October 6, 2017

Newsbriefs

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Russian FSB detains Crimean Tatars 

Lawyers say the authorities in Russia-controlled Crimea have detained four Crimean Tatars on suspicion of extremism in what activists and the Ukrainian government said was part of a discriminatory campaign targeting members of the Muslim group. The Federal Security Service (FSB) branch in Crimea, which Russia occupied and seized from Ukraine in 2014, said on October 2 that several members of Tablighi Jamaat, a Sunni Muslim movement that is banned in Russia, were apprehended. The head of the Russian-imposed government’s committee on ethnic issues, Zaur Smirnov, said that three Tablighi Jamaat cells on the Black Sea peninsula were “liquidated.” The FSB did not name the detainees, who it said would be charged with organizing “extremist activities.” But activists and lawyer Edem Semedlyayev told RFE/RL that Renat Suleymanov, Talyat Abdurakhmanov, Arsen Kubedinov and Seyran Mustafayev were detained after police and FSB officers searched their homes in Crimea on October 2. Ukrainian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Maryana Betsa sharply criticized Russia over the detentions. “The cynical searches and detentions are [like] those that were practiced by the NKVD,” Ms. Betsa tweeted, referring to a predecessor of the Soviet KGB. “We demand that Russia stop its discrimination against Crimean Tatars.” Tablighi Jamaat, which was founded in India in 1926, describes itself as a pacifist organization that is not involved in politics. The group was branded as extremist and officially banned in Russia in May 2009. (RFE/RL, with reporting by TASS and Interfax)

Ukraine remembers Babyn Yar massacre

Ukraine marked the 76th anniversary of the World War II-era massacre of 33,771 Jews by Nazi troops on the outskirts of occupied Kyiv. The slaughter of Jewish men, women, and children on September 29-30, 1941, at the Babyn Yar ravine was an early example of the industrial-scale murder the Nazis would employ in their quest to annihilate the Jews. By the end of the war, some 100,000 people of various ethnic and religious groups were executed at Babyn Yar. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Maryna Poroshenko attended the commemoration ceremony and laid flowers at the memorial to Babyn Yar victims. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service)

Russia denies it left troops in Belarus 

Russia has denied allegations from Ukraine that it left troops behind in Belarus after staging military exercises there, despite Moscow’s pledge not to do so. “As far as the Russian troops which took part in the joint strategic exercises, Zapad (West) 2017, they all returned to their permanent bases,” Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in an e-mailed statement late on September 30. The denial came after Viktor Muzhenko, the Ukrainian military’s chief of staff, made the claim in a September 29 interview with Reuters that threatens to heighten tensions between Moscow and Kyiv, which have been locked in a standoff over Russia’s 2014 seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and its backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine. The September 14-20 war games in Belarus and parts of western Russia triggered concerns in neighboring NATO nations already wary of Moscow’s intentions after its annexation of Crimea and military interference in eastern Ukraine. Moscow and Minsk said the maneuvers involved some 12,700 troops in the two countries combined, but Western officials have said the true number may have been around 100,000. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on the final day of the exercises that all Russian troops involved in the drills would leave Belarus. The Belarusian Defense Ministry said the last train of Russian troops who participated in the Zapad 2017 military drills left Belarus on September 28. (RFE/RL’s Belarus Service)

Sentsov may be moved to far north 

Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, who is serving a 20-year prison term in Russia, has said he believes he will be transferred to Russia’s northernmost prison camp near the village of Kharp in the Yamalo-Nenetsk Autonomous Region. Mr. Sentsov made the claim in a letter to Russian journalist Zoya Svetova that was received on September 29 and made public on September 30. The letter was dated September 17 and mailed on September 21 from a remand prison in Tyumen. Mr. Sentsov’s whereabouts have been a mystery since early September. Members of a public oversight commission in the Far Eastern city of Irkutsk reported on September 9 that Mr. Sentsov had been transferred from that city to the Urals city of Chelyabinsk. However, defense lawyers have had no idea of his location since then. “Physically, no one touches me,” Mr. Sentsov wrote. “But you know well that this system can in perverse ways punish and torment a person without the use of brute force.” A Russian court convicted Mr. Sentsov and co-defendant Oleksander Kolchenko in 2015 of planning to commit terrorist acts in the Ukrainian region of Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014. The two men deny the accusations. Mr. Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years, while Mr. Kolchenko received a 10-year term. In the run-up to the annexation, Mr. Sentsov was a local leader of the Euro-Maidan movement that forced Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych out of power. During the Crimea crisis of February and March 2014, he helped to deliver food and other supplies to Ukrainian troops who were trapped on their bases in Crimea by Russian forces. He publicly stated that he did not recognize Russia’s presence in Crimea. Western governments and leading rights organizations have called for Messrs. Sentsov and Kolchenko to be released. The Russian human rights center Memorial considers both men political prisoners. Russia has refused two requests from Kyiv to hand over Messrs. Sentsov and Kolchenko. (RFE/RL’s Russian Service)

UWC commends EU membership roadmap

The Ukrainian World Congress (UWC) welcomes the joint communiqué “Strategic Rethinking of the Eastern Partnership”, adopted by Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova on September 16 in Cadenabbia, Italy, within the framework of the Inter-Parliamentary Cooperation Initiative, that calls on the European Union (EU) to provide Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova with a roadmap for EU membership during the upcoming fifth Eastern Partnership Summit to be held in Brussels on November 24. The UWC said it supports this communiqué to jointly address the EU Parliament for resolution requesting the clear political support and practical roadmap for the membership; organize special hearings in EU Parliament on the future of Eastern Partnership; and organize special hearings in EU Parliament and other respective institutions on hybrid challenges and acts of aggression by Russia. The UWC also called on the EU to introduce additional sanctions against the Russian Federation for its continuing military aggression in the Donbas and its gross human rights violations in illegally occupied Crimea. “The Ukrainian World Congress is firmly committed to the prospect of Ukraine’s EU membership and calls on the EU to recognize and encourage the significant reform progress in Ukraine by granting it a credible EU membership prospective”, said UWC President Eugene Czolij. (UWC)

City councilor shot dead after interview

Officials in the central Ukrainian city of Cherkasy say a municipal councilor was shot dead just hours after the broadcast of a television interview he gave about corruption within the city’s utility services. Local police said Mykhailo Binusov, head of the Cherkasy branch of the Ukrainian Union of Patriots (UKROP) party, died at the scene of the shooting late on September 28. The were no immediate arrests in connection with the killing, which police said was carried out by “unknown assailants.” Police said the death was being investigated as a case of “premeditated murder.” Mr. Binusov was appointed on September 22 as the acting director of a City Council department that oversees the management and operations of municipal utility services. Cherkasy Mayor Anatoliy Bondarenko said Mr. Binusov’s main task at that point was to bring an end to corruption within the utility services. Mr. Bondarenko also said Mr. Binusov was expected to be elected the secretary of the City Council within the next few days. (RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service, with reporting by UNIAN)

Depot blasts ‘blow’ to combat capability

Explosions at two large Ukrainian military depots this year have caused losses of ammunition so high that they represent the biggest blow to Ukraine’s combat capability since the start of the conflict with Russia-backed separatists in 2014, a senior security official said on September 28 in Kyiv. Massive blasts followed by a blaze at a military depot near Kalynivka in the Vinnytsia region, 270 kilometers west of Kyiv, forced the evacuation of 30,000 people on September 27. Another depot in the eastern city of Kharkiv was destroyed in March. That blast was blamed on sabotage. Electricity and gas supplies were cut off in the Vinnytsia area, and trains were severely delayed across the country. In Kalynivka, firefighters on September 28 were still unable to put out the blaze because there were still periodic explosions at the site, said Mykola Chechotkin, chief of the State Service for Emergency Situations. “The country has suffered the biggest blow to our fighting capacity since the start of the war,” the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, Oleksander Turchynov, told journalists. However, the country’s chief military prosecutor ruled out the possibility that the blast had been caused by foreign saboteurs. According to local media reports, about 188,000 tons of munitions were kept at the depot, including shells for Grad multiple-rocket launchers. Chief military prosecutor Anatoliy Matios on September 28 rejected earlier statements from authorities suggesting that foreign saboteurs may have set the depot on fire. He said investigators were looking into possible negligence, abuse of power, or sabotage by those who were authorized to handle the ammunition. He added that the investigation found that the fire alarm at the depot wasn’t functioning and that its security team was understaffed. In the aftermath of the blast, authorities said they launched checks at military bases across Ukraine and discovered serious violations. (RFE/RL, with reporting by AP, Reuters and Interfax)

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