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Russia in The Hague: the lies, the fakes, and the fairy tales

Agents of Russia at the International Court of Justice during the hearings. Photo: ICJ
Russia in The Hague: the lies, the fakes, and the fairy tales

On 7 March 2017, representatives of Russia were given the floor to answer Ukraine’s accusations of funding terrorism and discriminating against Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars in the International Court of Justice, the UN’s principal judicial organ (ICJ). The previous day, Agents of Ukraine had asked for provisional measures as they accused Russia of breaching the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (Terrorism Financing Convention) by funding and supporting militants in the Donbas, and of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) by repressing Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians in the Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in 2014.

Read the details: Full text of Ukraine’s case against Russia in UN court

Unsurprisingly, Russia denied the accusations and claimed that the ICJ had no jurisdiction over the case. Here are some fakes, lies, and manipulations Russia is using in The Hague.

Fakes in the speeches of Russia’s agents

Claim: Using Russia’s usual terminology of a “coup” to refer to Euromaidan, Russia’s Agent Roman Kolodkin, the Russian foreign ministry’s legal director, asserted that the reason for the public uprising was the actions of the Ukrainian opposition who supposedly presented the Ukrainian people with a choice to choose either Europe or Russia.

Reality: Russia pressured Ukraine to turn away from its chosen path of Eurointegration. Then Prime Minister Azarov was quoted as saying prior to Euromaidan that Russian officials told him that “further discussions of trade and economic regimes would not make sense” if Ukraine were to sign the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. Furthermore, Russia had at the end of 2013 given Ukraine’s disgraced ex-President Yanukovych a multibillion-dollar loan which, as experts believe, was promised to Ukraine as a compensation (or a bribe) for refusal from Eurointegration.

Claim: Kolodkin stated that one of the first steps of Ukraine’s new government was to “strip the Russian language of its official status.”

Reality: The Russian language never had official status in Ukraine. Some languages, including Russian, had the status of regional languages in separate regions, according to the much-disputed law on Language Policy in Ukraine, adopted by the Yanukovych administration in Ukraine with multiple violations in Parliament. The law, which served as a permanent source of tensions in Ukraine, was indeed abolished shortly after Euromaidan, but the decision was swiftly repealed until there would be a new law, in order to not cause additional unrest. Currently, this law is still the legal framework for Ukraine’s language policy.

Claim: Kolodkin, following Russia’s endless false allegations regarding the supposed “massacre” of Euromaidan opponents in Odesa on 2 May 2014, stated that the death of the 42 pro-Russian supporters in the city’s Trade Union Building was a deliberate act, and even claiming that the Euromaidan supporters attacked their opponents.

Reality: The Odesa tragedy was an unfortunate accident, not a “massacre,” which is supported by the Council of Europe’s International Advisory Panel. A film by a human rights coalition in Odesa reconstructs the events and shows that the violence was sparked by the pro-Russian camp.

Claim: Kolodkin asserted that Russia was not financing terrorism through support for the militants in Donbas, claiming that Ukraine was “stigmatizing a significant part of the Ukrainian population who had self-organized to form the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s ‘republics’ as terrorists and the Russian Federation as sponsor of terrorism.”

Reality: There is extensive proof that Russia is not only supporting illegal anti-government armed groups in Donbas but had organized the conflict in the first place.

Former Russian FSB colonel Igor Girkin (“Strelkov”) himself admitted in an interview how he “pulled the trigger of war” in Donbas when he, after helping Russia establish control over Crimea, pulled together a unit of Russian and local volunteers who started seizing police stations in Donbas to obtain weapons: “If our unit had not crossed the border, it would have all ended as it did in Kharkiv or Odesa. Several dozen casualties, those with burns and those arrested. And that would have been the end of it… It was practically our unit, which got this ongoing war moving.”

Together with another Muscovite Aleksandr Borodai, he became the first leaders of the “DNR.” But many other figureheads of the Russian-backed “republics” were Russian nationals. Only later did they start to be replaced with locals.

Thousands of Russian soldiers have died in Ukraine, and two GRU officers have been caught in Donbas (later they were swapped for Ukrainian military pilot Nadiya Savchenko who had been held in Russia on trumped-up charges). Tank regiments from Siberia have been documented to participate in the fighting. One representative of Siberia’s Buryat nationality even gave a widely circulated interview from his hospital bed in Donetsk, where he was being treated after a tank battle with the Ukrainian army. Open source monitoring by the Informnapalm investigative community has shown that at least 75 regular Russian military units are involved in the war in Donbas and the militants in the “republics” are using 31 different types of weapons systems that could have only come from Russia. It has been shown that the so-called “republics” can’t exist without external financing. Furthermore, open source research by Bellingcat illustrates how Russia shelled Ukraine across the border. 

Claim: Kolodkin claimed that Russia is not providing the militants with weapons and that they are using old Soviet supplies which were left in the coal mines of Donbas, as well as the weapons that the Ukrainian army left behind.

Reality: The Russian-backed militants are using weapons that have been produced only in Russia, and their quantity is much larger than what Ukraine possesses. In particular, in 2015 the “DNR” and “LNR” forces had 700 tanks while Ukraine had only 300.

Read more: Separatists in Donbas have more tanks than Germany, France, and Czech Republic combined

Yevropeiska Pravda noted that the key depots of old Soviet weapons in Donbas is situated in Bakhmut. In 2014, the Russian-backed militants attempted to take over the military base containing the depot, but were rebutted and did not enter the territory.

Claim: Kolodkin stated that Ukraine took over Crimea illegally in 1991 without asking the population, and misinformed the UN Court that Crimeans could not choose if they wanted to live in an independent Ukraine.

Reality: The majority of voters in Crimea voted in support of Ukraine’s independence.

Fakes in the documents Russia submitted to The Hague

A 600-page document which was registered by the Russian side in the secretariat of the Court prior to the hearings was analyzed by Serhiy Sydorenko writing for Yevropeiska Pravda. Here we present his key findings.

Video of Poroshenko redacted by Russian TV used to “prove” Ukraine wants to commit terror in Donbas. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, speaking in Odesa, said that Ukraine will win the war in Donbas because the occupation of Donbas by the militants places them under suffering, in which they do not have pensions and are forced to hide in cellars. Russia’s News Channel One manipulated Poroshenko’s words and took them out of context, circulating a video titled  “Poroshenko: Children from Donbas will be Sitting in Cellars.” This incident has been debunked by StopFake.

On page 566 of the document, Russia used fake news to accuse Ukraine of using phosphorous bombs over Donbas. The Russian MFA presents this as a fact and even provides the specific time and place – 12 June 2014, Semenivka, near Sloviansk.

Three years ago, Russian media indeed released reports of Ukraine using phosphorous bombs over Ukraine, but the following events proved that this was a clear fake – there was zero on-the-ground evidence that such bombs were used, like burnt ground or burns of local residents. However, Ukraine’s Ministry of Interior later released a telephone intercept in which the representative of the pro-Russian militants Andriy Purgin has a conversation with an unidentified Russian interlocutor, in which Purgin admits that there were no signs of phosphorous bombs being used. It’s likely that the video shows illuminating shells.

Russian media published reports on Ukraine’s alleged use of phosphorous bombs in Donbas, but they were debunked every time.

Sydorenko writes that a separate section of the report concerns accusations of who started shooting first.

For instance, Russia submitted information about the mortar shelling of a bus stop in Donetsk in which up to 13 civilians died on 22 January 2015. However, this is an example of a terrorist act of militants controlled by Russia, as it was carried out from occupied territory. The distance to the nearest Ukrainian positions is 20 km, which is twice the maximum distance of a mortar salvo. Ukraine’s Prosecutor’s Office has opened proceedings under the article of a “terrorist act” regarding this case.  However, the Donetsk media, naturally, accuse the Ukrainian army.

Another example is the shelling of Donetsk on 5 November 2014, when a missile hit a school stadium, killing two children and wounding several others. This situation is more complicated because the OSCE mission in its report indicated that the missile flew in from the NW direction, i.e. from Ukrainian-controlled territory. But numerous media investigations done based on the photos of Russian journalists (which arrived on the spot immediately after the explosion) prove that the shelling was done from Makiivka on occupied territory.

Most of the other episodes have no clear proof of the guilt of one side of the other. For instance, as a result of the shelling of a checkpoint in Olenivka on 27 April 2016, when five people died, both sides exchanged accusations for the tragic accident.

One thing Russia doesn’t do in this report is give an answer to the numerous videos freely circulating online which document how the Russian-backed militants open fire from residential areas, attempting to provoke a Ukrainian counter-attack which would then cause civilian damage. The report contains only two photos of tanks which are moving (not shooting) down the streets of government-controlled Avdiivka. OSCE vehicles stand near the military equipment in one of these photos. It’s unclear what these photos can prove, as the Russian representatives stressed in their speech that these images prove the Ukrainian army engaged in warfare from within residential areas.

Overall, Russia’s mission in The Hague is to prove that a “coup” and “civil war” is taking place in Ukraine, writes Sydorenko. Kolodkin repeated these theses, which Russian media loves so much, many times in his speech. Most of Russia’s explanations are grounded on the assertion that the establishment of a Kyiv “junta” led to Ukraine’s regions rebelling against the post-Euromaidan government.

Thus, a large part of the visual proof of the 600-page document concerns events during Euromaidan in the winter of 2014. The judges are offered to take a look at a “Molotov cocktail” and a Berkut officer offering help to a wounded demonstrator (no shots of Berkut officers beating student demonstrators or shooting them with sniper rifles were provided, though).

It remains to be seen how this “proof” will influence the judges in the International Court of Justice.


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