UD. 12 November 2016.  

By Iryna Terlecky.

Three years on from Maidan and Ukraine inches towards closer ties with the EU.

‘A crime has been committed’

On 14 November, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued its preliminary findings that “there exists a sensible or reasonable justification for a belief that a crime falling within the jurisdiction of the Court ‘has been or is being committed’” within the Crimean and Donbas territories of Ukraine.

The ICC report was uncompromising in recognising the annexation of Crimea as a military conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and classifying it as an occupation. 

“According to information received, the situation in the Crimea and Sevastopol is equivalent to the international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian federation…The Russian federation employed members of its armed forces to gain control over parts of the territory of Ukraine without the consent of the government of Ukraine.”

The ICC said that it was also trying to determine whether the war in east Ukraine between Russian-backed separatists and government forces “could be actually international in character” and thus fall under the relevant articles in the Rome Statute. 

Such a finding could open the way for prosecution of Russian troops found to have committed crimes on Ukrainian territory in the course of the conflict.

In a predictable response, President Putin signed an executive order withdrawing Russia’s signature from the 2000 Rome Statute, which established the ICC, citing “dissatisfaction” with the body’s “one-sided and inefficient” work. 

Although Russia had signed the Rome Stature, it had never formally ratified it, which makes the withdrawal largely symbolic. 

However, some commentators have said that this could also be a pre-emptive move to avoid future ICC investigations into Russian bombing of civilian targets in Syria, where they have already blocked United Nations moves to refer Syrian issues to the ICC.

The ICC, whose remit covers genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression, is not universally popular, and several other countries have not ratified accession to its jurisdiction, including the US. 

A number of African states are planning withdrawal on the grounds that they believe that the ICC has focused disproportionately on cases relating to wars and conflict in Africa. 

“This is a symbolic gesture of rejection, and says a lot about Russia’s attitude towards international justice and institutions,” said Tanya Lokshina of Human Rights Watch (HRW). 

“On a practical level it will not make much difference, but it is a statement of direction: it shows that Russia no longer has any intention of ratifying the treaty in future or of cooperating with the court.”

Russia’s rejection may not spare its citizens from ICC prosecution, however, because Ukraine is a member of the court, said David Bosco, an associate professor at Indiana University. 

Even so, while the ICC conclusions comprehensively demolish the narrative that Russia continues to peddle to the world, there is no prospect of any prosecutions for many years to come.

Disinformation and propaganda

Back in the European Parliament (EP), on 23 November, a motion was tabled to endorse a committee report which, amongst other things, called on the EP to do more to counter Russian disinformation and propaganda warfare, as well as increase efforts against Islamic radicalisation. The motion stated that:

“The European Parliament ... expresses its strong criticism of Russian efforts to disrupt the EU integration process and deplores, in this respect, Russian backing of anti-EU forces in the EU with regard, in particular, to extreme-right parties, populist forces and movements that deny the basic values of liberal democracies.”

Although the motion was passed by 304 votes to 179, an alliance of the far left and far right voted against, while many on the centre-left of the political spectrum abstained. The latter justified their actions saying that they could not endorse the report because Russia was not alone in posing such threats and the motion appeared to be have been given equivalent status to the non-state militants of the Islamic State. 

Left-wingers denounced “neo-McCarthyism” that risked harming media freedom by treating suspect outlets as agents of Moscow. They added that the report could stoke confrontation with Russia. 

UKIP voted against, saying that the motion was worryingly reminiscent of the cold war, while Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, speaking for Marine Le Pen’s French National Front, called the report «lying European propaganda”.

The motion drew an angry reaction from President Putin, who told a press conference in Moscow – without any hint of irony - that after lecturing Russia on democracy Europe was now trying to silence dissenting opinions. 

He told reporters in Moscow: “We are observing a certain, quite obvious, degradation ... of how democracy is understood in Western society, in this particular case in the European Parliament.”

Election run-up in France

As everyone is still coming to terms with the implications of a Trump presidency in the US, the French Presidential election period has begun with the French Republican party holding the first round of its open primary, in which seven candidates competed for the nomination. In a stunning upset, Nicolas Sarkozy’s former Prime Minister, François Fillon, won 44.1% of the vote, while Alain Juppé finished second with 28.6%. Juppé and Fillon will now face a run-off.

The significance of this lies in who will face Marine le Pen in next year’s election in the light of the unpopularity of the ruling Socialist Party. 

Current opinion polls show that, in some scenarios, she could be a clear winner. 

As is well-known, Le Pen turned to a Russian bank to fund her anti-immigration, anti-EU party and said last week that she would form a trio with Putin and Trump that would be “good for world peace”.

Still far to go on equality

It has been a relatively quiet week in Ukraine’s parliament – apart from Yuriy Boyko of the Opposition Bloc punching Oleh Lyashko of the Radical Party during the meeting of heads of parliament’s factions on 14 November – but amongst a range of routine votes, one in particular stood out.

This was Parliament’s refusal to ratify a Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as Istanbul Convention.

Parliamentarians were concerned about the parts of the convention that mention gender identification and sexual orientation. 

The text of the convention says that the victims’ rights should be protected without discrimination on any ground, including, among other things, sexual orientation and gender identity.

MPs from both the Radical Party and Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc said that certain parts of the conventions “are unacceptable from the point of view of Christian morality.” 

After a heated discussion, parliamentarians voted to send the ratification bill back to the parliamentary committee, which leaves the position unclear as to the extent to which Ukraine’s parliament is fully committed to European standards of equality.

Yanukovych to be questioned

Ukrainian prosecutors will question ex-President Viktor Yanukovych over his role in the murder of more than 100 protesters during the 2014 EuroMaidan revolution, but as a witness against others accused. 

The Prosecutor General’s Office Special Investigations Chief Serhiy Horbatyuk said in an interview that the Russian government had confirmed that the questioning would take place on 25 November.

Vitaliy Serdyuk, Yanukovych’s defense lawyer, told Radio Svoboda that his client will be questioned at the end of November via a video link to Rostov-on-Don, where Yanukovych has been living since he fled the country amid the 2014 EuroMaidan Revolution.

Yanukovych will be questioned as a witness in the case against five Berkut ex-officers Pavlo Abroskin, Serhiy Zinchenko, Oleksandr Marynchenko, Serhiy Tamtura, and Oleg Yanishevsky, who are accused of shooting 48 EuroMaidan activists on Kyiv’s Instytutska Street in February 2014. All five have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Yanukovych himself faces several charges of mass murder and of official misconduct, but given the protection he is being given by the Kremlin, he is unlikely to be called to answer the charges any time soon.

As we go to press…

Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, will host the 18th EU-Ukraine summit. 

He will represent the EU together with Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission. 

President Petro Poroshenko will represent Ukraine. 

Discussion will focus on reforms and visa liberalisation. 

The November summit could confirm a further €15 million in support of an anti-corruption programme and €104 million for public administration reform. 

It is also likely that visa-free travel for Ukrainian citizens to the EU will take a step forwards, with the necessary procedures being launched through the European Parliament. 

However, Ireland and the United Kingdom will not be subject to the visa-free regime. 

In accordance with the EU treaties, their visa regime remains subject to national and not EU legislation.


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