Russia holds 72-year-old Ukrainian hostage on absurd spying charges
Yury Soloshenko, retired director of a long-bankrupt Ukrainian defence factory, will be 73 on May 6, 9 months after he was arrested in Moscow on ‘spying changes’. He is being prevented from seeing the lawyers he and his family want, or the Ukrainian consul, almost certainly because of the gross irregularities they will expose - such as the lack of any case against him.
There is no justification for such overt violation of Soloshenko’s rights, but the reason is not difficult to guess. One of the lawyers taken on - Ivan Pavlov - was instrumental on March 13, 2015, in getting the charges of ‘state treason’ dropped against Svetlana Davydova. The mother of 7 had been arrested and detained, although breast-feeding her 2 month old daughter. Her alleged ‘treason’ was over a phone call she made to the Ukrainian embassy warning of soldiers from her area probably being sent to Donbas. The investigators provided their lawyer who viewed his task as getting Davydova to ‘confess’. The case was thankfully reported in the media and Pavlov employed as defence lawyer. He explained at the time that he had reminded the investigators that in order to convict Davydova of treason, they would have to prove that the information constituted a state secret or a danger to Russia’s security. This was clearly a sensitive area since Moscow continues to deny the substantial evidence of deployment of Russian military in Ukraine, and the FSB probably decided they were better off dropping the charges, than landing themselves in it when the case got to court.
Two days later the same FSB “investigator into especially important cases” Mikhail Svinolup terminated another case where Sergei Minakov, a sailor in the Black Sea Fleet, had been accused of spying for Ukraine and detained since Jan 30. Within two days of Pavlov and his team coming on board, rather than the lawyer appointed by the investigators,“for lack of elements of a crime”.
Ivan Pavlovon Monday that they continue to be denied access to Yury Soloshenko. Both the lawyers and Soloshenko himself have lodged formal applications twice already, without any success. Ominously, he reports that the investigator is assiduously avoiding meeting him. There has only been one meeting when the investigator presented a document purporting to be Soloshenko’s rejection of Pavlov’s services. There was no signature nor note confirming that a lawyer had been present when the document was drawn up.
According to the lawyers’ information, Pavlov does not have any lawyer, and the Ukrainian consul has also not been allowed to see the 72-year-old.
So where is the espionage?
Until his retirement in 2015, Yury Soloshenko was the director of the Poltava-based Znamya factory which specialized in high-frequency electro vacuum lamps used in anti-aircraft warfare. Soloshenko was arrested in August 2014 when he arrived in Moscow for a business meeting connected with buying and selling equipment. His son believes that he was set up by somebody he trusted and had worked with. This may well be the case, however the charge is of ‘spying’, and what this even could entail is a mystery.
His son explains:
“My father worked for 50 years in the defence industry. He had contacts set up and so even when retired, people turned to him from one side, from the other. After all the factory that he was in charge of survived through Russian orders: during all the years of independence they didn’t get one government order. So neither we nor the Russians had anything secret, it was all a single system. The charge of espionage is simply absurd. Nobody has any clear understanding of why my father was arrested. The variants are: they needed ‘spies’, they needed high-profile cases.”
The ‘case’ against Soloshenko is, conveniently, classified. So much so, that they appear to be concealing the defendant from both his lawyers, and the Ukrainian consul.
Human rights activist Zoya Svetovathat she has been visiting remand prisoners for 7 years, but has never seen such outrageous treatment of a defendant, as in this case.
During an earlier visit, Soloshenko had complained that his lawyer (one appointed) seldom visited him and he almost never saw the investigators. She confirms Pavlov’s account of the obstacles put in his path and the attempt to claim that Soloshenko did not want Pavlov to defend him.
Svetova says that she and colleagues from the public monitoring council saw Soloshenko on April 15 when he refuted the investigators’ claim and said he wanted Pavlov to represent him. They visited him again on April 29, and he had still not been allowed to see the lawyer.
She points out that this is in direct breach of Russia’s Constitution and asks why the rights of a Ukrainian national are being violated in such a pitiless and unprecedented manner.
The question may be rhetorical, but the answer seems disturbingly clear. There was a ‘lawyer’ in Davydova’s case (Andrei Stebenyov), there is such a person purportedly representing Soloshenko (Sergei Kisel).
Given the political will for prosecutions of Ukrainians and a suitably cynical attitude by the relevant law enforcement officers and court, the lack of any crime or evidence need not be a problem. Malleable ‘defence lawyers’ and methods of persuasion and intimidation can be used instead.
Expect, of course, that there are Ukrainian prisoners like Oleg Sentsov, Oleksandr Kolchenko, Nadiya Savchenko, Yury Yatsenko and, seemingly, Yury Soloshenko who are unwilling to trade their honour for offers of a shorter sentence or none, and refuse to ‘confess’. And, thankfully, there are still some Russian lawyers just as unwilling to shame themselves and their profession.