Russia and Ukraine are separated by a weak boundary line in protecting human rights and civil, social and political freedom. Four years later, the consequences of separatist tension in Crimea and the violent military escalation in eastern Ukraine, have finally cracked the diplomatic relations between Kiev and Moscow.
Among the folds of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the denial of fundamental safeguards in the detention of war’s prisoners and political dissidents faces the alternation of relaxing phases – prerequisite for the effective implementation of the Minsk I (2014) and II (2015) agreements-, alternating bilateral frictions in compliance with the same conditions signed.
At the Berlin summit (18 June), the “Normandy Quartet” diplomats (formed by Russia, Ukraine, France, Germany) discussed the removal of heavy weapons and de-mining operations in areas affected by the conflict. Operations that, as German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas recalled, imply respect for the ceasefire and a coordinated control room at the supranational level.
Can the United Nations unite Ukraine?, asks a report by the Hudson Institute (2018), which outlines the geopolitical scenario of a possible UN peacekeeping mission in the Donbass. Prospected for 2019, the intervention of the Blue Helmets would encounter a double obstacle: in the Security Council, Russia will exert pressure to block the initiative, prolonging the impasse; while the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk (DPR) and Luhansk (LPR), both signatories along with Russia and Ukraine of the Minsk Protocol (2014), have already announced that they want to oppose any external intervention.
Areas of tension and street activism: the Ukrainian crisis of 2014
In February 2014, the suspension of the political and economic partnership agreement with the European Union (Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area, Dcfta) and the acceptance of a loan granted by Russia (15 billion more tranches) lead thousands of pro-European Ukrainians in Majdan Nezaležnosti, the central square of the capital Kiev, to demand the resignation of President Viktor Janukovyč. In 48 hours, between 21 and 22 February, after weeks of increasing social and political tension, popular protests culminated in the country, arousing growing internal pressure in Parliament. Events which first forced Janukovyč to negotiate a difficult agreement with the oppositions and, the following day, determined his dismissal, in a motion voted in large majority by the Verkhovna Rada.
In the same hours, the assembly approved a bill for the restoration of the previous Constitution (2004), arranging a rebalancing between the presidential and parliamentary powers, as well as an amnesty provision for the “unconditional” release of the detained detainees and the reform of the penal code, which puts an end to the detention of Yulia Tymoshenko, leader of the so-called ‘orange revolution‘ (2004) and prime minister for two terms. Russian President Vladimir Putin, a supporter of the destitute Ukrainian head of state, announced: “We must start working to return Crimea to Russia“, welcoming, with these words, the decision of the Russian Federal Council on the deployment of troops in the peninsula and the strengthening military contingents in the naval base of Sevastopol, to “provide assistance in order to ensure peace and public order“. Fair reaction, commented Janukovyč, “to the events witnessed by our country and the whole world as an example of a coup d’etat“.
On the opposite front, the nationalist political forces, as claimed by the current Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakhov, imputed to Janukovyč the direct responsibility in the “mass killings of civilians“, followed by the violent repression of civil demonstrations, also reported by Amnesty International and Reporter Sans Frontières – his successor to the presidency, Petro Poroshenko, recognized, by decree, the 130 civilians and 18 policemen killed “heroes of Ukraine“. On 16 March, a referendum for the self-determination of Crimea was held, which collects more than 97% of votes in favor of independence, sanctioning de facto the birth of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, later annexed to the Russian Federation (unilateral act not recognized by the international community, which cost Russia exclusion from the G8). Conflict that, in the first days of April, extends in the East region of the Donbass.
Still underway, “the forgotten war on the frontiers of Europe“, as The Guardian recalls, has led to the destruction of infrastructures and cities, causing the death of over 10,000 people between Ukrainian and Russian soldiers and civilians.
Oleg Sentsov, a transnational case
“I do not know what would be worthy beliefs if you are not ready to suffer or die for them”: these are the words pronounced by the director Oleg Sentsov in a hearing held in 2015, in front of the Rostov-on-Don (Russia) military court. Last May, #SaveOlegSentsov campaign, launched on social networks by many personalities from the Russian and international entertainment world, drew the attention of Western politicians and media. On the newspaper Le Monde (12 August 2018), French Minister of Culture Françoise Nyssen signed, together with the directors Jean-Luc Godard and Ken Loach, an appeal for the immediate release of the Ukrainian filmmaker, author of the film Gamer (2011). Among the young pro-European of Automaidan, Sentsov took part in a series of events better known as Euromaidan (started in November 2013). Committed as a civilian volunteer in support of Ukrainian troops during the 24 days of the Crimean crisis, the director, accused of “plotting terrorist attacks” against Russia, was sentenced to twenty years in prison to be served in the Siberian penal colony of Labytnangi: an autograph letter published by The Guardian, he denounced being beaten up by Russian agents to make him confess. The “poor health conditions“, highlighted by the defense lawyer Dmitry Dinze at Radio Liberty, are the direct consequence of the prolonged hunger strike, started on May 14, to call for an end to the injustices perpetrated by the Russian administration against the Ukrainian dissidents – in addition to him, 64 prisoners are held. The ‘Sentsov case‘ was the subject of a resolution voted in June by the European Parliament (2018/2754 RSP), which “expresses its deep concern over the tendency to detain, attack, discredit intimidation against independent journalists and human rights defenders working in Russia“.