Although Russia’s claims that Ukraine had tried to ‘attack’ its own territory in Crimea have failed to convince anybody outside Russia, the arrests are continuing. Videos have been shown of three men and nine in all were recently reported to be in custody, with that number likely to rise. In a potentially menacing new slant, a top official in the occupation government has claimed that Ukraine is planning “new sabotage” under the guise of acts of resistance by Crimean Tatars.
Russia has still not officially named the 2 Russians – an FSB officer and soldier – allegedly killed in confrontations with ‘Ukrainian saboteurs’ just inside Russian-occupied Crimea. It has not provided any evidence at all to back its claims that there was shelling from mainland Ukraine and two ‘sabotage attempts’ during the night from 7-8 August and only ‘confessions’ on video for any of its claims regarding a ‘thwarted attack’ the previous evening. It has also not explained why its blocks on independent Internet sites and a major influx of Russian military hardware both preceded the alleged ‘sabotage’.
This, the many sloppy mistakes in the ‘evidence’ (such as the full moon on the video) and Russia’s stubborn efforts to present Ukraine as guilty of ‘incursions’ when it is Russia that invaded and occupied Crimea, have ensured zero credibility for the whole stunt. This, unfortunately, will not protect those men now in custody, nor prevent others being arrested. A number of Ukrainians, including Crimean filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, were arrested in earlier claims of ‘terrorist’ plots, etc. which have always been unburdened by any actual crimes or hard evidence. Neither the grotesquely absurd charges, nor clear evidence that any ‘confessions’ were obtained via torture have stopped Russia from holding almost all of them imprisoned to this day.
Most is known about the first man shown on Russian TV, though that remains very little. Everything about the interrogation of Yevhen Panov, a driver from the Zaporizhya oblast, suggests that he had been badly beaten. Panov certainly does not look the part, in his summer t-shirt and rubber flip flops, and his family are adamant that Panov would not have voluntarily gone to Crimea.
Andrei Zakhtei, who has also been remanded in custody for 2 months, is a man with a fairly chequered past. His known anti-Maidan views and involvement in crime would make him a highly improbable candidate for a ‘Ukrainian military intelligence operation’. As with so much else about these new arrests, there are disturbing echoes from other prosecutions of Ukrainians since the invasion of Crimea. The absurd charges against Ukrainian political prisoners Stanislav Klykh and Mykola Karpyuk were based solely on confessions tortured out of the men while held for many months incommunicado and by evidence provided by a Ukrainian national Oleksandr Malofeyev. The latter had long lived in Russia and was already serving a 23-year sentence for serious crimes. With Malofeyev an HIV-positive drug addict with numerous medical issues, it would have been extremely easy to put pressure on him.
The third person named and shown on Russian television is Ridvan Suleimanov, a Crimean Tatar, who according to the head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis [representative assembly] Refat Chubarov was taken into custody some three weeks ago. Chubarov wrote that his family had not said anything of his arrest, fearing that this could harm him. Little was known about him at all. Chubarov reported that Suleimanov had been living in Simferopol, though the FSB version, given on the video by the detained man, is that he lived in Zaporizhya. Although Suleimanov shows no obvious signs of torture, it is noteworthy that he gives an address in Zaporizhya that does not exist.
As reported, Russia was finally forced to withdraw war crimes charges against Serhiy Lytvynov who had, under torture, signed confessions to killing entirely fictitious civilians living at equally non-existent addresses.
On the video shown on Aug 12, Suleimanov asserts that he was recruited by Ukrainian military intelligence [HUR] in October last year, and ordered to gather information about the movement of military technology. Later he had supposedly been instructed to find places for hiding explosives at the railway station and airport in Simferopol. This was supposedly in order to move “from small acts to a big Jihad”.
Suleimanov was allegedly arrested by the FSB with this thwarting the Ukrainian’s dastardly plan. Similar claims were initially made by the FSB after they finally announced the arrest of Oleg Sentsov and three other opponents of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. There too, the men were not shown on Russian television until obvious signs of torture had faded.
Suleimanov, Panov and Zakhtei are under the control of the FSB and there is nothing to indicate that any has been allowed access to a lawyer, other than those provided by the investigators. In all similar cases involving Ukrainians taken prisoner, such state-provided lawyers have served only to sign documents and encourage the men to ‘confess’.
All the Russian claims have been dismissed by Ukraine’s military intelligence. In Suleimanov’s case they are especially implausible. Crimean Tatars have been particularly targeted since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and are far more likely to be under close surveillance. Yet he is supposed to have been assigned the task of planting bombs in sensitive locations.
Crimean Tatars have, however, also been a particular target for repression, and there are constant attempts to try to present them as ‘terrorists’ and ‘extremists’. The de facto Crimean deputy prime minister Ruslan Balbek was reported by the Russian RIA Novosti as claiming that Ukraine was planning “new sabotage under the guise of Crimean Tatar resistance”. Balbek claimed that Ukraine’s government was trying to tell the entire world that the Crimean Tatars are against annexation, and asserted that this is anything but the truth.
Balbek has made such assertions before, confident in the knowledge that pro-Kremlin media can be relied on to not probe too deeply. Here also, he asserted that Ukraine’s security service was continuing a sabotage war against Crimea “solely due to the lack of objective information in the world” about Crimea.
He was not asked why it is Russia, as occupier, which has refused to allow an OSCE monitoring mission to visit Crimea, that has forced all independent media and most journalists to leave Crimea and blocked access to Internet publications providing just such objective information.