Russia Claims Political Prisoner Sentsov Cannot Be Returned To Ukraine Because He Is Now ‘Russian’

October 21, 2016
Oleg Sentsov in court in Rostov-on-Don on July 21, 2015. Photo: Sergey Pivovarov / Reuters

Ukraine Day 977: LIVE UPDATES BELOW.

Yesterday’s live coverage of the Ukraine conflict can be found here.


An Invasion By Any Other Name: The Kremlin’s Dirty War in Ukraine


Ukrainian Soldier Wounded After Heavy Fighting In Avdeyevka

The Ukrainian military reports heavy shelling yesterday across most of the front line in the Donetsk region.
Colonel Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, told reporters today that one Ukrainian soldier had been wounded by enemy fire in Avdeyevka, north of Donetsk.

It was in this area that the ATO Press Center reported intense shelling yesterday, with Russia-backed forces using 152 and 122 mm artillery, as well as mortars and tanks.

There were corresponding reports of fighting in the north of Donetsk on social media last night:

This video shows a Ukrainian BTR armored personnel carrier firing from within a building in the front-line Avdeyevka industrial park yesterday:

Across the whole front line, the military reported 41 attacks yesterday.

The military also reported continued, heavy shelling to the west and south of Donetsk.

According to the report, Ukrainian positions near Krasngorovka and Maryinka, west of the separatist-held regional capital; Taramchuk, on the highway between Donetsk and Mariupol; and Shirokino, east of the port city; were all shelled with 120 and 82 mm mortars.

Stanitsa Luganskaya, one of three proposed demilitarized zones, was again shelled with 82 mm mortars. 

Meanwhile further shelling was reported near Mariupol this afternoon:

Translation: Mariupol – incoming.

— Pierre Vaux

Klimkin Says Ukraine Will Regain Control Of Border 2 Days After Local Elections In Donbass

The Ukrainian foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, has announced that Ukraine will accept the return of Ukrainian control over the entire border with Russia in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions after local elections are held in occupied territories.

UNIAN reports that during a press conference today, Klimkin said that first of all, the OSCE must be granted full access to the border in order to monitor and verify the withdrawal of Russian troops and weaponry. 

Currently, the OSCE is only allowed access to two border crossings between Russia and occupied regions of Ukraine. This allows the Russian military to freely move hardware and personnel in and out of Ukraine without monitoring.

While the German and Ukrainian leaders announced yesterday that they had reached an agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin on allowing the OSCE unfettered access to the entire border, the Russian side has not explicitly confirmed this so far.

After this has been achieved, Klimkin said today, local elections – long a point of controversy in Ukraine, can be held in the occupied territories.

Ukrainian control over the entire border between the Donbass and Russia will then be returned on the “second day after the elections.”

While this does suggest that one of the major diplomatic impasses may have finally been overcome, in theory at least, there are still major issues.

Firstly, Russian guarantees have been repeatedly proven void, with every ceasefire agreement reached in the last two years having been violated in short succession.

Secondly, the Russia-backed separatists leadership has regularly stated that they will not hold elections in accordance with Ukrainian law – a key stipulation of the Minsk agreements.

Thirdly, the timing of the deal suggests that, even if such an arrangement is followed through, Russia may use their control of the border at the time of the elections to manipulate the outcome in their favour. 

The deployment of an armed OSCE police mission has been discussed, with all parties publicly declaring their support for such a proposal, in principle at least. This could perhaps help counter such interference in the democratic process.

But Russia, as a member of the OSCE, could also work to undermine the capabilities of the mission. In addition, the recent stage-managed “protests” against the introduction of an OSCE police mission in separatist-held Lugansk and Donetsk, suggests the Kremlin would hinder the task force via use of “popular resistance.” Just as likely, provocations could be arranged to present the Ukrainian side as destabilizing the process. 

— Pierre Vaux

Russia Claims Political Prisoner Sentsov Cannot Be Returned To Ukraine Because He Is Now ‘Russian’

The Russian Ministry of Justice has announced that it will not return film director Oleg Sentsov to Ukraine because they claim he is now a Russian national.

Sentsov, a film director from Simferopol, Crimea, was arrested in May, 2014, by the occupying Russian authorities and charged and convicted, along with Gennady Afanasyev and Aleksandr Kolchenko, with terrorism.

The trial was internationally condemned as a show trial and international human rights groups and Western governments have repeatedly called on Russia to release the men.

Afanasyev, who said that testimony he had given that incriminated Sentsov and Kolchenko had been extracted under torture, was returned to Ukraine in June this year as part of a prisoner exchange.

Meanwhile Sentsov and Kolchenko, having both been sentenced to 20 and 10 years  in prison, respectively, have both been transferred to remote penal colonies.

But while hopes were buoyed following the release of military officer Nadiya Savchenko and Afanasyev, a few weeks apart, there has been no movement on Sentsov or Kolchenko’s cases.
Today, Serhiy Petukhov, Ukraine’s deputy justice minister, posted a letter received from the Russian Ministry of Justice on his Facebook page:

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2016-10-21 13:19:52

Astonishingly, the letter, signed on October 7 by Valery Lysak, deputy director of the Department for International Law and Cooperation at the Ministry of Justice, says that Sentsov could not be transferred to Ukraine because he is a Russian citizen.
According to Lysak, Sentsov became a Russian citizen when Russia formally annexed Crimea in March, 2014. That month, the Russian government introduced a law stipulating that all permanent residents of the occupied Ukrainian peninsula would have to formally apply to the authorities within a month of the measure coming into force in order to reject Russian citizenship.
Sentsov, who was unable to conduct the formal process to reject Russian citizenship due to his detention, protested during a court hearing on July 7, 2014:
“I wish to protest against attempts to deprive me of Ukrainian citizenship since I have been and I remain a citizen of Ukraine. I am not a serf to be flung, together with land, into citizenship. I did not write any applications to receive Russian citizenship and reject Ukrainian. I do not accept the Russian Federation’s annexation and military seizure of the Crimea and consider any agreements which the illegitimate Crimean government makes with Russian to be invalid”
In January, 2015, a Crimean court denied an appeal against forced Russian citizenship from Sentsov’s co-defendant, Aleksandr Kolchenko.
In April that year, it was reported that the European Court of Human Rights would examine the legality of the imposition of Russian citizenship on Crimean residents, but no ruling has come forth so far.
Meanwhile Russia refuses to allow Ukrainian consuls access to prisoners held in occupied Crimea or the Russian Federation.
This is because, as Lysak wrote in the letter above, Russian law demands that any citizen holding citizenship of both Russia and another state must only be treated as if a Russian citizen.
This absurd situation is made all the more baffling by the fact that Russia has not applied these rules consistently.
After all, Afanasyev was released despite being born, like Sentsov, in Simferopol. 
Furthermore, Afanasyev was swapped by the Russian authorities for two Ukrainian citizens — Yelena Glishchinskaya and Vitaliy Didenko, who were arrested in April, 2015, on charges of organizing separatist activists in Odessa.
— Pierre Vaux