Nord-Ost. The Wait for Justice

Sep 26 2015

The Moscow theatre siege in many ways marked a turning point in how we perceive Vladimir Putin. It was the ruthless and needless gassing of hostages along with terrorists on the cold October night of 2002 that held an answer to the question many still had – who is Vladimir Putin?

by Natalia Pelevina

The Moscow theater hostage crisis, also known as the 2002 Nord-Ost siege, was the seizure of the crowded Dubrovka Theater on 23 October 2002 by 42 armed Chechens, who claimed allegiance to the Islamic separatist movement of Chechnya. Half of the terrorists were women. They took almost a thousand people hostage and demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya. After 57 hours and no real negotiations, around 5 am on the 26-th of October deadly gas of unknown formula was administered into the auditorium through the air condition system. As the result of the gas most people went into the state of comatose, some dying on the spot. Around 20 minutes later Russian Special Forces stormed the building, engaging in combat with the militants and killing all of them. All female terrorists were shot and killed point-blank as they lay asleep in the auditorium.

130 hostages were killed, 125 of them died from the deadly gas used by the Russian secret service.

Today many questions about those tragic events remain unanswered.

Who in the Russian secret service may have known about the upcoming terrorist attack and helped it become a “controlled” terrorist act, politically convenient for Vladimir Putin?

Why some of the female terrorists captured by the Russian armed forces months before the attack, ended up wrapped in explosives in the Moscow theatre in October of 2002?

According to many witnesses during the siege terrorists kept mentioning their final peaceful retreat from the theatre. They sounded so certain of this outcome that one may feel someone guaranteed it to them. If so, who may have done it and on what conditions?

Why did Special Forces storm the building in the early hours of the morning of 26-th of October, when we know terrorists were not and had no plans to start executing hostages. This was the explanation made to the European court of human rights by the Russian government and it is a lie. By lying like this what is Russian government hiding?

Most militants were not in the auditorium into which the deadly gas had been administered and were able to put up a fight once the Special Forces were in the building. What was the purpose of the deadly gas used in the auditorium killing 125 people?

Why were no terrorists taken alive, although it was fully possible?

Will anyone ever be held accountable for the botched rescue attempt that led to even more deaths? Hostages died because the secrecy related to the rescue operation led to medical workers having no information about the use of gas and, as a result, their inability to treat victims affectively.

For the families of those we lost during the siege pain never ceases. Years later many still live solely for one purpose – justice for their loved ones.  This justice they have yet to see. The official investigation led to nothing. No one was held responsible for the use of the deadly gas and the loss of lives that followed. No one was held accountable for the badly organized rescue operation. Instead two generals and the unnamed scientist, who created the gas formula, were awarded Russia’s hero medals, Russia’s highest honor. Families also want to know the truth. The European court of human rights in their 2011 decision on the Moscow theatre siege case requested the Russian government to conduct a new investigation into the events. This request was never met.

While Putin is in power, the truth about the Moscow theatre siege tragedy is not possible. While he remains in full control of Russia, families of those who lost their loved ones will not see justice.

The wait is painful but eventually, one day soon, justice will prevail.

by Natalia Pelevina

The Moscow theater hostage crisis, also known as the 2002 Nord-Ost siege, was the seizure of the crowded Dubrovka Theater on 23 October 2002 by 42 armed Chechens, who claimed allegiance to the Islamic separatist movement of Chechnya. Half of the terrorists were women. They took almost a thousand people hostage and demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya. After 57 hours and no real negotiations, around 5 am on the 26-th of October deadly gas of unknown formula was administered into the auditorium through the air condition system. As the result of the gas most people went into the state of comatose, some dying on the spot. Around 20 minutes later Russian Special Forces stormed the building, engaging in combat with the militants and killing all of them. All female terrorists were shot and killed point-blank as they lay asleep in the auditorium.

130 hostages were killed, 125 of them died from the deadly gas used by the Russian secret service.

Today many questions about those tragic events remain unanswered.

Who in the Russian secret service may have known about the upcoming terrorist attack and helped it become a “controlled” terrorist act, politically convenient for Vladimir Putin?

Why some of the female terrorists captured by the Russian armed forces months before the attack, ended up wrapped in explosives in the Moscow theatre in October of 2002?

According to many witnesses during the siege terrorists kept mentioning their final peaceful retreat from the theatre. They sounded so certain of this outcome that one may feel someone guaranteed it to them. If so, who may have done it and on what conditions?

Why did Special Forces storm the building in the early hours of the morning of 26-th of October, when we know terrorists were not and had no plans to start executing hostages. This was the explanation made to the European court of human rights by the Russian government and it is a lie. By lying like this what is Russian government hiding?

Most militants were not in the auditorium into which the deadly gas had been administered and were able to put up a fight once the Special Forces were in the building. What was the purpose of the deadly gas used in the auditorium killing 125 people?

Why were no terrorists taken alive, although it was fully possible?

Will anyone ever be held accountable for the botched rescue attempt that led to even more deaths? Hostages died because the secrecy related to the rescue operation led to medical workers having no information about the use of gas and, as a result, their inability to treat victims affectively.

For the families of those we lost during the siege pain never ceases. Years later many still live solely for one purpose – justice for their loved ones.  This justice they have yet to see. The official investigation led to nothing. No one was held responsible for the use of the deadly gas and the loss of lives that followed. No one was held accountable for the badly organized rescue operation. Instead two generals and the unnamed scientist, who created the gas formula, were awarded Russia’s hero medals, Russia’s highest honor. Families also want to know the truth. The European court of human rights in their 2011 decision on the Moscow theatre siege case requested the Russian government to conduct a new investigation into the events. This request was never met.

While Putin is in power, the truth about the Moscow theatre siege tragedy is not possible. While he remains in full control of Russia, families of those who lost their loved ones will not see justice.

The wait is painful but eventually, one day soon, justice will prevail.

Free Russia Foundation demands Navalny’s immediate release

Jan 17 2021

On January 17, 2021, Putin’s agents arrested Alexey Navalny as he returned to Russia from Germany where he was treated for a near-deadly poisoning perpetrated by state-directed assassins.

Navalny’s illegal arrest constitutes kidnapping. He is kept incommunicado from his lawyer and family at an unknown location and his life is in danger.

Free Russia Foundation demands his immediate release and an international investigation of crimes committed against him by Putin’s government.

The European Court of Human Rights Recognizes Complaints on Violations in “Ukraine v. Russia” as Admissible

Jan 14 2021

On January 14, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights published its decision on the case “Ukraine v. Russia”. The Grand Chamber of the Court has recognized complaints No. 20958/14 and No. 38334/18 as partially admissible for consideration on the merits. The decision will be followed by a judgment at a later date.

The case concerns the consideration of a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights related to Russia’s systematic administrative practices in Crimea. 

The admissibility of the case is based on the fact that, since 2014, the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over the territory of Crimea, and, accordingly, is fully responsible for compliance with the norms of the European Convention on Human Rights in Crimea. The Court now needs to determine the specific circumstances of the case and establish the facts regarding violations of Articles of the Convention during two periods: from February 27, 2014 to March 18, 2014 (the period of the Russian invasion); and from March 18, 2014 onward (the period during which the Russian Federation has exercised effective control over Crimea).

The Court has established that prima facie it has sufficient evidence of systematic administrative practice concerning the following circumstances:

  • forced rendition and the lack of an effective investigation into such a practice under Article 2; 
  • cruel treatment and unlawful detention under Articles 3 and 5; 
  • extending application of Russian law into Crimea with the result that, as of  February 27, 2014, the courts in Crimea could not be considered to have been “established by law” as defined by Article 6; 
  • automatic imposition of Russian citizenship and unreasonable searches of private dwellings under Article 8; 
  • harassment and intimidation of religious leaders not conforming to the Russian Orthodox faith, arbitrary raids of places of worship and confiscation of religious property under Article 9;
  • suppression of non-Russian media under Article 10; 
  • prohibition of public gatherings and manifestations of support, as well as intimidation and arbitrary detention of organizers of demonstrations under Article 11; 
  • expropriation without compensation of property from civilians and private enterprises under Article 1 of Protocol No. 1;
  • suppression of the Ukrainian language in schools and harassment of Ukrainian-speaking children under Article 2 of Protocol No. 1; 6 
  • restricting freedom of movement between Crimea and mainland Ukraine, resulting from the de facto transformation (by Russia) of the administrative delimitation into a border (between Russia and Ukraine) under Article 2 of Protocol No. 4; and, 
  • discriminating against Crimean Tatars under Article 14, taken in conjunction with Articles 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention and with Article 2 of Protocol No. 4 to the Convention.

Cases between states are the rarest category considered by the ECHR. Almost all cases considered in Strasbourg concern individuals or organizations and involve illegal actions or inaction of the states’ parties to the Convention. However, Art. 33 of this Convention provides that “any High Contracting Party may refer to the Court the question of any alleged violation of the provisions of the Convention and its Protocols by another High Contracting Party.” In the entire history of the ECHR since 1953, there have been only 27 such cases. Two of them are joint cases against Russia, both of which concern the Russian Federation’s aggression on the territory of its neighboring states, Georgia and Ukraine.

New Year’s Blessings to All

Dec 30 2020

While 2020 gave us unprecedented challenges, it created transformative changes in the way we work and communicate. The hours of Zoom calls seemingly brought us all closer together as we got a glimpse into each other’s makeshift home offices along with interruption by kids and the family pets. Remote work also made us appreciate human interactions, in-person events and trips much more!

As 2020 comes to an end, we want to especially thank our supporters who continued to believe in our mission and the value of our hard work, and we hope the coming year brings all of us progress and growth for democracy throughout the world. We’d also like to thank our partners and staff in the U.S. and abroad, and we know how hard everyone has worked under difficult world changes to achieve so many of our objectives this year.

We send our best wishes to all who have stayed in the fight for democratic reforms and for the values of basic human rights. We look forward to a new year with the hope of many positive changes to come.

– Natalia Arno and the Free Russia Foundation team.

International Criminal Court Asks for Full Probe Into Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Dec 14 2020

On December 11, 2020, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda, issued a statement on the preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor.

According to the findings of the examination, the situation in Ukraine meets the statutory criteria to launch an investigation. The preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine was opened on 24 April 2014.

Specifically, and without prejudice to any other crimes which may be identified during the course of an investigation, Office of the Prosecutor has concluded that there is a reasonable basis at this time to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity within the jurisdiction of the Court have been committed in the context of the situation in Ukraine.

These findings will be spelled out in more detail in the annual Report on Preliminary Examination Activities issued by the Office and include three broad clusters of victimization:

1.     crimes committed in the context of the conduct of hostilities;

2.     crimes committed during detentions;

3.     crimes committed in Crimea.

These crimes, committed by the different parties to the conflict, were sufficiently grave to warrant investigation by Office of the Prosecutor, both in quantitative and qualitative terms.

Having examined the information available, the Prosecutor concluded that the competent authorities in Ukraine and/or in the Russian Federation are either inactive in relation to the alleged perpetrators, or do not have access to them.

The next step will be to request authorization from the Judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber of the Court to open investigations.

The Prosecutor urges the international community, including the governments of Ukraine and Russia, to cooperate. This will determine how justice will be served both on domestic and the international level.

We remind you that on September 21, 2020, Free Russia Foundation sent a special Communication to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (the Hague, the Netherlands) asking to bring Crimean and Russian authorities to justice for international crimes committed during the Russian occupation of Crimea.

Comment by Scott Martin (Global Rights Compliance LLP):

As Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda reaches the end of her tenure as Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, she announced yesterday that a reasonable basis existed to believe that a broad range of conduct constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity had been committed in relation to the situation in Ukraine. One of the most consequential preliminary examinations in the court’s short history, the Prosecutor will now request authorization from the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber to open a full investigation into the situation.

Anticipating that the Prosecutor’s request will be granted, the ICC Prosecutor’s office will be investigating the second group of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Russian Federation (the situation in Georgia being the other). This would make Russia the only country in the world facing two separate investigations at the ICC for crimes under its jurisdiction.

Call for Submissions – The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly vol. 3

Oct 26 2020

The Free Russia Foundation invites submissions to The Kremlins Influence Quarterly, a journal that explores and analyzes manifestations of the malign influence of Putin’s Russia in Europe.

We understand malign influence in the European context as a specific type of influence that directly or indirectly subverts and undermines European values and democratic institutions. We follow the Treaty on European Union in understanding European values that are the following: human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Democratic institutions are guardians of European values, and among them we highlight representative political parties; free and fair elections; an impartial justice system; free, independent and pluralistic media; and civil society.

Your contribution to The Kremlins Influence Quarterly would focus on one European country from the EU, Eastern Partnership or Western Balkans, and on one particular area where you want to explore Russian malign influence: politics, diplomacy, military domain, business, media, civil society, academia, religion, crime, or law.

Each chapter in The Kremlins Influence Quarterly should be around 5 thousand words including footnotes. The Free Russia Foundation offers an honorarium for contributions accepted for publication in the journal.

If you are interested in submitting a chapter, please send us a brief description of your chapter and its title (250 words) to the following e-mail address: info@4freerussia.org. Please put The Kremlin’s Influence Quarterly as a subject line of your message.