Chilling déjà vu as Russia uses Crimean SMERSH to hunt down supporters of Ukraine in occupied Crimea
‘Crimean SMERSH’, a repugnant Telegram channel involved in the hunting down of people who express pro-Ukrainian views, disappeared on 2 December. While there is no direct proof that the channel was deliberately removed by the Telegram administrators, there would, undoubtedly, be grounds since pro-Russian collaborator Aleksandr Talipov has actively used the channel to disclose personal data, as well as to force, or torture, Ukrainians into publicly ‘repenting’ for expressions of support for Ukraine. Talipov reported on 2 December that the ‘Crimean SMERSH’ Telegram channel had disappeared, and said that he was trying to get to the bottom of it. According to RFE/RL’s , other channel linked with Talipov remain available.
The original SMERSH was active in the Soviet Union during World War II and immediately afterwards. Although it did hunt down those working for the Nazis, it was also active in persecuting those who opposed the communist regime. The term SMERSH was, apparently, coined by Joseph Stalin as an abbreviation for ‘death to spies’. As in Stalin’s USSR, the victims of the modern day ‘Crimean SMERSH’ are those who oppose the current occupation regime.
‘Crimean SMERSH’ is a group of Russian informers who target those in occupied Crimea opposing Russia’s war against Ukraine and the current regime of Vladimir Putin. Those ‘caught’ are usually terrorized or tortured into providing videoed ‘confessions and apologies’ merely for displaying a Ukrainian flag, other Ukrainian symbols or singing / playing Ukr aine’s national anthem.
It was earlier Chechnya that was notorious for the use of such videoed ‘expressions of repentance’. Now, , two thirds of such videos come from occupied Crimea. Most of these ‘apologies’ are videoed in rooms that look like offices in occupation police stations, generally with the Russian flag in the background.
Another apparent relic of the Soviet era that Putin’s regime has resurrected is the mass use of denunciations, with people reported to the occupation enforcement bodies by neighbours, work colleagues; students; or just people who overheard conversations in a restaurant or on the street. The informer extraordinaire who runs the Crimean SMERSH Telegram channel is Aleksandr Talipov. According to [CJI], Talipov is a turncoat who once worked as a Ukrainian border guard. He supported Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea in 2014, and now actively reports to Russia’s FSB or so-called ‘centre for countering extremism’ about any Ukrainians who, in one way or another, express pro-Ukrainian views. It is his denunciations that have led to a large number of the prosecutions reported here, including some where criminal charges were laid and the victims sentenced to real terms of imprisonment.
In the middle of November 2023, Ukraine’s Crimean Prosecutor § 1 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code with aiding Russia’s army in its war against Ukraine, and would face a sentence of up to 12 years, if convicted (and caught). The indictment states that, since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Talipov has regularly acted in support of the aggressor state, publishing videos and posts collecting money for drones to be used for military purposes against Ukraine, calling on others to help the Russian army, etc. to the court. The collaborator is charged under Article 111-2
reported on 12 November that Crimea is among the ‘leaders’ in the numbers of people prosecuted for supposedly ‘discrediting Russia’s armed forces’. In 21 months from the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and adoption, 10 days later, of draconian legislation, there were 472 ‘rulings’ from occupation ‘courts’ in Crimea convicting people of having, purportedly, ‘discredited Russia’s armed forces’. Many of these prosecutions were initiated after denunciations from Talipov and his ilk
As reported here, a large number of Crimeans have faced administrative prosecution and fines or terms of administrative arrest (up to 15 days) for demonstrating the Ukrainian flag or Ukrainian symbols; for singing or playing Ukrainian patriotic songs at weddings or on one’s own balcony, and more. While most face administrative charges, repetition of these in the space of six months can then prompt criminal charges of ‘discrediting the armed forces’ (with the law soon broadened to cover the notorious Wagner Unit and similar mercenaries; the FSB and all enforcement bodies, etc.) The worst sentences are under Article 207.3 of Russia’s criminal code, with this punishing for something claimed to be ‘fakes about the Russian army’. Many of those imprisoned on this charge have merely posted information or spoken of entirely proven and very well-documented war crimes committed in Bucha, Mariupol; Izium and other cities that Russia bombed relentlessly in order to seize.
Among Crimean SMERSH victims are the following:
On 10 November, Yekateryna Osipova, a resident of occupied Sevastopol, in an occupation police station for publishing photos with items in the blue and yellow of Ukraine’s flag.
The video was posted by the Telegram channel Sevastopol SMERSH, with the latter organization having denounced her to the ‘police’.
Crimean SMERSH on 9 November that Dmytro Tolstenko, an assistant professor of the occupation ‘Crimean federal university’ had been detained for his pro-Ukrainian position. Talipov claimed that Tolstenko had circulated Ukrainian symbols on his social media pages and had published a media in support of Ukraine’s Armed Forces. He asserted that two protocols had been drawn up. He did not specify which, but one was almost certainly on a charge of ‘discrediting Russia’s armed forces.”
This shocking case, also in November, came to the attention of Talipov & Co. because of the irresponsible behaviour of a Lviv politician and lecturer. She has since been dismissed from her lecturing post and may face prosecution.
Hlebov was forced to ‘publicly repent’. It remains unclear whether he will face further consequences.
In August 2023, the 21-year-old was forced to ‘publicly apologise’ and may face criminal charges for rightly stating that occupied Sevastopol is part of Ukraine. He had also kicked at the Russian flag and photo of founder of the Wagner mercenaries Yevgeny Prigozhin (details here).
The 20-year-old resident of Bakhchysarai was fined 50 thousand roubles in March 2023 for posting a video with Ukraine’s national anthem on social media. This too was deemed to fall under Article 20.3.3 § 1 of Russia’s administrative court, namely “public actions aimed at discrediting the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation for the purpose of defending the interests of the Russian Federation and its citizens, of defending international peace and security within the framework of the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine.”
It was Talipov who had denounced Memetova to the FSB.
Criminal charges and sentences
Dmytro Kozlia was sentenced on 19 October to a year’s imprisonment on a charge of ‘repeated actions aimed at discrediting the Russian armed forces.’ (details here)
Disturbingly, Bielozierov’s first administrative prosecution was undoubtedly because of Talipov, but the initial denunciation about a Ukrainian song (about Baraktar drones) came from his students.