Copyright © 2021

The work of Euromaidan Press is supported by the International Renaissance Foundation

When referencing our materials, please include an active hyperlink to the Euromaidan Press material and a maximum 500-character extract of the story. To reprint anything longer, written permission must be acquired from [email protected].

Privacy and Cookie Policies.

Russia is getting rid of inconvenient witnesses for The Hague — Mark Feigin

Photo: BBC
Russia is getting rid of inconvenient witnesses for The Hague — Mark Feigin

In his interview with Espresso journalist Antin Borkovskyi, Mark Feigin, one of the Russian lawyers who had defended Nadiya Savchenko, shared his views on the ongoing Ukraine vs. Russia court process in the Hague and explained why the leaders of the Donbas “militants” are being eliminated.

The session of the Hague tribunal is taking place and we hope that finally the “t’s” will be crossed and “i’s” will be dotted and the state criminals who perhaps were behind the downing of the Malaysian airliner and countless war crimes will be named finally. What are the chances?

The public discussion in a court setting of issues that previously were limited to newspaper columns and TV news is already a step forward. At least if there is some semblance of a resolution of the issue it would be a step forward, because all statements are already legal assessments. It is one thing to spread fake news about crucified boys and another thing to answer in court. Because in court you won’t get far with that kind of fake.

I remember very well the UN meeting led by the late Ambassador Churkin, who called white black and black white and who nonetheless felt very good about it and, as it turned out, had fairly good relations with Samantha Power, whom he confronted during all these battles.

Therefore, I’m afraid that … we will hear many correct and desirable words, but in the end Ukraine will be in the position of Gogol’s widow who supposedly flogged herself by herself. This is what I fear.

Yes, this danger exists and it is serious. It would be foolish to deny it. The 20th century gave us a single example, in occupied Germany after World War II, where it was possible to implement these international relations, since all the war criminals who had started the war were among the defendants. Then it is much easier to judge these people. But as long as they’re in power, as long as they are at their posts …

…. as long as Milošević is in the presidential chair there is little hope that he will get his due and a thousand year sentence.

Milošević is of a much lower caliber. We can’t even compare him with Putin but with someone on a much smaller scale. And, of course, in this situation I’m skeptical that a court decision would return Crimea as long as Putin is in power and the imperial system of government remains in Russia.

Now if you tried some Somalian or Rwandan dictator, the chances would be much higher because (the verdict) would be ensured by strength of the superpowers. In this instance, there are also purely institutional obstacles. We must not forget that Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and can block any decisions — even the legal ones.

In other words, in the UN Security Council they can veto or postpone a decision, even a court’s decision, indefinitely?

You know they can invent a thousand ways to influence the court itself and its decision. Russia has demonstrated this many times; the right of veto under the UN charter is quite extensive. We saw that practically no issue can pass through this filter unless Russia finds that it is in its interests.

We say Russia but mean the Kremlin. To imagine that the Kremlin would voluntarily agree to flog itself is very unlikely.

And other grounds? We understand that there are very clever guys at the Kremlin and they are served by no less clever guys with  legal educations. And we understand that they have the motivation to make sure that Ukraine appears as the extreme one, not surprisingly.

You  know, for them it is very important to participate in procedures,  And this is why the rhetoric of (Kremlin spokesman) Dmitry Peskov or of any other official person takes the form “we do not deny, we are not withdrawing from the Council of Europe, we recognize the Human Rights Council. We are taking part in this UN international court as members of the Security Council and as guarantors of this body.”

Although, if you look at the court’s competence — simply open Wikipedia — it is very limited, by the way, even in its decisions and, in general, it is doubtful that the decision would include a black and white statement to return Crimea. It is very unlikely they would reach this decision.

Rhetoric is one thing, and real action is something quite different. How could they do it? For example, by bringing the decision on this matter to a purely optional level, purely as a recommendation. These possibilities are also due to the lack of clarity regarding the facts that the warring parties will be presenting in court.

The court will not take it upon itself to decide the fate of Crimea, the Donbas, the downed airliner, but it will pass it on to the discretion of other courts, including legal ones, and the decision will be referential. This is one of the options that will simply delay the process for decades.

But what about the obvious specific murderers? We understand that the Malaysian Boeing airliner was shot down by specific murderers. The Ukrainian side is trying to demonstrate it by providing certain evidence for its arguments, but … how can it be proved? It’s impossible to prove it, that there was a motive and so on.

We understand that this is legal chatter, but  in reality we know this can influence a concrete decision in this case.

The materials are submitted by Ukraine and not only for Ukraine. Ukraine refers to the international commission investigating the downed airliner–both official and unofficial– as, for example, Bellingcat, a group that worked very authoritatively with the data and produced very convincing reports, in my view.

There were several (materials) that were absolutely clear that the airliner was downed by a Russian Buk missile. Certainly the Russian military were involved. Motive is another question.

We need to evaluate the objective and subjective side. On the subjective side, there is the motive. It’s possible they wanted to bring down a Ukrainian flight, but does it mean they are less delinquent in this regard?

Please clarify what you mean by “delinquent.”

Inclined to commit a crime. Therefore, it means that for civilians to shoot down the Boeing is a crime, but to shoot down a Ukrainian civilian aircraft with Russian weapons on Ukrainian territory is practically nothing, practically permissible. But this is such a rhetorical game. This is why it is necessary to decide at least on certain independent facts that have legal significance and see if there is room for crime or not.

Again, if these “DNR” and “LNR” (Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” — Ed.) groups are fighting with the weapons (they supposedly found) in the mines. But this is complete nonsense. If Russia says “we’re not supplying weapons ” but there are 500 to 700 tanks. How did they get there? From the mines? Where did these 500-700 tanks come from?

(The Russians) say “yes, from the mines.” And how about the Buk missiles? They were built with Legos sets?

This is  perfect madness. And one can exist in this madness for decades but not forever. Someone is personally benefitting from this war, and I think without any doubt these are the Kremlin people.

It is possible that this court case, including Russia’s decision to participate as one of the parties, has political motives because Putin is actively trying to demonstrate humanism both in the internal and the external spheres. He’s facing elections. Of course, there are no real elections in Russia, as they admit themselves.

They’re playing at “resets”.

Yes! You understand that it worked once before. It’s another thing that the Obama Democrats explained it by saying “but Medvedev was there.”

And we used this sorting out inside the Kremlin to try to use this reset to renew these relations, to influence the Kremlin more convincingly to act according to international law. And what was the result?

And how should we act, for example, with the leaders of the separatist paraterrorist groups? With Zakharchenko, Plotnytsky and the other murderers or organizers of murder? Can they be stuffed under some article, for example terrorism? So that the entire world knows that these are not some separatists but representatives of organizations that have killed 10,000 Ukrainian citizens, according to the UN.

Without a doubt, this must be done. Perhaps the Ukrainian side sees the situation this way. It is very important for Ukraine to succeed in obtaining recognition of these important facts, including the terrorist nature of these republics, by a legal body, and not only on the level of international media. These are complete (Russian) puppets and this fact is also very important because tomorrow they will remove both Zakharchenko and Plotnycky.

They will eliminate the old players and the new ones will appear.

Yes, new ones will come. And it’s an endless series. We saw how Russian special services are getting rid of all these Motorolas, and Givis (assassinated terrorist leaders in occupied Donbas– Ed.). There is absolutely no doubt that given the legal nature of the examination of these issues now at the International Court of Justice at the UN, that they are getting rid of all the unnecessary witnesses, the inconvenient witnesses.

The motive is obvious: to get rid of them so there is no one to talk about the downed airliner. And I think that by July and August  the ones remaining who had any involvement in the events of 2014 will also be destroyed, because no one needs such living witnesses, such eyewitnesses.

The Western experts told me that the Boeing case is such an important case that it may outweigh or equal the occupation of certain territories. For the international community this is really, fundamentally important

Yes, for the international community. And the Kremlin sees it on that level as well. Because, as the West says,  the fact that you are fighting with Ukraine and killing Ukrainians is very bad but we will tolerate it and we can discuss for a long time if this is helping the unfortunate Russian-speaking population.

But the Malaysian flight consisted of the Dutch, the Americans, and various representatives of Western countries who were the main victims. And this is painful because the Kremlin understands perfectly how the West can take revenge.

And the West knows how to do it. It’s a fact. They never forgive anything, and they don’t forget despite all their external humanism, by the way.

I just remember the situation with Lockerbie and the downed Boeing that Muammar Gaddafi brought down, or rather his people.

Al-Megrahi (Libyan intelligence officer convicted of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland — Ed.).

Yes, but will it be possible now to link guys named Zakharchenko, Plotnycky, Russian military advisers to the main military edifice of the Kremlin?

I am sure that the leading American intelligence agencies have this information, as well as the European and British ones, who have their own agencies, of course. They have reviewed this information a thousand times and, of course, have checked it out properly.

Perhaps they passed it to the court and maybe to the Ukrainian side, at its request, in order to support its position in court. I think there can be no doubt about it. There are facts, there is evidence of the involvement of these higher Russian state officials. Another question is where and how far does all this extend?

I fully suspect that the civilian aircraft was shot down by mistake. Of course, they possibly wanted to shoot down a military aircraft but that does not remove their guilt. This is the whole point! It is also a crime, even if the motive was different, even if the intentions were different. It does not deny anything.

It does not mean that here you can simply say “excuse us, we got excited, made a mistake, did not mean it.” That’s not what you do, not the way it happens. But the thing you’re talking about, the question is if it can have meaning and consequences in court. We won’t know the decision until the end. We can’t predict it because …

… I simply cannot imagine that Peskov, possibly, or someone who advises Peskov on what to say knows that this or that particular colonel who was responsible for the Buk has died.

And the Kremlin’s line of defense will claim that this was a crazy colonel, and he did all this on his own, that he brought this Buk in his Niva vehicle, shot down the plane and died. And the fact that he was a Russian citizen means that he was directed, let’s say, by Shoigu himself.

For example, it’s one of the options. By the way, I do not doubt it at all. You want direct proof? Where are the well-known Russian intelligence servicemen Yevgeny Yerofeyev and Alesander Alexandrov? But these are rhetorical questions.

On May 26, 2016, as soon as they were returned after being exchanged for Savchenko, they disappeared. As for Savchenko, everyone can see and know what she is doing. But what are Yerofeyev and Alexandrov doing? I know for a fact they no longer live in Tolyatti, with their GRU (Russian military intelligence — Ed.) unit.

Are they even alive?

I don’t know that. But this only shows that, first of all, there is no free media in Russia that could be interested in their fate, to interview them and to publish it. And secondly, they are only raw materials, consumables, that absolutely can be used as needed.

And, in this sense, this colonel or whoever he may be who appears on the Web as responsible for this Buk — is he alive or not alive, who knows? He is disposable material. In Russia this life is worth absolutely nothing.

There is simply the fear that Ukraine will present all the necessary evidence. And Russia will say in the style of the late Churkin that “all is lies and provocation, and that really things happened this and that way,” and will begin to describe  its own version.

Look, it’s not an accident that certain characters have been demonized, but not the career military. This Motorola, a citizen of the Russian Federation, was not military personnel. The late Givi was a citizen of Ukraine and not Russian military.

And to prove that these were Russian staff officers, Russian military is something else again

I think Ukrainian intelligence services certainly have direct evidence. I often heard Starkov mentioned, who was convicted in Ukraine. You remember him. He was also exchanged I think for one of the officers held by the “LNR” and “DNR.”

Well this Starkov was sentenced to 14 years. He was taken from Ukrainian territory in a MAZ heavy truck or some truck with ammunition. I think there are enough facts already. I also think there is evidence on the Russian “Bumblebee” rocket flame throwers that were discovered recently. The Ukrainian Armed Forces or the intelligence services have samples. There is no doubt about it.

And can we get this Strelkov? Can we have this Strelkov, who proudly told everyone how he killed the “Banderites,” appear in court and be questioned? How did he end up on Ukrainian territory, and who gave him the authority to kill Ukrainian military?

In my view, this is absolutely impossible.

It is obvious he will never be handed over alive.

Absolutely not. And then don’t forget that he is some lieutenant colonel in the FSB (Russian security service, successor to the KGB — Ed.) or something of that nature. They always have these multiple fakes in their stories — colonel, or lieutenant colonel, or something else. No one will ever tell you exactly. It’s obvious he is tied to the FSB, but what was he doing …

… And proving it is something else.

Therefore, to turn over such a person or to permit him to end up abroad is close to zero in probability. I think the Ukrainian side will have to work under more difficult conditions. You can see that these witnesses are disappearing one by one, under the pretext of battles and assassinations.

Or that they ate too much and died, drank the wrong tea, had a heart attack and so on.

You see that the main figures have disappeared over the past 18 months. Only Zakharchenko, Plotnycky, and that Strelkov (Girkin), and a few other people have remained. Actually very few of the direct witnesses of what happened have remained.

I’m not even talking about the whole range of the dead, the missing, the killed, or those who drank tea, the so-called commanders or similar people in the “DNR” and “LNR.” Therefore, there are fewer and fewer living witnesses. And I think that in a while there will be none at all.

This is why, for these reasons, Ukraine should seek all kinds of international court judgments. I will tell you this, that even in this case, they are more important than international organizations such as the UN.

UN may be helpless, but courts need to be created that can reach independent decisions and to implement them, so that there is a tool for their implementation.

You could close this page. Or you could join our community and help us produce more materials like this.  We keep our reporting open and accessible to everyone because we believe in the power of free information. This is why our small, cost-effective team depends on the support of readers like you to bring deliver timely news, quality analysis, and on-the-ground reports about Russia's war against Ukraine and Ukraine's struggle to build a democratic society. A little bit goes a long way: for as little as the cost of one cup of coffee a month, you can help build bridges between Ukraine and the rest of the world, plus become a co-creator and vote for topics we should cover next. Become a patron or see other ways to support. Become a Patron!

To suggest a correction or clarification, write to us here

You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter

Please leave your suggestions or corrections here

    Related Posts