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#Russia: Rising concern over Ukrainian, Nadiya #Savchenko’s health and calls for her release


Ukrainian MP and former military pilot Nadiya SavchenkoUkrainian MP and former military pilot Nadiya Savchenko.

Halya Coynash, Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group.

On the same day that Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada passed a resolution calling on Russia to release Ukrainian MP and former military pilot Nadiya Savchenko, her lawyers have expressed concern over her state of health in Russian detention.

Lawyer Ilya Novikov reports that she is suffering an ear inflammation and that the prison doctors are not dealing with the situation. “Loss of hearing in that ear is already total, and it looks as if it will get worse”, he writes.

Savchenko’s defence are stepping up their efforts to obtain the release of the former pilot who was captured by Kremlin-backed militants in the Luhansk oblast and is now facing dubious charges in Russia. On Dec 15 a Moscow court will consider two appeals from the defence, including one against her extended term of detention.

On Dec 11 the Verkhovna Rada adopted a Resolution “On an appeal to Russia’s State Duma and President Vladimir Putin to release Ukrainian pilot and MP Nadiya Savchenko”.

The Resolution states that Ms Savchenko was elected to parliament on Oct. 26 2014 from the Batkivshchyna Party and that her signed oath was publicly demonstrated in parliament on Nov 27 meaning that she has now been sworn in as MP.

“The Verkhovna Rada states that Ukrainian MP and member of the Batkivshchyna faction … Nadiya Savchenko will, outside the quota system will represent the entire Ukrainian parliament in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and will be a member of Ukraine’s permanent delegation to PACE.

The statement goes on to explain that this is the first time that an elected member of the Verkhovna Rada is unable to take up her duties because she is clearly unlawfully and on groundless charges held in detention in another country in overt violation of international human rights.

Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada therefore calls on the State Duma, the Russian President and other Russian bodies and officials to take all measures to secure Nadiya Savchenko’s release

It also calls for the “release of all Ukrainian nationals who, during the period of armed conflict in the east of Ukraine, were taken prisoner, illegally taken to the Russian Federation and held there against their will”.

321 MPs voted for the resolution. There were no votes against, however 28 MPs did not vote at all.

Media reports say that the resolution calls for the release of Nadiya Savchenko, Crimean film director Oleg Sentsov and other prisoners, however the wording means that it only applies unequivocally to Nadiya Savchenko. She was taken prisoner by Kremlin-backed militants from the so-called ‘Luhansk people’s republic’ on around June 17. On July 3 a Russian court remanded her in custody and she has been in Russian detention ever since. Savchenko says that she was taken across the border with a bag over her end and hands tied, and has made her attitude to the ‘lying Russian courts’ abundantly clear. Russia’s Investigative Committee claims that she voluntarily entered Russia, pretending to be a refugee. The Investigative Committee studiously avoids mentioning her capture by the militants, but even so the Russian version is difficult to take seriously. The investigators have also threatened to charge her with ‘illegally crossing the border’.

The investigators claim that in June, as a member of the Aidar Battalion, Savchenko found out the whereabouts of a group of TV Rossiya journalists and other civilians outside Luhansk, and passed these to fighters who carried out a mortar attack which killed TV Rossiya employees Igor Kornelyuk and Anton Voloshin.

The prosecution tried hard to prevent inclusion of evidence from the defence which apparently demonstrates that Ms Savchenko was already in custody when the two journalists were killed. This was in such flagrant breach of the law that their objections were finally overridden.

Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, 31, fought in eastern Ukraine in the ranks of the Aidar volunteer battalion and in June was taken prisoner by militia forces near the town of Shchastya in Luhansk Oblast. © CourtesyUkrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, 31, fought in eastern Ukraine in the ranks of the Aidar volunteer battalion and in June was taken prisoner by militia forces near the town of Shchastya in Luhansk Oblast. © Courtesy

Russia’s authoritative Memorial Human Rights Centre has declared Nadiya Savchenko a political prisoner.


Russia is holding at very least 5 other Ukrainian nationals whose cases arouse grave concern. Oleg Sentsov, civic activist Oleksandr Kolchenko and two other Crimean opponents of Russian annexation of the Crimea were arrested in Simferopol in May and were soon taken, against their will, to Russia [Moscow], where they remain in detention. The FSB claims that they were behind a ‘Right Sector’ plot to carry out terrorist acts and destroy major parts of the infrastructure in Simferopol and Sevastopol on Victory Day, May 9. Russia has constantly demonized the far-right and ultra-nationalist Right Sector and paid effectively no head to the party’s dismal showing in both presidential and parliamentary elections.

There were no terrorist acts although the arrests were made after the supposed date planned for them. The only ‘evidence’ comes from ‘confessions’ given by Gennady Afanasyev and Oleksy Chirniy. Both claim that Sentsov ‘masterminded the plot’. Both Sentsov and Kolchenko have repeatedly alleged that they were subjected to torture and that Sentsov was warned that if he didn’t give testimony against EuroMaidan and the new Kyiv government, they would claim that he was the mastermind of the purported ‘terrorist plot’.

Sentsov is a well-known film director with a growing international reputation. He is also a solo father with two young children, one of whom is autistic. If this makes him a wildly improbable candidate for ‘terrorist mastermind’, so too must the claim that Kolchenko, a left-wing anarchist, was part of a far-right nationalist party ‘plot’. Add to this the fact that the only ‘evidence’ is from confessions obtained while the men were totally in the control of the Simferopol enforcement bodies without access to lawyers or contact with their families.

Amnesty International has called for Sentsov and Kolchenko’s release from Russian detention and Memorial has recognized them as political prisoners.


Yury Yatsenko, a Lviv law student in his final year, was not illegally taken to Russia but there are very strong grounds for believing that the charges against him and his detention in a Russian SIZO are impelled by political considerations and do not bear scrutiny.

Yatsenko and his friend Bohdan Yarychevsky, were detained in Russia’s Kursk oblast in early May. They were held in a police station without food or sleep for two days, and not allowed to ring their relatives, a lawyer or the Ukrainian consul. During that time the FSB [Russian security service] turned up, interrogated them, suspecting that they had been ‘sent by Dmytro Yarosh’ [the leader of Right Sector] or by Ukraine’s SBU. The ‘grounds’ for such suspicions were a map showing Kursky Station found on their mobile telephone. Yarychevsky explains that they’d saved it in order to get their bearings and know how to get to the station to catch the coach home. The FSB, however, deemed the photo ‘suspicious’ and possibility indicating a plan to blow up the station.

Yatsenko and Yarychevsky were not officially detained for imaginary ‘radicalism’ or ‘nationalism’, nor were they suspected of any criminal offence. A court on May 8 ruled that they had committed an administrative offence by ticking the box ‘private purpose’ on the border entry form, when they should have ticked the ‘tourism’ box.

Both young men were subjected to torture with the FSB wanting them to publicly testify that a military junta had taken over in Ukraine and to ask for political asylum. They constantly received threats that if they didn’t cooperate, criminal charges would be concocted, with drugs or weapons planted.

This is basically what happened, though against only one of the two – Yury Yatsenko – who has been charged with ‘smuggling explosive devices’. Yarychevsky was deported and is taking part in efforts to obtain his friend’s release.


Related News:


Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group.

#Putin’s remarks underscore #Ukraine’s connection to the #Crimea, not #Russia’s


Prince Volodymyr the Great© Kyiv Post

Kyiv Post.

In his address to the Federation Council, the upper chamber of Russian parliament, President Vladimir Putin said on Dec. 4 that Crimea is to Russians what the Temple Mount is for Muslims and Jews.

He based his statement on the fact that Prince Volodymyr the Great, the ruler of medieval Kyivan Rus in the 10th century, was baptized in Crimea as he brought Christianity to his kingdom. The fact is that Volodymyr ruled in Kyiv. Putin’s remarks underscore Ukraine’s connection to the peninsula, not Russia’s.


Kyiv Post.

#Chechens Loyal to #Russia Join #Separatists in Eastern #Ukraine


Separatists from the Chechen Separatists from the Chechen “Death” battalion stand in a line during a training exercise in the territory controlled by the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, eastern Ukraine, on Dec. 8, 2014.  Maxim Shemetov / Reuters.

Reuters.

Chanting “Allahu Akbar” (God is great), dozens of armed men in camouflage uniforms from Russia’s republic of Chechnya train in snow in a camp in the rebel-held east Ukraine.

They say their “Death” unit fighting Ukrainian forces has 300 people, mostly former state security troops in the mainly Muslim region where Moscow waged two wars against Islamic insurgents and which is now run by a Kremlin-backed strongman.

Seasoned Chechen fighters, whose combat experience often dates back to the 1994-96 and 1999-2000 wars, fight on both sides in east Ukraine, adding to the complexity of a conflict in which the West says Russian troops are involved.

“This is volunteer battalion Death,” a deputy commander of the group who only gave his nickname “Stinger” said at a former tourist camp the unit turned into their base outside of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk in east Ukraine.

“There are about three hundred of us in the Donetsk region. We have battlefield experience ranging from 10 to 20 years starting from 1995,” said the man in his 40s, a pistol fixed to his thigh.

He had a little Chechen flag in green, white and red stitched to his cap and spoke Russian with a strong Caucasus accent. Several cars with Chechen registration plates were parked in the camp.

Russia sides with the rebels in east Ukraine but denies sending serving troops to reinforce them. Some fighters on the ground admit to being former Russian servicemen, or “on leave.” Moscow has said any Russians fighting there are volunteers.

In Chechnya, two brutal wars quashed the separatist insurgents but unrest is still simmering.

Gunmen attacked a police post and captured a building in the regional capital of Grozny last week and at least 20 people, including 10 police and 10 suspected militants, were killed in gunbattles that ensued.

Violence erupted just hours before President Vladimir Putin was due to give a major speech in Moscow, a symbolic challenge to the man credited for the Russian army victory in the second Chechen war.

Reestablishing Moscow’s control over Chechnya and then introducing an uneasy peace under Ramzan Kadyrov, whom critics and rights campaigners accuse of heavy-handed tactics and massive rights violations, is seen by Putin’s supporters as a key achievement.

In Ukraine, Stinger’s men are sworn enemies with another group of Chechens who fight on the opposite side of the conflict and support the Kiev government troops.

Some of them have Western passports after fleeing Russia following the two wars. They say Moscow is theirs and Kiev’s joint enemy and that Chechnya is occupied by Russia.

Stinger, however, said Chechnya was being destroyed in the wars of the 1990s and became peaceful again only when some local leaders allied with the Kremlin.

Some of those in the Death unit said they had initially fought against Russia in Chechnya but later switched sides and were amnestied by a former Kremlin-allied head of the region, Ramzan’s father, Akhmed Kadyrov.

“Now we are [former] soldiers and officers of the Russian army, of Russian special forces, mostly veterans of war campaigns,” Stinger said.


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The Moscow Times.

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Trucks carrying MH17 wreckage arrive in the Netherlands.


Ukraine Today.

TIME Exclusive: #Putin Cut #Ukraine Criticism From Speech Ahead of Peace Talks


President Vladimir PutinRussian President Vladimir Putin holds a meeting of the Presidential Council for Science and Education at the St George’s Hall of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg on Dec. 8, 2014. Photograph: Alexei Druzhinin—AFP/Getty Images

Simon Shuster in Moscow, TIME.

A reference to the “mass destruction of Ukraine’s own citizens” was dropped from a draft copy of a Dec. 5 speech, TIME discovers.

Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently cut out a blistering critique of Ukrainian authorities in a speech to human-rights advocates last week, as he seeks to carve out a peace deal with his country’s neighbor.

In a draft prepared by Putin’s speechwriters and obtained by TIME, the President was set to accuse Ukrainian authorities of the “mass destruction of their own citizens” during their ongoing conflict with Moscow-backed separatist rebels. But at the last moment, Putin appears to have dropped that line. The speech, as he delivered it on Dec. 5, made no mention of Ukraine whatsoever.

Reached by TIME on Monday, Putin’s spokesman Dmitri Peskov declined to comment on why the President had omitted this entire section when he delivered the speech in the Kremlin throne room that afternoon. Asked whether the change signaled a shift in Putin’s position on Ukraine, Peskov said, “No, absolutely not.”

But Russia’s position on the Ukraine conflict had already softened ahead of the next round of peace talks to be held later this week. Those talks, which will involve representatives of Russia, Ukraine and the separatists who control large portions of eastern Ukraine, as well as European mediators, will provide all sides with the best chance they’ve had in months to reach a lasting cease-fire in the eight-month-old conflict, which has already claimed more than 4,000 lives. (The date for the talks, initially set for Dec. 9, could be delayed by several days at the requests of the separatist leaders, who have asked for more time to prepare.)

Ahead of those negotiations, Putin has appeared to take a more conciliatory approach, as Russia faces immense political and economic pressure from the West to call off its support for the Ukrainian separatists. Three days before the talks were due to commence in Minsk, French President François Hollande made a surprise visit to Moscow, and Putin took the unusual step of meeting Hollande at the airport rather than having the French leader come to him, as diplomatic protocol would normally require.

When the two Presidents sat down on Saturday at Vnukovo airport for two hours of discussions on Ukraine, Putin said, “We need to resolve” the conflict and the rift it has caused between Russia and the West. Following the closed-door meeting, Putin told reporters that Russia respects Ukraine’s territorial integrity and wants to see it restored. Hollande then spoke with his German counterpart, Angela Merkel, about the “prospects for progress that have emerged” in relations with Russia.

But Putin’s last-minute redaction of the speech on Friday is perhaps the clearest sign yet of a change in rhetoric. He has tended throughout the conflict in Ukraine not to miss an opportunity to denounce the Ukrainian authorities for violating the rights of ethnic Russians, and Friday’s meeting with rights advocates in the Kremlin seemed like an ideal venue to trot out those claims once more.

According to the copy of the draft speech distributed at the Kremlin press center on Friday, Putin was meant to tell his audience that, “Neither international acts nor the structures meant to defend human rights have been able to stop the Ukrainian authorities’ mass destruction of their own citizens. Despite the fact that international observers are present in Ukraine, people are unable to stop the violation of their most basic right, the right to life.”

Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin adviser and political consultant, says the redaction appears to be part of a broader shift in Russia’s messaging. “The turn on the Ukraine issue is clear, even obvious,” he says. “Putin now wants to strengthen the message of friendliness, and the Kremlin is trying in various ways to turn down the heat on the Ukrainian issue.”

Russian state television networks, for instance, have gradually stopped labeling the Ukrainian government “fascist” in their reports, and on Saturday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov referred to the separatist-controlled regions of eastern Ukraine as an “open boil” on the body of the country, that needed to heal. Even a month ago it would have been hard to imagine such language coming from senior Kremlin officials, who have doggedly supported the separatists ever since their war against Ukraine began in April. “But now Moscow is trying to distance itself from them,” says Pavlovsky.

One of Putin’s imagemakers from the start of his presidency until 2011, Pavlovsky says it is not rare for the President to make last-minute changes to the texts that his speechwriters prepare. And he would almost certainly have approved the original version denouncing rights violations in Ukraine, Pavlovsky says. “Otherwise it would not have been there. But at the last minute he apparently decided that it’s not appropriate.”

The reason seems to be the troubling state of Russia’s economy. Over the past nine months, the U.S. and its allies have imposed several rounds of sanctions against Russia to force a change in the Kremlin’s interventionist policies in Ukraine, and those sanctions have managed to inflict substantial pain on Russian elites and state-connected firms. At the same time, a sharp drop in the price of oil, Russia’s most important export, has decimated federal coffers and the national currency, which has lost about 40% of its value against the dollar since the start of the year.

But a sudden change of course on Ukraine could damage the Russian President, Pavlovsky warns. The Kremlin’s propaganda channels have spent months stirring up public support for the separatist cause, and the President could see a drop in his sky-high approval if he is seen as submitting to Western pressure at this stage in the conflict, he says. “They don’t want the public to notice this shift.”


TIME.

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