered the Boeing. They concluded that it was fired from a 320-square-kilometer area not far from the village of Snizhne. At the time, the area was reportedly largely under the control of separatist fighters. 

The manufacturer of the Buk missile system, a Russian state-owned company called Almaz-Antey, said it ran its own calculations that looked at the angle at which the missile would have approached the aircraft before detonating. The company said that indicates it was launched from near the village of Zaroshchenske, some 30 kilometers east of Snizhne. Pro-Russian separatists have said the region was then controlled by Ukrainian forces.  

Here, the Dutch report dismisses the Russian evidence, saying that would have resulted in a "damage pattern that did not match the observed damage on the [airplane] or the associated detonation location."

The Dutch Safety Board notes here, and elsewhere in the report, that its mandate was relatively narrow and that things like culpability for those who actually pulled the trigger on the missile would be left to a separate criminal investigation. 

It Could Have Been Many ’Other Scenarios’

Dutch investigators say they cast their net widely in considering all possibilities -- the quality of the MH17 flight crew, the state of the Boeing 777, the nature of the shrapnel holes, among many other things. But they also state clearly in the report that they looked at other theories and then ruled them out.

"Other possible scenarios that could have led to the disintegration and crash of the [airplane] were considered, analyzed, and excluded, " they wrote.

Russian officials, however, sought to reword that specific sentence to read: "There exist other scenarios that could lead to in-flight break-up of the aircraft" -- an assertion that would dilute the definitive tone of the report.

The Dutch report rejected that suggestion outright: "The comment is not adopted as it is correct to state that the other scenarios are all excluded."

It Wasn’t Russian Armed Forces

Since violence erupted in eastern Ukraine in April 2014, starting in the regional commercial center of Donetsk then spreading north, east, and south, Russia has steadfastly maintained that rebel groups are made up of locals along with "volunteers" from Russia, who join the fighting in Ukraine on their own volition, without authorization or government backing.

Those assertions have been consistently undermined by the presence of sophisticated weaponry such as the Buk missile system, heavy artillery used with highly professional efficiency, and even Russians who have been captured by Ukrainians and have openly stated the units they are serving with.

Additionally, reporters and open-source bloggers have located military graves in Russia that indicated the soldiers buried there died while serving in Ukraine.

An earlier version of the Dutch report apparently sought to explain the participants in the conflict, including the Russian armed forces in that list.

Russia bluntly told investigators to remove that mention of Russian armed forces, saying "the Russian Federation is not a party of this conflict."

The Dutch report appears to have ultimately ceded to this demand, removing the passage that offended Moscow. The final report also appears to have changed the terminology to the more ambiguous description: "armed groups fighting the Ukrainian government."

Against torture and ill-treatment

KHPG lawyers uphold rights of HIV-positive prisoners in Strasbourg

The European Court of Human Rights has issued four chamber judgements against Ukraine over the right to proper medical care of HIV-positive prisoners. with three of the applicants represented by lawyers from the Kharkiv Human Rights Group’s Strategic Litigations Fund.   In all four cases, Ukraine was found to be in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The problems faced by Ukrainian prisoners with medical conditions requiring treatment are enormous and Strasbourg’s findings an important step.

Congratulations to KHPG lawyers Aigul Mukanova; Natalya Okhotnikova; Yury Ovsiyenko; Olha Semenyuk; Yana Zayikina for their success in the cases of Sergey Antonov v. Ukraine; Andrey Lunev v. Ukraine and Maksim Sokil v. Ukraine. 

We hope that the Ukrainian authorities will give due note to these cases, as well as that of Eduard Savinov v. Ukraine and take the appropriate measures to rectify the situation. 

All four applicants had alleged inadequate medical care in detention, and two also said that they had been put under psychological and/or physical pressure in order to discourage them from bringing their complaints before the European Court of Human Rights.  The applicants had all been suffering from HIV for several years before they were taken into custody.

Sergey Antonov was arrested in September 2012 on suspicion of theft and his case was transferred to court for consideration on the merits in June 2013. The last known information as to his whereabouts is that he was transferred to a correctional colony in Buchanska in September 2013 to serve a sentence.

He alleged that despite the prison authorities being aware that he was HIV-positive, the first attempt to find out what kind of medical treatment he required had only been made at the beginning of January 2013, four months after he had been placed in pre-trial detention. He was prescribed with antiretroviral therapy in March 2013.

Andrey Lunev had been arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking in January 2012 and sentenced in February 2013 to six and half years’ imprisonment. That decision was however subsequently quashed and the criminal case against him remitted for fresh consideration by a court. Ultimately, in June 2013 he was placed by a court under house arrest in the town of Bryanka, Ukraine, given that he required medical treatment which he could not receive in detention. He alleges that, despite being diagnosed as HIV-positive on being placed in pre-trial detention, he was only given a cell count test one year later in February 2013 and prescribed with antiretroviral therapy only in April 2013.

Eduard Savinov was sentenced in 2008 to a combined term of nine years’ imprisonment following convictions of drug-related offences, theft and inflicting grievous bodily harm. He was, however, released in June 2013 in view of his serious health problems. Mr Savinov, HIV-positive for 20 years, alleges in particular that he only started receiving antiretroviral treatment at the end of December 2012 through the assistance of an NGO.

Maksim Sokil was placed in pre-trial detention in February 2012 and sentenced in September 2012 to two years’ imprisonment for drug-related offences and theft. He was released in January 2014 having served his sentence. Mr Sokil alleges that, although he had been HIV-positive since 2008 and spent the majority of his detention as a patient in various medical facilities, the treatment prescribed to him was mainly symptomatic. He thus only received antiretroviral therapy in August 2013, nearly a year and half after he had been placed in detention.

In all cases the Court found that there had been violation of Article 3, prohibiting inhuman and degrading treatment over the lack of adequate medical treatment. 

Mr Antonov and Mr Savinov also alleged under Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) that national legislation had not provided for effective remedies with which to complain about inadequate medical care in prison.

Mr Antonov also complained under Article 34 (right of individual petition) that he had been subjected to psychological pressure to dissuade him from maintaining his application to the European Court, alleging that, as a result of the intimidation, he had signed a note in July 2013 stating that he had had no complaints about the prison medical staff. This note was submitted by the Government to the European Court in the current proceedings.

Mr Lunev further alleged under Article 3 and Article 34 that he had been ill-treated in detention in January 2013 by two police officers who had wanted to intimidate him into withdrawing his complaint to the European Court about the inadequate medical care and that the ensuing investigation into his allegation, terminated after one month due to lack of evidence and then on two further occasions following remittals by a court or the prosecutor due to shortcomings, had been ineffective.

In the case of Sergey Antonov, the Court found violation of Articles 3; 13 and 34, awarding 7 thousand EUR.

In the case of Andrey Lunev it found violation of Article 3 in respect of the failure to provide adequate medical treatment in detention and over failure to investigate the allegations, but rejected a third claim, alleging ill-treatment and his reference to Article 34.  He was awarded 10 thousand EUR.

In the case of Eduard Savinov the Court found violation of Article 3 in respect of the failure to provide adequate medical treatment in detention and of Article 13.  He was awarded 10 thousand EUR. 

In the case of Maksim Sokil, the Court found violation of Article 3 in respect of the failure to provide adequate medical treatment in detention and awarded 7, 500 EUR. 

Russian Neo-Nazi Sadist trains future Donbas militant fighters

Around 300 young Russians recently took part in a camp training fighters in the Moscow region, with their instructors including two prominent neo-Nazis who until this summer were fighting on the side of the Kremlin-backed militants in Donbas.  Alexei Milchakov is a St Petersburg neo-Nazi who moved from decapitating puppies and calling on fellow Neo-Nazis to kill down-and-outs back in Russia to torturing Ukrainian soldiers in Donbas as part of a formation called ‘Rusich’.  The latter services appear to have made the Russian authorities waive criminal charges supposedly facing Milchakov in his native St. Petersburg.  In March 2015 he and fellow neo-Nazi militant  Jan Petrovsky (Veliki Slavian) were part of a militant ‘delegation’ to a forum in St. Petersburg of members of mainly European and Russian far-right and neo-Nazi parties.  Now the two men are valued ‘instructors’ at a camp under the patronage of former ‘prime minister of the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’, Alexander Borodai. 

The last training camp for fighters from ‘Rusich’ and an organization called the E.N.O.T Corporation were on Sept 26-27 on territory adjoining a monastery in the Moscow region village of Avdotino.  The head of the monastery is probably the priest in the video here who comes and blesses all 300 participants in the camp on learning how to kill, escape, etc.  A new invitation has just appeared on the ENOT site for those wishing to take part, totally free of charge, on Nov 21-22. 

ENOT claims to be a volunteer outfit, but it clearly enjoys generous funding and its mercenaries regularly take part in ‘business trips’ otherwise known as fighting against the Ukrainian military in Donbas.  Denis Kazansky, a prominent Donetsk journalist now in exile, reports that ENOT fighters carried out a purge in Spring this year of a Cossack formation which was competing for power with the current leader of the so-called ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ [LNR’].  The organization’s address is in the very centre of Moscow, and its website openly displays its training sessions in Russia.  It is unclear, Kazansky writes, how any of this complies with Russian legislation.  Unfortunately, however, nobody seems to be asking that question. 

The training course involved seminars and practice in sniper fire; using a pistol or machine gun; martial arts; field medicine, etc.  Kids who look 13 or 14 at most are taught to shoot, move and take aim without being observed, to move injured comrades, etc.  with their trainers men from ‘Rusich’ who “fought successfully in Donbas”.

  Borodai is in the centre in blue, Milchakov second on his left

Serious questions arise regarding such training courses for fighters, including who is providing the funding both for the courses and for the so-called ‘business trips’.  In a skype interview, Milchakov made it quite clear that he, Petrovsky and their fighters all received money for his bloody services. 

Even if one assumes that the young kids are simply enjoying an action-packed break, the choice of instructors is chilling.

Milchakov had already earned notoriety, as well as the threat of criminal charges in his native St Petersburg when he began fighting in Donbas in June 2014.  Moskovsky Komsomolets called him a “well-known Russian maniac” who as a 20-year-old in 2012 had posted images of himself with a puppy whose head he cut off and ate. “After that Milchakov constantly posed with Nazi banners and called on people to kill down-and-outs and dogs”*.

Within months he had demonstrated the same propensities in Donbas, with Ukrainian soldiers his victims. 

On Sept 5, the same day that the first Minsk Accord was signed, 2 groups from the Aidan volunteer battalion and other Ukrainian soldiers came under siege from the Rusich unit.  Milchakov was among the militants who posted videos of themselves, for example, cutting off the ear of one of their victims.  The videos have all been removed from YouTube due to their monstrous content, however copies will certainly have been retained and, like the photos here, will hopefully receive appropriate assessment from the International Criminal Court. 

Russian pro-Kremlin media have been happy to interview both Milchakov and Petrovsky, though avoiding indiscreet questions about their neo-Nazi views, none of which the men see any need to conceal.  In April both men gave a skype interview in which Milchakov shared his opinion that the “mightiest potential lies in Russians” and that Ukrainians’ fight for freedom runs counter to the interests of his people.  Petrovsky, in turn, announced that they are “building a Russian national ‘Chechnya’ where everything will be only for the Russian people”.

And not without their highly specific ideology – the one that the Kremlin has tried to claim is espoused by the government in Kyiv.  Milchakov explained that they both carry out “educational work” regarding their neo-Nazi views among the militants.  If they don’t, nobody will, he says. As well as fighting, he added. 

The same activities are probably included in their work as ‘instructors’ in the Moscow region.   

The only question mark is perhaps over where the trained fighters are to spread the word.  A brief report on the ENOT site, for example, makes it clear that Russian action in Syria should also be viewed as a “sacred war”. 

That, however, is not a decision for neo-Nazi sadists who go where those with the money send them to kill and torture.   

Rusich members

The right to a fair trial

Imprisoned Euromaidan activist disappears

Legal nihilism continues in the treatment of Euromaidan activist Oleksandr Kostenko, sentenced to almost four years imprisonment in Russian-occupied Crimea on absurd charges pertaining to an alleged and unprovable offence in Kyiv before annexation.  A cassation appeal is still to be held against Kostenko’s conviction, yet the de facto authorities have refused to allow his mother and formally recognized civic defender  to see her son and there is reason to believe that he may have been taken to a prison in Russia. 

Dmitry Sotnikov, Kostenko’s lawyer, stresses that the refusal to allow Yelena Kostenko to see her son can be considered a violation of Oleksandr’s right to defence.  Since the cassation appeal is after a sentence has come into effect, the de facto authorities are in principle allowed to move Kostenko to a prison, but they had to inform both Sotnikov and Yelena Kostenko of his whereabouts which they have failed to do.  This means that on the eve of the cassation appeal, the defence has lost any contact with Kostenko. 

The fact that he appears to have been moved to Russia is also of legitimate concern. As with other Ukrainian nationals from Crimea (Oleg Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Gennady Afanasyev and Khaiser Dzhemiliev), Russia has illegally foisted Russian citizenship on Kostenko.   Olha Skrypnyk, Deputy Head of the Crimean Human Rights Field Mission stresses that international humanitarian law does not envisage prisoners’ removal from annexed territory.  She also believes there is a real risk to the life and health of the former Ukrainian police officer and Euromaidan activist who was convicted by a Russian court for actions allegedly committed in Ukraine. 

The arrest, detention and trial of Oleksandr Kostenko have been marred by grave infringements of his rights.  Kostenko was taken into custody a full day before any charges were brought against him, and there is physical evidence, including a broken arm, to corroborate Kostenko’s assertion that he was tortured. At a press conference in Kyiv on Aug 18, Sotnikov spoke also of the torture and ill-treatment his client had been constantly subjected to in the SIZO [remand prison].  While it was co-cellmates who had ill-treated him, it seemed likely that this had been on the orders of the SIZO head. 

Kostenko was charged with and in May convicted of having slightly injured a Crimean Berkut officer on Feb 18, 2014 during the EuroMaidan protests in Kyiv.  This was deemed to fall under Article 115 § 2.b  of the Russian Criminal Code (deliberately causing mild damage to health for motives of political, ideological, racial, ethnic or religious hatred or enmity, or for the same motives in relation to a social group).

Kostenko’s lawyer has pointed out that the charge could only carry a sentence of  community work since the prosecution had been unable to claim that the Berkut officer had been a Russian law enforcement officer at the time of the alleged deed.  He believes that the second charge was thrown in to ensure a term of imprisonment.  Kostenko was also charged under Article 222 § 1 (unlawfully obtaining, keeping or carrying the main parts of a firearm”).  The investigators claimed to have found a rifle barrel when searching his home.  Kostenko and his lawyer say that the rifle barrel was planted, and certainly none of the safeguards against evidence being planted were applied.

The investigators claimed that in Jan 2014 Kostenko joined the EuroMaidan protest in Kyiv “in order to show armed resistance to law enforcement officers”.  On Feb 18, so the investigators’ version goes, “out of a feeling of ideological hatred and enmity to law enforcement officers” he deliberately aimed a cobble stone at V.V. Poliyenko, an officer of the Crimean Berkut special force unit.  This supposedly resulted in Poliyenko receiving an injury “in the form of a large haematoma on the left shoulder”

In June the authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre declared Kostenko a political prisoner, and spoke of serious grounds for believing him to have been abducted and subjected to torture.  

In an interview to RIA Novosti, Poklonskaya claimed that none of Kostenko’s complaints had been corroborated, and that there had been no further complaints.  Her words were roundly condemned by Dmitry Sotnikov as total lies.  Sotnikov and  Kostenko’s family are asking people to help find out Oleksandr’s whereabouts and to ensure that he is not in any danger. 

PLEASE write to the Russian Prosecutor General expressing concern over this case and demanding to know Kostenko’s wherebouts.  You could also note the failure to properly investigate serious allegations of torture; and the present violation of Kostenko’s right to defence by refusing to allow his defender to visit him. 

Be firm but respectful in tone. 

International attention can help to ensure Oleksandr Kostenko’s safety.

The Prosecutor General’s Address (in Russian):

Юрию Яковлевичу Чайке
Генеральная прокуратура
ул. Большая Дмитровка, д. 15А
Москва, 125993
Российская Федерация

On refugees

Over 1.3 million people forced from Donbas and Crimea need a decent law

Ukrainian human rights organizations have addressed an appeal to the country’s legislators to enable swift passage of a bill urgently needed to help people forced from their homes by Russia’s invasion of Crimea and military conflict in Donbas. 

In the open appeal addressed to Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Groisman, the heads of factions and all MPs, the ‘Human Rights Agenda’ coalition explain that although the Law on ensuring the rights of internally displaced persons [IDP] is in general a positive step forward, there are a number of flaws and several norms which do not meet international standards.   

With the UN High Commissioner on Refugees estimating that up to 1 million 300 people in Ukraine have been displaced – the largest number since the end of World War II, the need for proper measures is urgent.   A draft law has therefore been drawn up by a group of MPs in cooperation with human rights organizations on vitally needed amendments.  Draft Law No. 2166 was passed as a basis over a month ago, on May 19, and Human Rights Agenda is calling for it to be placed on the parliamentary agenda and adopted in full as soon as possible.

The draft bill both simplifies and accelerates procedure for displaced persons to find work; to get unemployed status and to reinstate documents.  It revokes the unwarranted dependence on registration of place of residence, and broadens the guarantees for people who were living in Crimea or Donbas without registration, as well as stateless persons or foreign nationals permanently resident in Ukraine.

As reported, it has not been easy to get Ukraine’s legislators to react adequately to the needs of a huge number of people forced to flee Crimea and Donbas.

The above-mentioned law was only signed into force on Nov 20, despite having been adopted by parliament a full month earlier.  The information on the presidential website spoke of amendments that would be made to Law No. 4490a-1 shortly, without providing any detail. The law set out the procedure for registering IDP and regulated issues regarding employment and social payments. 

A draft law had originally been adopted on June 19, 2014.  It was not, however, the one that had been discussed with civic groups, but a new document only tabled on the day of voting and basically failed to address any of the very real problems which confront people forced to leave their homes.  That bill was vetoed a month later by Poroshenko, however a new bill was adopted at the absolute final moment by the old parliament, and was then not signed into force by the President Petro Poroshenko for a further month. 

On March 4, 2015, a Cabinet of Ministers resolution required people who have moved from areas under occupation to constantly confirm their actual place of residence.  Without the relevant stamp from the Migration Service, the IDP document, entitling them to social payments, material assistance, etc., becomes invalid.   This, human rights activists say, is reinstating the old system of propiska, or registration.  Outrage was expressed by human rights groups working with displaced people, many of whom saw the measure as a way of reducing the number of people entitled to government assistance.

Halya Coynash

News from the CIS countries

Back To The Future: Echoes Of Soviet Past In Modern Russia

Soviet leader Josef Stalin has reappeared in many places -- and not only in the pro-Russian, rebel-held Donbas region in Ukraine -- while many of the dictator’s murderous deeds are also being sanitized in Russian media.

To mark Back to the Future day on October 21, the precise date in the second installment of Hollywood’s comic science-fiction trilogy when the main characters travel in time to 2015, RFE/RL takes a look at seven aspects of the Soviet era that have reappeared since Russian President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000.

The Red Star, Soviet National Anthem, Soviet Honors

Josef Stalin established the Hero of Socialist Labor award in 1927 to honor the achievements of Soviet citizens. The award was discontinued in 1991, but Putin brought back the Hero of Labor awards and accompanying lapel pins in March 2013. He honored a theater director, a veteran farm-machinery operator, a neurosurgeon, a coal miner, and a woodworker with Hero of Labor awards at a May 1 ceremony that year. That was after Putin had already revived the Soviet national anthem -- albeit with new lyrics -- in 2000 and the bombastic Soviet military parades. In 2002, Putin also brought back the renowned Soviet-era red star as the emblem of the Russian military. Russia’s defense minister at the time, Sergei Ivanov, said that the red star was "sacred for all servicemen."

Foreign Military Intervention

Russia’s dash into Georgian territory in 2008 was the first time the Kremlin had sent forces into combat in a foreign country since mild incursions into separatist regions in Georgia and Moldova and fighting in the Tajik civil war shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The "little green men" in Ukraine in 2014 and the widely reported Russian military involvement in Ukraine’s Donbas region (Russia denies such reports) are the latest examples of foreign military intervention by Moscow, a phenomenon that took place on various continents throughout the Soviet era and ended with the decade-long war in Afghanistan in 1989.

The ongoing military intervention in Syria, which includes heavy weaponry, advanced fighter jets, helicopters, naval squadrons, and naval infantry, is Russia’s largest outside the former Soviet Union since Afghanistan.

International Isolation, Close Ties To Cuba

Due mainly to the Kremlin’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, Russia and its people are far closer to the level of Soviet-era isolation from the Western world than at any time since the Soviet Union’s demise. Russia has been sidelined from the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries and been slapped with sanctions by more than 30 European countries, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Canada. Moscow reciprocated with sanctions of its own, and the subsequent squeeze on the Russian economy has contributed to the ruble’s plummet and left dozens of Russian officials and entrepreneurs unable to travel to Western countries.

Even within the Moscow-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) -- a club of former Soviet republics -- relations are bad and getting worse. Georgia left the organization in 2009, and at a CIS summit in Kazakhstan last week, Ukraine didn’t show up while Turkmenistan and Moldova sent stand-in officials. Moscow’s best friends currently include a range of authoritarian regimes and outright dictatorships: North Korea, China, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Belarus, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and Zimbabwe.

Echoing Soviet times, Russia has stepped up ties with Cuba. After a complete downfall of relations during perestroika and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has worked hard in recent years to upgrade relations to a level not seen since pre-Gorbachev times. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has met with Cuban officials several times in recent years, and the latest move by Moscow is a $1.32 billion loan to Havana on October 17 to refurbish the communist island’s power plants.

Closed Cities

After the 1991 Soviet collapse, dozens of formerly closed cities -- usually places where sensitive military installations were based -- were opened or their strict regimes relaxed. But from the industrial Arctic city of Norilsk, which rejoined the ranks of Russia’s closed cities in 2001 when all non-Russians (except for Belarusians) were banned from entering,  to Siberia’s Novy Urengoi, which was closed to both foreigners (including Belarusians) and "unsanctioned" Russians in 2012,  several Russian cities that were "opened" in the 1990s are now closed.

Cheese And Food Smuggling

Perhaps no aspect of the Western sanctions against Russia stirred more grassroots outrage than the food ban on such cheese specialties as French Camembert and Roquefort, Dutch Gouda, or Italian mozzarella. Thissatirical image on Twitter reflects many Russians’ frustrations with their homemade cheeses (Warning label says: Russian cheese produces the desire to eat Parmesan). As does this one,  this one,  and this one: 

"We’ve got accustomed to rely on imports and have made no good cheeses of our own for 100 years or so. So it would be naive to think that good cheese will suddenly emerge out of nowhere. It never happens, " Sergei Ivanov, Russia’s former defense minister and Putin’s current chief of staff, said on October 19.

Of course, food shortages and lines formed by people patiently waiting for meat, vodka, or other goods were commonplace during Soviet times,  and these notorious queues have long since disappeared in contemporary Russia. But the food ban by nearly 40 countries over Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis has left Russians missing many of their favorite foods and even led to people smuggling items into the country, a practice reminiscent of a bygone era when Western foods and goods were largely inaccessible and prized.

The Gulag’s Alright! So Are Lenin, Stalin, And Dzerzhinsky

During Boris Yeltin’s presidency, there was serious talk at various times about having the ghoulish, wax-like figure of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin from his Red Square Mausoleum removed and mercifully buried. That notion, however, seems to have been forgotten in recent years. Lenin statues are being protected and even reerected -- perhaps in response to the disappearance of the Soviet founder’s busts across non-separatist-held Ukraine.

Far more noticeable, however, has been the homage paid to Stalin -- and not only in the pro-Russian, rebel-held Donbas region in Ukraine. Stalin has reappeared in many places, including last month in the Mari-El Republic,  while many of the dictator’s murderous deeds are also being sanitized in Russian media.

No whitewashing of the communist era would be complete without trying to rehabilitate Feliks Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Soviet secret police force known as the Cheka, the forerunner of the KGB. Not only might his infamous statue return to the front of Moscow’s Lubyanka building -- the former headquarters of the KGB in Moscow -- but a statue reappeared in the central Tyumen region in 2012. 

The vast network of brutal labor camps known as the gulag is not being left out either, as the complete overhaul of this gulag museum in the Ural mountain city of Perm shows.  To be sure, the gulag system was largely shuttered in the early 1960s, though some individual labor camps existed into the 1980s.

Hatred Of The United States -- The Feeling Is Becoming Mutual

Whipped up by fierce anti-U.S. stories and a "blame-Washington-for-all-of-the-world’s-ills" message on Russian media, dislike of Americans has reached levels unseen since Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev banged his shoe on the table at the United Nations. Racist representations of and jokes about U.S. President Barack Obama are commonplace on the Russian-language Internet, and polls in recent years have repeatedly shown an escalating antipathy for the United States. This mural at a bar in the Tyumen region called Oblacko encapsulates the hostility felt by many Russians toward both the U.S. president and the United States.

Meanwhile, a U.S. poll released on October 20 by The Wall Street Journal/NBC showed that 74 percent of Americans polled believe that Russia is either an "immediate" or a "long-term" military threat. Those numbers have skyrocketed compared to surveys taken just two years ago and point to a U.S.-Russian distrust and political rivalry not seen since Soviet times.

One satirical Twitter personality, known as Darth Putin, pointed out on October 21: "Imagine building a time machine in 1985 [and traveling to 2015] only to find an oil-dependent country run by the KGB who blame everything on the U.S." 

And if Marty McFly, the protagonist of the Back To The Future films, did come from the year 1985 and arrived in Russia today, he might react something like this: 

With contributions by Robert Coalson, Jeremy Bransten, Anna Shamanska, Kathleen Moore, and Coilin O’Connor

Russian solo mother on trial for social network reposts in support of Ukraine

   Photo: Radio Svoboda

The trial has begun in Yekaterinburg of a Russian woman accused of ‘inciting inter-ethnic enmity’, otherwise known as reposting material on the social network VKontakte critical of Russia’s policy with respect to Ukraine.  Russia’s Investigative Committee claims that six publications posted by Yekaterina Vologzheninova are aimed at inciting ethnically motivated enmity, as well as enmity towards representatives of the Russian authorities.

Just before the New Year break in December last year, Investigative Committee [ICRF] officers carried out a search of Vologzheninova’s home and then took her to the ICRF for questioning.  She was informed of criminal charges under Article 282 of the Criminal Code (inciting hatred or enmity, and denigrating human dignity).

She explained to Open Russia that she was accused of sharing links to documentaries and programmes about events in Ukraine, including ‘The Winter that changed us’ and the programme ‘Brave Hearts’.

It is easy to find the first documentary mentioned, very much harder to understand how this is supposed to incite ethnic enmity and calls to extremism.  Vologzheninova says that all the material they accuse her of sharing was of a historical nature, or chronicled events.  She is no politician, she says, nor civic activist, but she is interested in points of view alternative to that presented by Russian federal channels. 

During that first interrogation, they grilled her about any links with ‘Ukrainian extremist organizations’, and why she knew some Ukrainian (which she has learned out of interest only).

It took ICRF over 10 months to prepare their charges, but unfortunately they have, and the trial began on Oct 13.  Vologzheninova’s lawyer Roman Kachanov dismisses the ‘expert assessments’ of the 6 publications and says that no nationality is described in a negative fashion, and there is no incitement to enmity.  The whole case is pulled out of the air, he says, and linked with the fact that his client does not support Russia’s position on Ukraine. 

“She simply published material from other parts of the Internet.  She wasn’t the author of any of them, and made no changes to them”.

The next hearing is due on Oct 27.

‘Court’, ‘trial’ and ‘hearing’ should be understood in the loosest possible way since the Russian authorities have yet again ignored the presumption of innocence and already added Yekaterina Vologzhenova to the ‘List of Terrorists and Extremists’ (no. 983 of a list currently containing 4, 431 names).   Her bank card has been blocked.

All of this is identical to the treatment of Russian poet and teacher Alexander Byvshev who in July this year was convicted of ‘inciting enmity’ and sentenced to 300 hours of community service.  He also had his computer confiscated, was labelled an ‘extremist or terrorist’ and was prohibited from working as a school teacher for two years.  In his case this was for the poem ‘To Ukrainian Patriots’ in which he expresses his opposition to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and suggests Ukrainians should ensure that not one inch of Crimea is handed “to Putin’s chekists” (see: Russian poet sentenced over poem in support of Ukraine). 

The consequences can be much worse, as the 3 year sentence passed on Rafis Kashapov shows.  He was convicted on the same charges, as well as of ‘public calls to violate Russian territorial integrity’ over criticism of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and of Vladimir Putin.  The innocuous posts, also on VKontakte, are described here:  3-year sentence for criticizing Putin and Russia’s annexation of Crimea

Halya Coynash

The Russian People Saw A Strikingly Different Picture Of MH17 Findings

Almaz-Antey spokesman Valery Yarmolenko (left) and Almaz Antey’s general director Yan Novikov showed dramatic video from an experiment in which the weapons manufacturer blew up an airliner in what it said was an attempt to gauge blast trajectories

MOSCOW -- As Western media broadcast somber footage from a darkened room in the Netherlands dominated by an assembly of dented, shrapnel-riddled pieces of a passenger jet shot down over Ukraine’s conflict zone last year, the pictures on Russian TV on October 13 were dramatically different.

Rossia 24 showed President Vladimir Putin on stage at a conference in Moscow, making upbeat comments about Russia’s economy while the text crawl underneath trumpeted news of its bombing campaign in Syria: Dozens of sorties flown, many targets hit, two Islamic State “headquarters” destroyed.

On their front pages and Internet sites, Russian media moved headlines that seemed aimed at absolving Moscow of any of the blame for the downing of Malasyia Airlines flight MH17, which crashed on July 17, 2014, on territory held by Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine. “Experts Say MH17 Might Have Been Downed By Ukraine, ” state news agency TASS tweeted:

It was all part of what appeared to be a carefully considered campaign to push back against the news coming out from the Netherlands, where the Dutch Safety Board issued a report stating what many in the West already suspected: that the airliner was shot down by a Buk missile made in Russia and fired from an area held mostly by Russia-backed separatists.

None of the 298 people on board survived the crash, which brought tension over a war between Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces that has killed more than 7, 900 civilians and combatants since April of that year to a new level. Ever since, the Kremlin has scrambled to counter evidence suggesting the rebels shot the Malaysia-bound Boeing 777 down.

WATCH: What do you get when a surface-to-air missile manufacturer conducts its own MH17 investigation? 

Those efforts went into overdrive early on October 13: A few hours before the Dutch Safety Board even presented its findings, Russia put in place the linchpin of its campaign -- a report prepared by Almaz-Antey, the state-controlled arms manufacturer that produces Buk missiles.

At a press conference shown live on Russian TV, Almaz-Antey presented colorful graphs, intricate flow charts, complex diagrams, and the centerpiece: video footage from an experiment in which the weapons manufacturer blew up an airliner on the ground in what it said was an attempt to gauge blast trajectories.
These elaborate images were soon circulating widely on Russian TV, coupled with the news anchors’ solemn description of the arms maker’s central claim. 
“The Malaysian Boeing was shot out of the skies of Donbas by a rocket that Russia no longer has, but which Ukraine does have, ” an afternoon presenter on state TV declared, citing Almaz-Antey.
Almaz-Antey, which is among Russian companies hit with Western sanctions over Moscow’s interference in Ukraine, claimed its findings showed that if a Buk missile brought MH17 down, it must have been fired not from the area indicated by the Dutch report, which includes the town of Snizhne, but from a spot near the village of Zaroshchenske.

The company actually stopped short of explicitly blaming Ukrainian armed forces -- but Russian television networks sought to fill in the gaps.
“The version of the Western analysts does not hold water, while the village of Zaroshchenske was under the control of Ukrainian forces at the moment of the air disaster, and that is proved. If the rocket flew from Snizhne, there would have been a complete attack line and damage pattern, ” the Vesti presenter said.
“The Boeing was shot down by a missile that Russia doesn’t have, ” Komsomolskaya Pravda, Russia’s most widely read paper, said in a front-page headline accompanied by a photo of the jet’s wreckage.
Footage of a fuselage exploding in the Almaz-Antey experiment was aired widely in the Russian media and differed starkly from the scene in the Netherlands. Reporters there waited in a hushed room before the battered, reassembled shards of the downed jet’s front section -- where the Dutch Safety Board said the pilots were killed instantly by the missile’s powerful blast.

The gulf between the Dutch board’s findings and those released by Almaz-Antey was also broad. Russian media outlets seemed determined to defend the missile maker’s claims, which were dismissed by IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, a respected British analytical organization, as “disinformation and propaganda aimed at drawing attention away from the Dutch report.”
Instead of accentuating the differences, they portrayed the Dutch Safety Board’s report as buttressing Almaz-Antey’s findings.
“Absolute shock: the Boeing reports from Almaz-Antey and the Dutch coincide, ” Russian tabloid Moskovsky Komsomolets (MK) wrote.

“Dutch experts have partly confirmed Almaz-Antey’s version, ” declared NTV television.

Other Russian media reports seized on the Dutch Safety Board’s discussion of the risks of flying over the war zone in eastern Ukraine at the time, as the conflict in eastern Ukraine was heating up.
“The Netherlands have said Ukraine should have closed its airspace, ” a state TV report said

The media frenzy came against a backdrop of official Russian criticism of the Dutch report, which the Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov asserted was the “biased” result of “obvious attempts to carry out a political order.”
Putin, meanwhile, did his best to distance himself from the tragedy of MH17, which Malaysia’s government said was shot down by “trigger-happy criminals” who must be brought to justice.
Receiving lavish coverage from the Russian media as always, Putin focused on issues such as the economy and the war in Syria in remarks at the Russia Calling! conference and other events.
He painted the United States and the West in a poor light, accusing them of failing to cooperate on the Syria crisis.
Along with its statements about the possible site of a launch, one of Almaz-Antey’s chief claims is that if the jet was downed by a missile, it was a type that the Russian military no longer uses.
But while the Dutch board said that MH17 could not have been hit by a meteorite or shot down by a warplane, Russian officials and media outlets did nothing to withdraw or debunk some of the more outlandish theories or claims they have put forth since the jet was downed.
“So is there also still the version offered by official Russian news channels that the plane was full of…corpses specially sent there and blown up by the CIA?” Dmitry Muratov, chief editor of independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta,  asked ironically.

Russia’s Investigative Committee, meanwhile, is still officially conducting a criminal investigation into the possibility, dismissed in the West as pure fantasy, that MH17 was shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet.


“Prava Ludiny” (human rights) monthly bulletin, 2015, #10