How does Russia “militarize” the judicial space?

“A sham trial”, according to Amnesty International, in an article published on August 26. For several days, Russia seems to be preparing to deploy a court in Mariupol, a Ukrainian city scarred by the war under Russian occupation, to try Ukrainian prisoners of war. Under international pressure, the militarization of the judicial space becomes, for Russia, a strategic imperative. A weapon that it already uses in international relations.

Concern over future “Mariupol trials”

In all and for all, 23 Ukrainian fighters should be judged within an ad hoc “international tribunal”, built within the former Philharmonic of Mariupol, a city martyred by the conflict. Among them, several are from the controversial Azov Battalion, a Ukrainian paramilitary unit with many far-right sympathizers in its ranks, which has established itself as a privileged target of Russian propaganda and the “denazification” of the country. These rumors were confirmed by the publication of a large number of photos and videos on social networks, attesting to the construction of metal cages in the former premises of the Philharmonie, intended to accommodate prisoners during the trial.

An “international court”, which the vast majority of the international community does not value. ” These show trial projects are illegitimate and a travesty of justice, we strongly condemn them » denounce the United States, by the voice of Ned Price, spokesperson for the American State Department. NGOs, like the Ukrainian government, also fear that these trials will infringe the Geneva Convention, which frames the rights of prisoners of war and protects them from unequal trials. At the level of the United Nations, concern also persists, while the spokesperson for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani reminded at the end of August that persons granted prisoner of war status enjoy the immunity granted to combatants and cannot be prosecuted for having taken part in hostilities or for lawful acts of war committed during the armed conflict “. Prisoners face the death penalty. A few weeks earlier, Ukraine denounced ” a deliberate mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war after the bombardment of a penal colony of Ukrainian prisoners, the final toll of which was 53 dead and 75 wounded, including many members of the Azov battalion.

The precious currency of prisoners

On both sides of the conflict, prisoners are also a valuable bargaining chip for recruiting new combatants. On September 2, the coordination center for Ukrainian prisoners of war affirmed that fourteen prisoners had been returned to Ukraine, without specifying the number of Russian soldiers released in exchange. On June 29, 144 Ukrainian soldiers were released. If Ukraine does not communicate on the number of Russian prisoners released in return, Olena Vysotska, Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Justiceasserts that the Kremlin negotiates above all “the Chechens, the special forces, the pilots… the most qualified soldiers”. In contrast, “those for whom they have the least interest are the fighters of the separatist republics of Luhansk and Donetsk”. Ordinary soldiers, on the other hand, are likely to wait longer in Ukrainian prisons before hoping to return to Russia. The fate of prisoners captured by fighters from the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, on the other hand, is often even more expeditious. Last June, three foreign fighters, two Moroccans and a British, fighters within the Ukrainian forces were sentenced to death by the Supreme Court of the Republic of Donetsk, after a flash trial.

Russia also uses the weapon of prisoners to defend its interests against its rivals. Last February, American basketball player Brittney Griner, two-time Olympic champion and Team USA star, was arrested in Moscow for possession of cannabis oil (CBD) and faces very heavy penalties. She thus joins Paul Whelan, a former American soldier, who is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia for “espionage”. For its part, Russia hopes to recover the infamous Viktor Bout, a Russian arms trafficker detained in the United States and sentenced to 25 years in prison, played on screen by Nicolas Cage in Lord of War, released in 2005. In mid-August, Russia acknowledged the existence of exchanges involving Brittney Griner, Paul Whelan and Viktor Bout. On April 27, a former US Marine, Trevor Reed was exchanged for Konstantin Yaroshenko, in Turkey, when he had been sentenced to 20 years in prison by an American court. One of Russia’s priorities today is businesswoman Marsha Lazareva, former director of the Kuwaiti investment company KGLI and its investment fund, the Port Fund (TPF). Accused of having embezzled several hundred million dollars in the Philippines, to the detriment of the Kuwaiti investment fund, she is the subject of renewed interest from Russia, which is trying to negotiate her extradition from Kuwait, which remains deaf to his requests.

How does Russia “militarize” the judicial space?