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Russian officers committed a war crime in Ukraine

On April 27, 2014, three SBU (Ukrainian state security) officers sent to seize the Russian military intelligence officers, Lieutenant Colonel Igor Bezler and Colonel Igor Strelkov, for the murder of the city councillor Volodymyr Rybak, were themselves captured in the town of Kramatorsk. They were put on show in their underwear with bandaged heads in front of Russian journalists in Slavyansk, the Ukrainian city under control of Russian special forces and their supporters.

Volodymyr Rybak, a local councillor in the Donetsk city of Horlivka (Gorlovka) and a former police detective, was found dead near Slovyansk. Subordinates of Bezler had seized him in Horlivka on April 19, 2014, when Rybak and his “flash mob” attempted to remove the Russian flag on Horlivka’s city hall and replace it with the Ukrainian flag. In the incident, he was grabbed by local pro-Russians headed by Maxym Hura, who together with Bezler’s men, bundled Rybak into a waiting car and drove off. (see a video of the incident https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2UhOkYGBL0 )

The SBU recorded Bezler’s order to seize Rybak:

Bez (Igor Bezler) to Alfa:

Look, manhandle him a little, then get into your car and get him out of there, anywhere away. Boys, boys, then stop and tell me where to drive. Got that? Go on. Don't hang up. Boys, take him, pack him up and take him away. When you're packing him bind his hands, and blindfold him so he can't see anything.

In another recording, Bezler's subordinates reassured him that they had seized Rybak without being filmed.

Balu (subordinate to Alfa):

Bez [Bezler], simply we've looked at the video.

Bez: Right.

Balu: There is nothing to see. The video shows when him trying to take the flag from the city council building, and they almost [indistinct]. Nothing else.

Bez: OK, got it.

Balu: Yes. So none of our guys appeared. So everything is fine.

The abductors delivered Rybak to Slovyansk where he was interrogated by the Russian Military Intelligence Colonel Igor Strelkov, the commander of the Russian special forces in eastern Ukraine.

On April 20, in a telephone conversation with Vyacheslav Ponomarev, the self-appointed mayor of Slovyansk, Strelkov asked for Rybak’s body to be dispose of:

Strelok (Strelkov): Slava, can you please deal with the issue of the body, get it out of here quickly today. It's lying here stinking.

Slava (Vyacheslav Ponomarev): The corpse? Yes, yes, I'm on it. I just have to finish with the journalists and I'll deal with it. The boys caught ... they'll take it to the basement now. And I'm going shortly, I'll deal with the issue of burying this faggot.

(Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sA8Co1Sglgs)

Rybak’s body with signs of torture was found in a river near Slovyansk along with the body of Yuri Popravko, a student from Kyiv.

Strelkov, an officer in the Russian military intelligence was active in Russia's takeover of Crimea, where he took part in the interrogation of captured Ukrainian soldiers, some of whom he recruited. These Ukrainians were attached to units of the Russian special forces and infiltrated into the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine. Their aim, which they succeeded for now, was to create a pro-Russian revolt by organizing the seizure of government buildings along with local pro-Russians.

In killing the civilian Rybak, the Russian officers Strelkov and Bezler and the illegitimate mayor Ponomarev had committed a war crime as they as combatants killed a civilian hostage. Under international law the killing of hostages by combatants is a war crime even without a declaration of war. President Putin is an accomplice to this war crime, when on April 24, he threatened to invade Ukraine, under the cover of protecting civilians, if Ukraine's authorities attempted to bring Rybak’s killers to justice.

JV Koshiw is author of “Abuse of Power: Corruption in the Office of the President,” published by Artemia Press 2013 (ISBN 978-09543764-1-3), and a former scholar at IERES and Kennan Institute. See his blog on web site www.jvkoshiw.com

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