war crimes in Ukraine

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The FSB fabricates pathetic ‘Crimean saboteur’ plot you wouldn’t find in the shoddiest detective novel

Halya Coynash
Biological traces in the wrong place and a plot you wouldn’t find in the shoddiest detective novel.  These are just some of the weak links in Russia’s latest trial of two Ukrainians from Sevastopol: academic Oleksiy Bessarabov and retired naval captain Volodymyr Dudka

Biological traces in the wrong place and a plot you wouldn’t find in the shoddiest detective novel.  These are just some of the weak links in Russia’s latest trial of two Ukrainians from Sevastopol: academic Oleksiy Bessarabov and retired naval captain Volodymyr Dudka.  Small wonder that the FSB are continuing to use all measures, including deprivation of urgently needed medical care, to try to force the men to ‘confess’ to their wildly implausible plot. 

The two men, together with another well-known academic, Dmytro Shtyblikov, were arrested on 9 November, 2016.  The FSB claimed that they were  “members of a sabotage – terrorist group of the Ukrainian Defence Ministry’s Central Intelligence Department” who were planning acts of sabotage on military and other infrastructure”. There had never been any such acts of sabotage, nor, judging by the initial videos demonstrated, was there any evidence of plans to commit a crime. 

The FSB placed all men under enormous pressure and prevented Shtyblikov from seeing an independent lawyer at all.  Under conditions that remain unclear, he agreed to plead guilty and was sentenced on 16 November, 2017 to five years’ imprisonment after a ‘trial’ lasting just minutes (details here). 

Little is known about 43-year-old Bessarabov, whose family has avoided speaking with human rights activists, however both he and Dudka, who is 54 and in very bad health, deny all charges.  As soon as Dudka was allowed to see an independent lawyer, he told him that he had initially given a ‘confession’ because of intense pressure and threats to his family. 

Having extracted a ‘confession’ from Shtyblikov, the FSB was then able to bring him into the ‘trial’ of the other two men as ‘witness’.  As Dudka’s lawyer Sergei Legostov puts it, Shtyblikov was placed in an impossible position, since any rejection of the charges would mean, at very least, that the shorter sentence that he received for the guilty plea, would be changed (as well as placing him in danger of reprisals in prison). 

Aside from Shtyblikov’s forced testimony, there appears to be only highly questionable ‘evidence’ against the other two men which Russia is largely concealing by holding the entire ‘trial’ behind closed doors.

The lawyers in all such cases are forced to sign an undertaking not to divulge any information, however the details that Legostov has been able to give are already sufficient to demonstrate the level of falsifications.

‘Biological traces’ from both defendants were ‘found’ on a map of the city which allegedly showed the places where acts of sabotage were planned.  The problem is that an expert analysis showed that the traces were all on the edge of the map and not over the entire surface, which makes no sense if this was a map that the men were using.

Both men previously complained that non-procedural measures had been used to obtain biological traces.  Dudka, for example, was seized on the way to the doctor where he was being treated for an ulcer.  Saliva and other samples were taken without any protocol being drawn up and without his lawyer present.  Under such circumstances, it would be easy to later use the samples to fabricate incriminating evidence.

There is a similar situation with the telephones that the men say were planted on them. The prosecution has claimed that some person involved in Ukrainian military intelligence in Kharkiv had asked a stranger in Crimea to buy the telephones and pass them over to the defendants.  Legostov is scathing, saying that you wouldn’t find such idiocy in a detective novel.  Dudka is adamant that the telephone was planted during the search, and is demanding that such material evidence be examined in court. 

In virtually all such prosecutions, the FSB arrives with their own ‘witnesses’ which is a gross infringement of procedural legislation and makes it very easy for those carrying out the search ‘to find’ whatever is needed for their case.  Dudka’s son reports that the men who came to ‘search’ his father’s home ‘found’ the telephone very quickly, then left, without bothering to pretend to search the kitchen or bathroom. The defence has already demonstrated that there are discrepancies in the testimony given by one such ‘witness’ present during the search of Bessarabov’s home and by two who were present when a secret hiding place with explosive devices was allegedly found.

The prosecution has also produced material of baffling irrelevance, such as a video showing the three men in a restaurant celebrating a birthday. Such clutter has been used in a number of such trials, presumably to create the impression that there is a weight of evidence against the defendants. 

The authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre believes the prosecution to be politically motivated, and points to flagrant violations of the rights of all the men.

The arrests on 9 November 2016 were the FSB’s second ‘Crimean saboteur’ case that year.  There had been resounding failure, after the first arrests in August,  to convince an international audience that Ukraine had been planning ‘incursions’ on its own illegally occupied territory, and the FSB clearly understood that it had been a mistake to arrest men who had never set eyes on each other, as alleged conspirators. 

It therefore went for three men who were good friends: Shtyblikov and Bessarabov, who are internationally known experts on the Black Sea Fleet and Dudka.  Two much younger Crimeans  - Oleksiy Stohniy and Hlib Shabliy were arrested 10 days later.  Both Stohniy and Shabliy were later convicted of charges virtually unrelated to the sabotage that they had ‘confessed to’. 

An FSB operational video was circulated to the Russian media, with this showing Shtyblikov being roughly pinned down and handcuffed by FSB officers, and then in his home.  The camera focused on the Ukrainian trident, a Ukrainian flag on the wall, and Dmytro Yarosh’s ‘Right Sector’ business card.  Russian channels told their viewers that this was from the nationalist movement banned in Russia, but chose to remain silent about the ‘Yarosh business card’s’ extremely specific history.  The card had been first produced by Russia as ‘incriminating evidence’ in April 2014, after supposedly being pulled quite intact from a totally gutted out car.  The absurdity of the claim led to an Internet storm of hilariously implausible ‘findings’ of the card. The ‘incriminating’ weapons shown on the video appear to have been airguns, from Shtyblikov’s sporting hobby. 

The lack of any evidence is unfortunately most unlikely to have any impact on the sentences imposed which will almost certainly be longer because the men refused to admit to crimes they had not committed. 

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