Russian court publishes documents proving Russian army presence in Ukraine, deletes them hours later

Russian court publishes documents proving Russian army presence in Ukraine, deletes them hours later

А column of Russiaт military equipment spotted in the south of Donetsk Oblast in eastern Ukraine, autumn 2015. Photo: antikor.com.ua 

Russian Aggression, War in Donbas

A Russian court passed a verdict in a case of bribery in the army, the materials of which confirm the Russian military presence in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region and the deployment of Russian Army military units to the territories of Russia’s puppet Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics” (“DNR” and “LNR”).

The verdict was published on the website of the Kirov district court of Rostov-on-Don.

The criminal case concerned bribery. The defendant, a representative of a commercial company, received five years in a general regime penal colony. The case file says that in 2019 the accused supplied food to Russian servicemen and gave a monthly bribe of RUB 90,000 ($1,200) to a doctor at one of the state sanitary and epidemiological control centers to turn a blind eye to violations of sanitary standards.

The materials of the state say that the food was sent "to the military units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation deployed on the territory of the DNR and LNR" and the "servicemen of the Russian Federation on combat duty in the DNR and LNR."

It also follows from the testimony that before the shipment of the cargo, its quality was checked by a "Russian in the rank of major," and then the drivers, "risking their own lives" at the border, took off the license plates, handed over the documents and “under the protection of the receiving party” followed to the place of unloading.

"Food supplies to the DNR and LNR were carried out from a warehouse located at <address>, the frequency of deliveries was once every two weeks. The column was formed from more than 70 vehicles with a carrying capacity of about 40 tons and a total volume of more than 1,300 tons. The assortment of the supplied food included flour, canned food, fresh vegetables. The total cost of food for one delivery was more than 130 million rubles," 

states the verdict, which the court deleted off its website hours after journalists publicized the decision on 16 December. However, it is still accessible as an archive of the Wayback Machine, and in the registry of Russian court decisions.

RFE/RL estimated that this amount of produce could sustain approximately 26,000 people. But the verdict does not mean that only this one company had been responsible for supplying foodstuffs.

Commenting on the situation, Oleh Nikolenko, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, told RFE/RL that

"The Kirov district court of Rostov-on-Don signed Russia's guilty plea. The Russian court's recognition of the presence of the armed forces of the Russian Federation in the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine is another convincing debunking of Moscow's key argument about the alleged 'internal Ukrainian' nature of the conflict in Donbas. This time, Russia has set a legal precedent that clearly sets out its status as a party to the international armed conflict. This decision will strengthen Ukraine's position in proceedings against Russia in international courts. It will become increasingly difficult for Russian lawyers to call white black and black white. The verdict of the Rostov judge has brought the Russian authorities closer to international legal responsibility,"

He added that it was not surprising that "the Russian side has begun to remove the said court decision from public access."

"But it will not be possible to hide Russia's crimes against Ukraine," he said.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin called the information about the deployment of the Russian military in the verdict a mistake committed by the compiler of the text.

“Probably, we are talking about the mistake of those who wrote this text. Because it is impossible. There are no armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of the self-proclaimed republics. There are none and have never been. The Russian Armed Forces are on the territory of the Russian Federation," said the Russian President's secretary Dmitry Peskov.

He suggested that the documents concerned humanitarian aid, which is supplied to the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

“These republics are in dire need of this humanitarian aid. But there can be no talk of any supplies, those (about which) you quoted (message). This is the mistake of those who drew up this document," said Peskov.

Russia has always denied the involvement of its troops in the fighting in eastern Ukraine, arguing that Ukrainian troops there are opposed by the "people's militia" of Donbas, in which Russian citizens can only be present as volunteers. However, several journalistic investigations and publications by Ukrainian intelligence services indicated that the Russian army was directly involved in the fighting in eastern Ukraine. It did not only provide support with artillery strikes but also took part in battles between the Russian military and the Ukrainian army.

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