April 18, 2021

Every year in mid-March, Russian news becomes full of immense exaltation on the occasion of the next anniversary of Crimea annexation and, at the same time, of alarming reports due to the ongoing struggle of the Federal Security Services (FSB) of the Russian Federation, other special services and the police with numerous Islamic extremists and Ukrainian patriots who still make their presence felt on the peninsula.

This time on March 10, 2021, on the 7th anniversary of the occupation, FSB officers arrested freelance journalist Vladislav Yesypenko, who collaborates with Radio Liberty (Crimea. Realities project). V. Yesypenko was not brought to the Crimea from Kyiv as a “Ukrainian saboteur”, he has been living in Crimea for a long time and even received a Russian passport in 2014.

The fact that V. Yesypenko was detained the next day after his participation in the campaign dedicated to the 207th birthday of Taras Shevchenko (Ukrainian poet, artist and one of the designers of the Ukrainian political nation) in Simferopol is more than indicative. Everything was reduced (as it usually happens every year) to the usual commemorative practice — the solemn laying of flowers at the monument. That is, it was a formal, inoffensive ritual. Nevertheless, the occupation authorities perceive any somewhat pro-Ukrainian motion as a declaration of loyalty to official Kyiv and virtually a challenge to Moscow and personally to V. Putin.

Generally, the leadership of the Russian Federation is struggling to behave as if the Russian Federation is a global center of influence, which the entire planet has to reckon with. At the same time, Moscow feels it difficult to ignore the fact that all the G7 member states as well as most of the UN General Assembly countries consider the Russian Federation a gross violator of international law and do not recognize legitimate the affiliation of the peninsula to Russia. As a result, in order to retain the controversial Crimea de facto, the Russian authorities, both at the federal and local levels, are pursuing a policy of total cleansing of the peninsula from any persons suspected of the slightest disloyalty to the Kremlin.

At the same time, either because of the political background of the matter, or because of the lack of competence, the FSB officers do not bother themselves with planting truly extremist literature on Crimean Tatars and pro-Ukrainian residents — for example, some treatises of Wahhabis and Shia ayatollahs for Tatars or printed works of the leaders of the Ukrainian nationalist movement during the World War II. The Russian security services are so deeply plunged into hypocrisy and cynicism that they often limit themselves to purely symbolic evidence when bringing charges against the arrested residents of the peninsula.

That is, during the searches of the Crimean Tatars they find “Koran” — the sacred book of any Muslim worldwide, and “Kobzar” (a collection of poems of the first half of the 19th century) authored by Taras Shevchenko — when they come to pro-Ukrainian residents. It seems to be quite enough for the Russian judicial system to suspect people of extremism and bring charges against them. Sometimes, for a guarantee, grenades, weapons, cartridges and explosives are planted.

As for V. Yesypenko, the FSB charges him with “reconnaissance and subversive activities in favour of the special services of Ukraine”, namely “photographing and video recording of the locality, life support facilities and crowded places on the territory of Crimea”. In addition, an object “with signs of an homemade explosive device” was allegedly found in his car.

The last vague wording is not accidental, since investigators and prosecutors are obliged to clearly explain the sources and mechanisms of the suspects’ obtaining of (planted) weapons and grenades, while a homemade explosive device (theoretically) can be made by anyone. Moreover, in case of a sudden change in the political situation (that is, a Kremlin order), the investigation can always back down and declare that, as the materials of the examination show, the object that aroused suspicion is not a bomb.

Naturally, following the arrest of V. Yesypenko, they allowed neither of two independent lawyers (Alexey Ladin, Emil Kurbedinov) access him in the pre-trial detention centre, and insistently imposed their defender who cooperated with the FSB (we are talking about Violetta Sineglazova in this case). More than 100 people currently held in Russian prisons, whom Kyiv treats as Ukrainian political prisoners, have already faced this approach.

Actually, since 2014, Federal Security Service of Russia widely charges people of diversion or espionage for the benefit of Ukraine, responds with tortures or threats (including sexual abuses), makes psychological pressure (for instance, a promise to detain aged parents or interrogate children), practices directed interrogations (often in the absence of attorney) to make defendants mechanically push from inside themselves a memorized text, given by prosecution beforehand.

In this way, members of Federal Security Service of Russia charge V.Yesypenko of collecting the information for Ukrainian intelligence services. However, the journalist, who is not keen on to hide his positive attitude towards Ukraine (!), was aware to approach any objects of the ministry of defence, of the military-industrial complex or critical infrastructure, in order (God forbid!) not to compromise himself by any means.

In this way Russia tries to convince us that it has denounced a spy who did not hide, to avoid unnecessary attention, but instead openly expressed his pro-Ukrainian position and worked as freelance correspondent of international (de facto, American) media conglomerate. Of course, this is a kind of odd and, definitely, questionable case in the history of intelligence services.

So why V.Yesypenko provoked such an interest of Federal Security Services of Russia to be, as a result, cynically and hypocritically convicted of a crime? The explanation is easy and banal — it is hidden in professional activity of the journalist who reported on topical social issues and did opinion (nonrepresentative) polls!

While V.Yesypenko believed his work to be honest and non-biased reporting on the day-to-day reality, prevailing in different places all over the peninsula, Russia’s Federal Security Service represented his activity as deliberate efforts, made in order to discredit the politics of the Kremlin in Crimea. It would be enough to list the topics of his last reports:

– blurring of Bakalskaya Spit as a result of uncontrolled exploration of the building sand which is deliberate destruction of protected environmental area;

  • numerous problems caused artificially by local authorities to obstruct the work of private “Taigan” safari park and “Skazka” zoo, which were established by businessman Oleg Zubkov back before 2014;
  • social polls on the dynamics and the character of changes that have taken place in Crimea within the last seven years;
  • the coverage of the most sensitive social issues — permanent increase in the prices of goods, problems with the fresh water delivery, the cases of confiscation of property, the destruction of parks in many Crimean cities which results in uncontrolled building on these areas, etc.

Let us assume that the case of V.Yesypenko was rather a public punishment, some kind of demonstration targeted at the independent press (if such a kind still exists in Crimea) to make it be “obedient”, follow the common canons of happy existence of inhabitants of the peninsula. This is a sort of total annihilation of freedom of expression and the violation of human rights. A “picture of the future”, for people, who still are not afraid to voice their opinion openly, is clear — fabricated charges, false claims, cruel treatment and total violation of constitutional rights. This fate will threat everyone who will dare to express one’s attitude which contradicts the politics of the Kremlin aloud, or fail to prove the loyalty towards the local authorities and the government. This is a totalitarian state, isn’t it?

In the light of all economic and political sanctions imposed on Russia, the Kremlin keeps to neglect the lives of the people. And it happens in the age of globalization, digitalization, and the activity of international juridical establishments.

As for now, the chairman of “Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty” Jamie Fly has spoken in support of Yesypenko, and a number of Ukrainian organizations have done so — their opinion, to say a little, is not taken into account by Russia. This means that, in fact, without the support of international society, the journalist appears to be helpless and defenseless in the face of bloody (literally) Russian justice and law enforcement system.

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