September 20, 2015 by AK
Last week, the head of the Russian Investigative Committee, Alexander Bastrykin, sensationally claimed that the Prime Minister of Ukraine, Arseny Yatsenyuk, had fought on the side of Chechen separatists in December 1994 – February 1995 against Russian troops and, moreover, had taken part in the torture and killing of Russian prisoners of war.
In response, Yatsenyuk suggested that Bastrykin seek psychiatric help. Unfortunately, I don’t think Bastrykin’s off-the-wall charge was merely a glitch of an unsound mind. Thanks to the independent Russian media, one can tell why and where it came from; more could be still to come.
Here’s the BBC reporting from Grozny. Two Ukrainians have gone on trial before the supreme court of Chechnya on the same charges as the fantastic accusation against Yatsenyuk. One of the Ukrainian defendants was kidnapped in Ukraine and held incommunicado for year and a half, the other arrested during a visit to Russia in 2014 and denied access to a lawyer or a consul for a year.
They were most likely tortured and signed “confessions” implicating both themselves and some prominent Ukrainians, including Yatsenyuk, in war crimes committed by separatists in Chechnya in the 1990s. It is also likely they have recanted or will do so before the court. However, Russian courts routinely privilege statements made during preliminary investigations over those made in court and never suppress statements made under duress. (To some degree, this seems to be a general failure of the inquisitorial approach: Italian courts also give disproportionate credence to investigation-stage statements, however obtained.) The court would issue a ruling “establishing” the guilt of the two Ukrainians and their association with Yatsenyuk.
Upon which, not only Russia’s chief investigator but its president would feel free to accuse Yatsenyuk of killing Russian POWs in 1995, referring to that ruling by an “independent” court. On the other hand, Moscow’s agenda is changing and the court’s “findings” may end up in storage or in the wastebin. Unfortunately, that alone won’t help the kidnapped Ukrainians in the near term; more publicity might.