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.

Russia threatens to extradite and imprison foreigners for saying that Crimea is Ukraine

Halya Coynash

World leaders, professionals and tourists beware – a visit to Russia could get you imprisoned for up to 10 years.  How imminent the danger is may well depend on the country and its clout, however the threat from high-ranking Russian politicians is certainly intended to be heard.  On 14 July, Speaker of the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin announced that a new law being rushed through in the wake of highly questionable constitutional amendments would make it possible to extradite foreigners and put them on trial in Russia on ‘extremism’ charges for seeking an end to Russian occupation of Crimea. 

Volodin was addressing a Duma plenary session considering the draft bill which proposes to criminalize as ‘extremism’ so-called violation of the Russian Federation’s territorial integrity.  Volodin stated that “this particularly concerns our Ukrainian colleagues. Statements that they make regarding Crimea will lead to punishment according to the laws of the Russian Federation. We will be able to demand their extradition here to Russia. On the other hand, these are questions which in future will also be presented, therefore this will, perhaps, cool many hotheads after we pass the norms of this law”.

The threat is clear, especially since the bill in question proposes a sentence of up to 10 years’ imprisonment.  Volodin is also lying.  Neither Ukrainians, nor citizens of other democratic states need be in any fear of extradition to Russia to face criminal charges for reiterating the official position of the UN General Assembly, the International Criminal Court, all international bodies and democratic nations.  The entire world recognizes Crimea as a part of Ukraine, and is demanding that Russia ends its illegal occupation, and neither constitutional changes, nor a law on so-called ‘extremism’ will change that.

It is, however, no accident that Volodin specifically threatened Ukrainians.  Russia has been abducting and / or illegally imprisoning Ukrainian citizens since its invasion and annexation of Crimea.  The new law will certainly make it even more dangerous for Ukrainian citizens to travel to Russia or, unfortunately, to occupied Crimea.   

It is likely that Volodin and his cronies hope that the new law will also make Ukrainian and western journalists loath to raise the subject of Crimea at all, and this may well have been what Volodin had in mind with his menacing words about ‘hotheads’.  Volodin did claim that the sentences could be meted out to citizens of any other country “whether Ukraine, the Baltic States or the USA”.

They’ve made a statement regarding Russia, and concerning a part of its territory – they will come under criminal liability immediately after the adoption of this law and we have the right to demand their extradition. We will not ignore these issues. And however much time has passed, it will come back on them”.

It was evident back in January 2020 that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans to amend Russia’s Constitution were not only about ensuring his (virtually) life tenure as ‘President’.  Andriy Klishas, a Russian senator and co-chair of the working group on the amendments was entirely open about another key aim, namely to prevent any legislative initiative that would end Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea.   The relevant addition to the Constitution asserts as follows:  

“The Russian Federation ensures protection of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Actions (excluding delimitation; demarcation and re-demarcation of the state border of the Russian Federation with bordering states) aimed at removing a part of the Russian Federation’s territory, as well as calls to such actions, are not permitted”.

In an interview to RBC, Kishas explained that “this was written so that nobody could seriously insert an amendment into legislation according to ward Crimea would be handed [sic] to Ukraine. “

A week after a grossly rigged ‘referendum’ was used to rubberstamp these amendments, Kishas and the head of the profile Duma committee, Pavel Krashennikov, tabled a draft bill aimed at criminalizing any suggestion that Russia should return annexed Crimea to Ukraine.  The changes propose a possible prison sentence of up to 10 years for actions aimed only at complying with the United Nations and all international bodies.

The bill, registered on 8 July, proposes to amend Russia’s notorious ‘law on countering extremism’ by rewording one of the alleged demonstrations of ‘extremism’  Instead of merely ‘violation of Russia’s integrity’, this will read: “violation of the Russian Federation’s territorial integrity (including through exclusion of a part of the RF’s territory) with the exception of delimitation; demarcation and re-demarcation of the state border of the Russian Federation with bordering states.’

Krashennikov claims that this is simply bringing the law’s terminology into line with the constitutional amendments and avoid vague or ambiguous interpretation of ‘integrity’.   They are, however, going much further.  Since the Constitution now prohibits ‘exclusion of a part of the Russian Federation’s territory’, they propose to add a new Article 280.2 of the criminal code which would consider any initiative aimed at complying with international law by returning Crimea to be ‘extremism’.

Article 280.1, which punishes for something termed “public calls to carry out actions aimed at violating the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation via the mass media”, was added to the criminal code in May 2014.  Fears then that it would be used against people who stated, as do all international bodies and democratic states, that Crimea is a part of Ukraine have already proven well-founded, with several real or suspended sentences already passed against Ukrainians or Russian citizens.

Now the proposal is to slightly mellow the ‘punishment’ for following international law, by allowing for a first administrative prosecution, with a person only subjected to criminal charges if s/he commits the so-called ‘offence’ a second time within a year.  At present, criminal charges can be and have been brought over a single interview or social media posts.  The sentence will then range from a fine (between a huge 200 - 400 thousand roubles) to a prison sentence of up to four years with a ban on holding particular posts or carrying out particular activities.

Article 280.2 ‘Violation of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation’ could result in a sentence of from six to ten years’ imprisonment.  

What exactly is meant by such a norm is unclear, but then that is true of most of Russia’s legislation on so-called ‘extremism’.  Very many people, including politicians, will feel loath to test for themselves whether this will include speaking openly about Russia’s illegal occupation of Crimea or proposing legislation to return the peninsula to Ukraine. 

The law, and Volodin’s words, are a staggeringly lawless attempt to force the world into silence about Russia’s violation of international law – one doomed to failure.

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