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.

Notorious fake experts deployed in 'trial' of Memorial head for criticizing Russia's war against Ukraine

Halya Coynash
Oleg Orlov Photo Alexander Zemlianichenko, AP
Oleg Orlov Photo Alexander Zemlianichenko, AP

Concern that Oleg Orlov, Co-Chair of Memorial, could face imprisonment for his criticism of Russia’s war against Ukraine has escalated since it became known who has provided the supposed ‘expert assessments’ of Orlov’s words.  The two individuals involved are already notorious for their role in getting the Memorial Human Rights Centre prohibited, as well as other acts of religious or political persecution.

Orlov learned that he was facing criminal charges for supposed ‘repeat discrediting of Russia’s armed forces’ on 21 March after a day in which the Russian enforcement bodies carried out searches of the Memorial office and of the homes of many Memorial employees.  This is under Article 280.3 § 1 of Russia’s criminal code, one of the new charges quickly rushed into law within days of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.  Orlov had already faced two previous prosecutions under the analogous article of the code of administrative offences, with this making it possible to initiate criminal proceedings.

On 18 April, the Memorial Centre for the Protection of Human Rights reported that the final indictment had now become clear.  So too had the authors of the so-called linguistic expert assessment, namely maths teacher (and co-founder of the notorious Centre for Socio-Cultural Expert Assessments) Natalia Kryukova  and translator Alexander Tarasov.  Neither of these two individuals has the professional competence for linguistic assessments, but they can be relied upon to provide the conclusions that the prosecution wants.  In November 2022, their services were used to claim “justification of extremism and terrorism” as part of the Moscow Prosecutor’s application to have the Memorial Human Rights Centre banned.  At least part of their ‘assessment’ had been simply plagiarized from student sites. Kryukova has appeared in varying capacity: as religious expert; cultural expert or linguistic, with respect to Russia’s persecution of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  She also played a part in the political persecution of world-renowned historian of the Terror and Memorial leader, Yuri Dmitriev.  The independent watchdog Dissernet has probed the part played by Natalia Nikolaevna Kryukova in six dodgy criminal cases or ‘assessments’ aimed at justifying repression against the Jehovah’s Witnesses (and six in the case of Alexander Yevgenievich Tarasov). These, however, are only the cases scrutinized and the real list is doubtless much higher.  As a minimum, it has left out the maths teacher’s willingness to see ‘pornography’ in monitoring photos of his adopted daughter stored on Yury Dmitriev’s computer.  That unqualified assessment was dismissed in court by Dr Lev Shcheglov, the President of the National Institute of Sexology, as well as two other specialists, who rejected any suggestion of pornography. Memorial reports that in December 2021, the Russian Academy of Sciences commission on countering falsification of academic research found that both Kryukova and Tarasov did not have the required competence for ‘assessments’ provided.

The criminal charges against Oleg Orlov

‘Investigator’ I.A. Savchenko presented Orlov with the final version of the indictment on 13 April. In the decision to lay charges, Savchenko cites “a forensic linguistic assessment’ from 21 March 2023, which had been sought and obtained from the Centre for Socio-Cultural Expert Assessments, with both Kryukova and Tarasov deployed for the ‘assessment’ of Orlov’s words.

Back on 21 March, it was learned that the criminal charges against Orlov were over the posting on his Facebook page of the Russian translation of his article “They wanted fascism. They got it”, which was published by the French Mediapart on 14 November 2022.  The article states, for example, that “The bloody war launched by Putin in Ukraine is not only the mass killing of people, the destruction of infrastructure, of the economy, of cultural sites of this wonderful country.  It is not only the crushing of the foundations of international law.  It is also the gravest of blows against Russia’s future. <> A country which, 30 years ago, moved from communist totalitarianism has descended back into totalitarianism, but now fascist.”

All of the factual assertions in Orlov’s text (regarding the mass killing of civilians; the deliberate destruction of critical infrastructure, etc.) are based on hard evidence and, outside territory where Russia is able to apply its repressive legislation, are undisputed,

Here both Kryukova and Tarasov are asked by the ‘investigator’ whether the ‘offending’ article by Orlov describes the actions of the Russian armed forces as criminal, aggressive; fascist; linked with genocide and the killing of civilians; whether arguments for such an assessment are provided, and what ‘means’ are used to express them;  whether the texts argued that it was necessary to counter the use of Russia’s armed forces; and whether the text “denied cases of the use of the army to defend Russia’s interests and those of its citizens, support for peace and security”.

Kryukova and Tarasov answered yes to all of this.  There was no pretence of providing an independent, unbiased view.  Even before answering specific questions, the two wrote that “the article is propaganda material since it deliberately takes an unobjective point of view in order to achieve certain political aims.”

As with their ‘expert assessment’ about the Memorial Human Rights Centre, the two stole chunks of their text from student dissertations.  The aim of this plagiarism seems to have been to make the ‘forensic linguistic assessment’ look convincing by throwing in linguistic terminology, whether relevant or not. 

Kryukoa claims that the article is aimed at acting on the consciousness of readers “with the help of specially constructed text leading to the destruction of the positive image [sic!] of the Russian Federation” and the “discrediting” of the Russian army. She claims that the accusations “are circulated with the use of emotionally coloured campaigning material that lack any basis, but are nonetheless highly effective.”  They “sow doubts as to the positive qualities of the opponent and could prompt his supporters to at least refrain from supporting [‘the opponent’, i.e. those waging Russia’s war] or revert to actions aimed at opposition.”   

Memorial notes that maths teacher Kryukova forgot that this time she had donned the hat of a ‘linguistic expert’, and came up with psychological claims about the effect on the readers. She asserts that the “material constantly pushes out an objective image and becomes dominant in the information module of the situation which provokes a situation of stress in the participants engaged.”

Tarasov claims that Orlov “positions himself as a person holding a human rights anti-Russian position and holds it consciously.”  He then simply copy-pastes the entire article of the Russian criminal code which Orlov is charged with. “The author carries out discreditation of the SMO  [the so-called ‘special military operation’], expresses rejection of facts of the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation for the purpose of defending the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens, support of peace and security”.

Memorial rightly notes that it is not part of an expert’s role to provide a legal qualification of the actions.  Tarasov, however, knows exactly what he has been called upon to do, and provides it.  Such behaviour is constantly seen in both the ‘expert assessments’ and from the ‘secret witnesses’ used by Russia for its political and religious persecution in occupied Crimea.

Oleg Orlov is the latest of many Russians who have spoken of Russia’s killing of  civilians and other war crimes in Ukraine, and paid for it. He faces a sentence of up to five years’ imprisonment.

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