Sentsov list: What’s next?

Mykhailo Gonchar,
CGS Strategy XXI,
Kyiv, Ukraine

The West has enthusiastically welcomed the release of Ukrainian director Oleg Sentsov by Russia into a group of 11 Kremlin political prisoners. This has been seen as an indicator of Russian-Ukrainian reconciliation. But for many in Europe, the Russian aggression against Ukraine, dubbed “the conflict in and around Ukraine,” and the fact that the Putin regime is engaged in repression of the Stalinist model in the occupied territories of Crimea and Donbas, remain little known.

To the honor of the EU, we would like to remind that the newly elected European Parliament, in one of its first resolutions on July 18, 2019, named 130 people who were repressed by the Russian occupation authorities. The release on September 7 of Oleg Sentsov, who was serving a 20-year sentence in one of Russia’s most fearsome polar colonies after being accused of terrorism, as well as several other prominent prisoners, aimed to remove from the media the names of those called by Western politicians and diplomats during contacts with Russian counterparts.

But the Sentsov’s list is not limited to 11 surnames. Ukrainian Ombudsman Lyudmila Denysova points out that 113 more remain in the Russian prisons and are on the exchange list. These are those who are in one way or another connected with Crimea, above all, activists of the Crimean Tatar people who were deported from their homeland by Stalin’s order in 1944.

And there are still 227 people held by Russian proxies in the occupied territories of the east of Donbas. Among them, writer and journalist Stanislav Aseev, who wrote reports from the occupied territories for a number of Ukrainian publications and Radio Liberty under the pseudonym Stas Vasin. He has been sentenced recently to 15 years.

The Kremlin’s calculation is simple – if you remove the most media-dominant names from the list of Sentsov, then the lesser known names will remain on the list, and the problem will no longer be a problem. However, the Kremlin forgets that Ukraine is not Russia. There is a strong civil society in Ukraine, a human rights movement, which have a good memory and understand why certain people become in the focus of Russian intelligence services. A typical example is the case of Sevastopol saboteurs. On November 9, 2016, Oleksii Bessarabov, Dmytro Shtyblykov and Volodymyr Dudka, were arrested. Oleksii Bessarabov is a journalist, deputy editor-in-chief of the Black Sea Security Journal, which had been published quarterly by the NOMOS Center in Sevastopol since 2005. D. Shtyblykov was the head of international programs of the NOMOS Center, a member of the editorial board of the magazine. Both in the late 90’s – early 2000’s served in the Navy of Ukraine, as well as the third member of the “group of saboteurs” – V. Dudka, who had retired long time ago.

Both Oleksii and Dmytro predicted Russian aggression against Ukraine. In April 2011, O. Bessarabov wrote in one of his articles: “Today, Russia does not apply military and political pressure on Ukraine, preferring to seize its strategic assets and use economic absorption… Such a course of events does not exclude the likelihood of a situation escalating into a conflict, including using force.”

D. Shtyblykov, who after Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, predicted that Crimea would be next, said in October 2012: “In terms of military and economic performance, Russia is now unable to wage a war with either NATO, China or Japan. The obvious conclusion is that the armed forces of the Russian Federation today are able to fully handle combat missions in the post-Soviet territory.”

Such conclusions and forecasts provoked the command of the Russian base of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation in the Ukrainian Sevastopol. In essence, analysts have revealed the future intentions of the Putin regime to occupy Crimea. Therefore, the Kremlin’s revenge came after Russia’s annexation of the peninsula. The FSB had falsified the “sabotage case,” which “on the task of Ukrainian intelligence had to carry out sabotage on the peninsula”. The cases were considered closed. Independent lawyers were not admitted to them. Dmitry Shtyblykov received a 5-years sentence in a penal colony. Oleksii Bessarabov and Volodymyr Dudka each received 14 years. The names of Bessarabov, Shtyblykov and Dudka are on the lists of Ukrainian human rights organizations, as well as Freedom House (USA) and Russian Memorial as political prisoners.

Just after the exchange on September 7, two more citizens of Ukraine were arrested in Crimea. Russia continues repressions. In the meantime, with the assistance of a number of European governments, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline through the Baltic Sea continues to be built. The Kremlin is convinced that the European desire to have business with Russia will, as usual, outweigh the issue of brutal violation of the rights of Ukrainian citizens in the occupied territories.

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