The Crimean show trial

The conviction and jailing of Oleg Sentsov and Alexander Kolchenko for “terrorism” are shameful and will stain Russia and its pro-Putin citizens for years to come, unless the injustice is promptly remedied.

Alexander Sokurov, the great Russian director of our time, has raised his voice against this travesty. He views Sentsov as a legitimate civil protester: “If at home, in St. Petersburg, the same started to happen as in Crimea, I would not be silent — it is simply shameful: how would people look at me then?” (Andrei Zvyagintsev also supports Sentsov.)

Russia arrested the Ukriainian activists in Russia-occupied territory and tried them in a military court. The right to a fair trial is denied most Russian citizens; Sentsov could not hope for an exemption. Besides, virtually no country recognizes Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea and, therefore, the Russian courts’ jurisdiction over the area.

Sentsov was accused of setting up a “terrorist organization,” a vague and meaningless charge. There were three specific charges: two acts of terrorism; two planned acts of terrorism; possession of explosives and guns.

The two “acts of terrorism” were setting fire to the offices of United Russia and of the Russian Community of Crimea, both agents of the country that had annexed the region from Ukraine. No one was injured because both times, somebody threw a Molotov cocktail bottle late at night, when the offices were empty. A door and a window frame damaged, and some office equipment. These were purely symbolic acts.

The two “planned acts of terrorism” were plotting to blow up a statue of Lenin and the Eternal Flame monument in Simferopol on the Victory Day, May 9. Under Stalin, people got accused of digging tunnels from Moscow to Tokio and poisoning wells with plague-infected broken glass. This comes close. But if the accusation were less insane, blowing up monuments would be an act of symbolic vandalism, not of terror.

It would not come close to the IRA or Hamas, even if the charges were true.


  1. Sounds like the late Soviet persecution of Sergei Parajanov, another director sentenced to prison on trumped-up charges. IIRC one of the reasons Parajanov got into trouble was his closeness to Ukrainian nationalists. His film “Kyiv Frescoes” was banned when it was still half-finished and only a limited amount of footage survives. I’d have to dig out my copy of J. Steffen’s recent biography to check further details.

    Putin is recreating the Brezhnev era.

    • Either Parajanov himself or people who knew him used to say that he was an Armenian born in Georgia and imprisoned in Russia for Ukrainian nationalism. Sentsov is a native of Crimea but in a sense, he’s (also) a Ukrainian by choice.

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