Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Power Vertical

Meet Putin's Hostages

Three hostages: Estonian police officer Eston Kohver, Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, and Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko
Three hostages: Estonian police officer Eston Kohver, Ukrainian filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, and Ukrainian military pilot Nadia Savchenko
By Brian Whitmore

One is a police officer; one is a filmmaker; and one is a pilot.

Three people illegally abducted from their homelands and unjustly incarcerated by a rogue foreign power -- their lives uprooted and disrupted, their futures in doubt.

Meet Vladimir Putin's hostages, two men and a woman who have become victims of the Kremlin leader's jihad against international rules, norms, and law. 

Putin has done many shocking and disturbing things in the past couple of years. 

He's the first leader to forcibly annex another country's territory in Europe since Adolf Hitler. He started a completely manufactured war in eastern Ukraine that has killed thousands. He's plunged Russia into an absurd spiral of xenophobia, intolerance, and repression. He's engaged in a dangerous game of brinksmanship with the West.

And he's also become a kidnapper -- the functional equivalent of an international crime boss.

The Police Officer

Moscow claims Eston Kohver is an Estonian spy and that he was caught conducting espionage on Russian territory. He isn't and he wasn't. The only thing he is guilty of is doing his job well and being a convenient target.

Kohver is an officer of Estonia's Internal Security Service, or KaPo, that country's equivalent of the FBI.

At the time he was abducted, he was investigating a smuggling ring run by Russian organized crime groups in Estonia. On the morning of September 5, 2014, Kohver was on his way to meet a confidential informant in a secluded forest near the Estonian village of Miikse, just a few kilometers from the border with Russia. 

It was a ruse. It was nothing but a set-up. On his way to the meeting, Kohver was ambushed with stun grenades, abducted at gunpoint, and taken into Russia.

Estonian and Russian border guards inspected the area where Kohver disappeared on the day of the incident. A bilingual joint protocol clearly states, based on analysis of footprints in the area, that a group of people entered Estonia from Russia and then returned there. It also noted impact craters from stun grenades.

After a widely criticized show-trial, a court in Russia's Pskov region today sentenced Kohver to 15 years in prison for espionage. 

The Filmmaker

Russia claims Oleh Sentsov is a terrorist. He isn't. The only thing Sentsov is guilty of is bravery -- of being willing to openly oppose Moscow's illegal annexation of his homeland.

Sentsov is an up-and-coming Ukrainian director best known for his acclaimed film Gaamer, which debuted at the 2012 Rotterdam Film Festival. He is also the single father of two children.

A native of Crimea, Sentsov was a strong supporter of Ukraine's pro-Western Euromaidan uprising. He was also a fierce opponent of Russia's annexation of Crimea, and helped deliver food supplies to Ukrainian servicemen trapped on their bases on the peninsula. 

Sentsov was seized off the street by Russian security agents in Simferopol on May 11, 2014, shortly after he had attended a demonstration against the annexation. 

He surfaced in custody in Moscow days later and was charged with setting fires in the offices of the United Russia party and the Russian Community of Crimea. He was also charged with plotting to blow up Simferopol's Lenin monument and its eternal flame. 

Prosecutors have shown scant evidence to support the charges against Sentsov and a key witness -- Hennady Afanasyev -- retracted his testimony incriminating the director in open court, claiming it was given under duress.

Sentsov's show-trial in the southern Russian city of Rostov-On-Don wrapped up today with prosecutors calling for a 23-year sentence.

"I am not going to ask for anything from you," Sentsov said in a defiant closing statement. "Everyone understands that a court of occupiers by definition cannot be just. Don't take it personally, your honor."

The Pilot

Of Putin's three international hostages, Nadia Savchenko is the most famous.

Moscow says Savchenko is a murderer. She isn't. The only thing she is guilty of is risking her life for her country's independence.

Ukraine's first female military pilot, Savchenko was a volunteer fighting Moscow-backed separatists in Donbas. She was on a mission to rescue Ukrainian soldiers when she was captured by separatists near the village of Metalist in Luhansk Oblast sometime in mid-June 2014.

On June 19, separatists posted a video of her being interrogated while handcuffed to a metal pipe. 

She surfaced in custody weeks later in Russia and was charged with being complicit in the deaths of two Russian journalists, who were killed in a mortar attack, and then illegally crossing the border into Russia. 

Savchenko's lawyers say her mobile phone records and video evidence prove that she was already in captivity when the journalists were killed. She faces 25 years in prison if convicted.

Fair Game

Other than being victims of Putin's kidnapping spree, Kohver, Sentsov, and Savchenko have something else in common. 

They were all born in the Soviet Union and they all became loyal, successful, and productive citizens of their newly independent countries.

And for Putin, who considers the break-up of the U.S.S.R. to be a tragedy, this is enough of a crime to make them fair game.

But for the rest of us, they must be considered hostages who were illegally abducted by an increasingly dangerous rogue state.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Sven from: Sweden
August 20, 2015 13:01
You are a lier, mr. Whitmore. How do you know that these people were "illegally abducted"? Were you there and saw it yourself?
In Response

by: Dave from: Washington DC
August 20, 2015 15:05
Sven, how do you know that God didn't create the Earth, all the plants and animals on land, all the fish in the sea, the stars in the heavens and man in 6 days? Were you there? Did you see it yourself?
In Response

by: Sven from: Sweden
August 21, 2015 07:42
An incredibly stupid answer.
In Response

by: Sean Irwin from: USA
August 20, 2015 15:21
"from: Sweden?" Haha the Rustroll at it again even with so much evidence he continually asks for more. How easy Putin gets away with these crimes in the eyes of his ignorant people. But like Sentsov said "there is an intelligent portion of the country that is well aware of the crimes of Putins thug regime." They are just afraid of speaking out and being a part of the next show trial. And we all know show trials are an everyday occurrence in Russia. Pathetic indeed.
In Response

by: Greg from: Toronto. Canada
August 22, 2015 11:37
the only stupid answer here are comments from those being paid as Putin trolls. The evidence is overwhelming that Russia has kidnapped these three and will ensure they are punished for their stand against an illegal nation. A nation of criminal gangs the chief being Czar Putin.

Russia needs to be kicked out of all international organizations, the UN and anywhere where the rule of law is present. it is oblivious that laws and rules mean nothing to this little man Putin.

Like Hitler before, Putin suffers the same ego problems and wants to be worshiped. Like Hitler he invades peaceful countries with murder and destruction. Like Hitler Putin will not be able to build anything of positive contribution to Russia or the world at large.

The sooner this man has passed away from this earth the better we all be for it..
In Response

by: Brent Ellchuk from: Winnipeg
August 20, 2015 15:45
You are a 'useful idiot' Comrade Sven. He laid out the evidence in the article yet you demand a visual confirmation of the actual events?!?!?! Do you also demand a visual confirmation that Hitler's Germany murdered 6 million jews?

If you followed any of these 3 cases and the testimony you would realize it's an absolute joke that Russia has committed these acts of international terrorism and is being allowed to get away with it by our spineless Western leaders.
In Response

by: shewolf from: Netherlands
August 24, 2015 09:16
Good old Plato was right on his theory of permanent cave dwellers, who take the shadows of sun-lit puppets and objects on the cave's back wall for the real world - because that is all they know. (The likes of) Mr. Whitmore and Mr. Goebbels stick in the air what they think is appropriate for the audience and readers to know. The information they provide is neither full nor accurate. That is exactly how they manage public opinion in order to getting support for regime change / revolutions / wars.

by: Shewolf from: Netherlands
August 20, 2015 13:49
If ever I have the honor to demonstrate a fine and telling example of propaganda to an audience, I now can take this report from REF in stead of having always to fall back on German WW 2 newsreels. A fine piece of work. Well done.
In Response

by: The Brain from: USA
August 20, 2015 15:31
Typical russian comment that anything not in line with the Russian status quo is propaganda. How funny : Netherlands? haha Earning that 700 dollars a month I see working at the agency for internet studies in st. petersburg. Even the lowest minimum wage job in the west is over a grand a month after taxes. And we arent talking about agency type jobs. And yet still they pay more but Putin has to make all the money. I bet you even paid to get that job. haha
In Response

by: Brent Ellchuk from: Winnipeg
August 20, 2015 15:47
I see "ewe" sheeple at 55 Savushkina are out on patrol today decrying the solid evidence against your mafia regime of a government. It may be your choice to support such criminals, but I'm sure you'll be the one crying when you realize how much they have stolen from you and your children.

by: Sean from: USA
August 20, 2015 15:33
RFERL is such a great website for current events around the world. Top notch reporting on topics with little access. Good job guys.

by: elmer
August 20, 2015 18:00
Dead packaged geese have rights in the Rasha (Tatarstan) – watch as the police officer arrests 3 dead packaged geese from Hungary, reads a big, long hairy list of particulars for about 5 minutes – then Putler’s henchmen bulldoze the dead geese to make sure they are dead

Rasha strong, very, very strong, Putler make sure dead geese not attack oily orthodox KGB moozer Rasha, and ruin Putler’s Paradise

but even dead packaged geese have rights in the Rasha - more so than humans

what a bunch of sick, sick pukes – Kremlinoids

by: Leo from: Canada
August 20, 2015 19:54
Putin's dangerous behavior is threatening World Peace and his refusal to abide by international law makes Russia a pariah state.

Not only are these heinous actions against human rights, but selling advanced weapons to Iran is sheer madness.

Worst yet, by knowingly supplying weapons to Syria's al- Assad who then uses them to massacre his own people, makes Putin even more threatening and dangerous. Shouldn't Putin stand with al-Assad and together be charged with crimes against humanity for his complicity (some may active engagement) in these acts? Knowingly giving madmen guns is itself a war crime.

His actions must be taken ever more seriously by the rest of the world, otherwise we risk a war like no other....
In Response

by: Sven from: Sweden
August 21, 2015 07:47
A typical braindead comment. It is the Americans who is a threat. I salute the Russian government for selling weapons to Iran.

You are lying about Syria. It is the Syrian government who stands in the frontline against the extreme Islamists. They are worth all the support they can get. But you probably is a ISIS fan as well.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
August 22, 2015 11:20
Aha, and this is just beginning. Soon war criminals like Poroschenko, Turtchinow, Yatsenyuk, Awakov and many others will be sitting in a concentration camp as well. And it will be the people of Ukraine themselves who will put them there - for haiving destroyed the Ukrainian economy and for having dragged this republic into a war that it can only lose. They will then suffer the same destiny as other Ukrainian "nationalists" did before them: just look at the destinies of Mazepa, Petlyura or Bandera...
In Response

by: leo from: canada
September 12, 2015 23:09
Sad little minions are afraid of freedom and democracy. Putin and his army of uninformed are the aggressors. Putin stays in power by buying his friends and enslaving his people with an army of corrupt bureaucrats.

That he extends his reach to other countries and may have lost Ukraine from his tyrannical reach is hard for him to swallow. Putin believes he paid for Ukraine through buying off Yanukovich. Too bad he made a bad bet.

Putin and his despotic minions most fear freedom and the prospect of a free country on his doorstep frightens him most.

Putin himself said he fears the Russian people seeing a prosperous, free and democratic Ukraine most because that will contrast his vile regime.

The prospect of an internal Russian revolt against a likely war criminal will be the fitting end Putin and his henchmen deserve.

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About This Blog

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or