What fate awaits the Asov fighters captured in Russia? | European | News and current affairs from across the continent | DW

Russia’s highest court has designated the Ukrainian Asov regiment as a terrorist organization. It has now been added to a long list of terrorist groups compiled by the Russian domestic intelligence agency FSB, alongside al-Qaida, the Taliban and others.

The Asov Regiment originally emerged from a controversial battalion of far-right volunteers. These days, Asov has been absorbed into the Ukrainian National Guard, which depends on the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Russia sought to legitimize its invasion of Ukraine by claiming that it had to fight Asov.

Dozens of Asov fighters had resisted in the besieged Asovstal steelworks

The Ukrainian Asov Regiment was headquartered in Mariupol on the Asov Sea. The city was captured and has remained under Russian control since May. Ukraine says more than 2,500 fighters from Asov, who remained in the city to defend its steel plant, are now in Russian captivity. Russia claims that 2,439 members of Asov had surrendered to its forces. Recently, 50 Asov fighters held in a prison in Olenivka, Russian-controlled Donbass, were killed after an attack. The exact circumstances of their death remain controversial, with Russia and Ukraine blaming each other.

Doubtful testimonials

Russian policymakers and media have long labeled Asov a Nazi group. They claim Asov fighters have booby-trapped homes, committed atrocities and used civilians as human shields. Vyacheslav Volodin, currently chairman of the State Duma, accuses Asov of having committed war crimes.

It took just three hours for Russia’s highest court to deliberate and approve the Russian public prosecutor’s request to designate Asov as a terrorist organization. The meeting was held behind closed doors.

Asov officers pay respect to deceased comrade

Asov officers pay respect to deceased comrade

Despite this secrecy, pro-Kremlin media claim to know who testified in the case. Georgiy Volkov, who heads the Public Oversight Commission, which examines human rights issues and prisons, reportedly quoted a captured Asov fighter who said the regiment engaged in cannibalism. In addition, journalist Marina Akhmedova reportedly told the court that she conducted research in Mariupol and Volnovakha, Donetsk Oblast, and learned from witnesses that Asov fighters had tortured and executed civilians. The media quote her as saying that this torture was born out of deep-rooted hatred.

Harsh phrases on the horizon

The Russian penal code provides for life imprisonment and fines of up to €16,000 ($16,300) for founders and leaders of terrorist organizations. Ordinary members of a terrorist organization face ten to twenty years behind bars and fines of up to €8,000. Asov supporters, meanwhile, risk being prosecuted for statements “justifying terrorism”. For this, the Russian criminal code provides for prison sentences ranging from two to five years and fines of up to €8,000.

The Moscow-based Center for Information and Analysis, which studies nationalism and racism in post-Soviet Russia, urges people to carefully check their online behavior and make sure they are not following any related groups one way or another to “terrorist” or “extremist” organizations.

Olenivka prison after its attack - Russia and Ukraine blame each other for the deadly attack

Olenivka prison after its attack – Russia and Ukraine blame each other for the deadly attack

Symbols associated with the Asov regiment were classified as terrorist insignia as early as 2015. Displaying them can result in 15-day prison terms.

Reactions from Ukraine

“It seems a little strange: a country that is about to be classified as a state sponsor of terrorism, which violates all the rules and conventions of war, now designates this [Ukrainian] terrorist organization,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said. is nothing but internal propaganda”.

Yegor Chernev, a member of Ukraine’s ruling Servant of the People party, told DW he believed Russia’s move was aimed at removing Geneva Convention protection for Asov fighters. Volodymyr Aryev, an MP from the opposition European Solidarity party, agrees. He says Kyiv urged the world to designate Russia as an aggressor as early as 2015.

In response to Russia’s decision, the Ukrainian military said: “After the public execution of prisoners of war from the Asov regiment in Olenivka, Russia is looking for new ways to justify its war crimes.”

The Asov Regiment itself called on the United States and other countries to declare Russia a “terrorist state”. In a statement, the group said that “Russia’s military and intelligence services commit war crimes every day; to tolerate or remain silent about this amounts to complicity.”

The head of the Ukrainian Center for Civil Liberties, Oleksandra Matviichuk, who has been involved in talks to organize previous prisoner exchanges, told DW that “the Asov regiment belongs to the national guard – to call it a terrorist organization would be to designate all Ukrainian armed forces”. a terrorist organization, when in fact they are protecting our country from terrorist invaders.”

This article has been translated from German.