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A Bridge Too Far

As the World Cup heads to France and the lions head home from the warm and fuzzy Russia they have seen, the Doctor recalls that it was in the afterglow of the Sochi Olympics that Russia launched its operation to annex Crimea. This May Mr Putin opened a 12-mile £2.7bn bridge connecting it to mainland Russia. The annexation seems complete. Crimean nationalists are disappearing, opposition is crushed in the worst possible ways.

Even so, Crimea is not quite in Russia, and enough detail of the treatment Mr Putin reserves for the opposition still escapes to cause him discomfort. The UN’s June Crimea report accuses Russia of grave human rights violations. Ukrainian human rights groups and Human Rights Watch have recorded multiple cases of torture, and submitted the details. The Prosecutor’s Office in Kiev claim to have received 140 complaints, amongst them that of Crimean journalist Ibrahim Mirpochchaevo, who describes the FSB coming for him last August. He says they first beat all the men, women and children in the house, then abducted him, his father and two brothers. Accused of fighting for Isis in Syria, despite having never left Crimea, he was beaten for hours, asphyxiated with plastic bags, strangled, repeatedly tazered, and finally violated with a hard probe which was used to electrocute him from the inside. After signing blank confessions and agreeing to inform, the men were released, and fled to Kiev. In September Renat Paralamov, a Crimean Tatar was also detained on suspicion of involvement with the Islamist movement Hizb ut-Tahrir, banned in Russia but not in Ukraine. He tells a similar tale, his forced confession filmed in a lonely forest.

There is no right to object. Last August Server Karametov, a lone 76-year-old man with Parkinson’s disease was dragged off and prosecuted for holding a placard outside a court in support of seventy Crimeans Tartars being tried in multiple simultaneous locations for peaceful lone demonstrations. Ervin Ibragimov, a young Tartar leader, was captured on CCTV being dragged away by men in uniform in May 2016 and has not been seen since. The Crimean nationalist film maker Oleg Sentsov was sentenced to 20 years in prison in the Arctic town of Labytnangi, accused of terrorism. He has been on a hunger strike since May. His alleged accomplice, Crimean activist Olexandr Kolchenko, was sentenced to 10 years. The charges against him were based on testimony from Gennady Afanasyev, also jailed, who withdrew his testimony at Sentsov’s trial, saying he had been beaten, suffocated, stripped, and threatened with rape to force him to testify.

This week the UN Committee Against Torture meet to review Russia’s progress towards that difficult goal of trying not to routinely do hideous things to people you don’t like. The Russians have been asked to explain just how many of the police and military authorities have ever been prosecuted for torture. The answer will surprise nobody. It’s not looking good for those warm and fuzzy claims.

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