A bill on “changes to certain legislative acts of Ukraine” has been submitted to the Ukrainian parliament, Verkhovna Rada. It envisages ad hoc restrictions on Ukrainian citizens planning visits to Russia, currently officially determined as the aggressor state. The bill specifies such restrictions in regard to Ukrainian officials (as earlier proposed by the SBU secret police of Ukraine).
This move stands to reason since the formal recognition of Russia as the aggressor state, what with its combat operations in Donbas and occupying Ukrainian territories for four years; just as it stands to reason that Russia should be punished by being denied international cooperation in diplomatic and other spheres. Doubtlessly, the more walls, moats, and barbed wire fences are built between Russia and Ukraine, the better the chance for Ukraine to finally discard the age-old Russian imperial mentality and tradition. Russia’s clandestine agencies and the military are forbidden to travel abroad. Ukrainian law-enforcement and SBU officers and men coming from the currently Russia-occupied territories, who sided with the legitimate government in time of ordeal, are unable to resettle for the obvious reason. Sad but true, these people can hardly settle in any territories under legitimate control, by building or buying homes, etc.
Planning a visit to Russia does not always mean visiting the aggressor state – sometimes it means, rather, trying to reach one of the occupied territories through Russia. Russians know this and try to use this to their advantage. At one time they proposed to issue certain forms to be filled in when crossing the checkpoints between Russia and the occupied territories. Those read that the bearer wanted to flee Ukraine, and that s/he was threatened with death by Ukraine. As for tourist visits to Russia or occupied Crimea, they can only be described as malodorous in wartime – and I mean it literally.
The bill’s provisos concerning Ukrainian officials planning such visits forces them to choose between traveling and losing their lucrative posts. This has met with various responses at the Verkhovna Rada. There is no secret about how many Ukrainian functionaries who possess real estate in the currently Russia-occupied territories are now being denied access.
The big question is whether this bill will solve the problem of national security against the backdrop of the stated “reintegration” of these territories.
VISIT OCCUPIED TERRITORIES AND LOSE YOUR POST: THE CHOICE IS YOURS
“I know that a number of our judges have been visiting the occupied territories on a regular basis,” ex-MP Andrii Senchenko (5th, 6th, and 7th convocations), currently head of NGO Syla prava [The Power of Law], told The Day, adding: “I know an appellate judge in Luhansk who spent 87 days in an occupied territory last year, then 49 days in the first half of this year, also that she spent 52 days in the second half of the year 2015. I understand that she probably had to, that she can’t be blamed for the occupation of that territory, that she has real estate, parents, maybe children there… There is a conflict of interests. By visiting Luhansk for three months, this judge has violated the Labor Code and de facto has become a hostage. Imagine that, later, she finds herself a member of a board to pass judgment on a character like Oleksandr Yefremov. What kind of judgment could be expected from her? Or imagine her hearing a case involving a victim of Russian aggression. As it was, this judge formed a group of like-minded colleagues who visited the occupied territories, like her. She has built a wall separating her from all those victims. She and her colleagues would reject any victims’ claims. Now, picture an officer of the SBU or any public prosecutor’s office visiting these territories. Such visits spell risks, including the risk of getting ‘turned’ by the opposition and getting killed. The Power of Law forwarded a letter to SBU Chief Vasyl Hrytsak with regard to these judges. I think that the ranking Ukrainian officials should choose between their posts and visits to the occupied territories. C’est la vie, so one has to change one’s plans, now and then.”
When asked about the temporary restricted visits bill compared to the one on “reintegration,” Andrii Senchenko said: “I wouldn’t call it a true reintegration bill; it has nothing to do with reintegration of the [currently Russia-] occupied territories. There are several positive clauses, but the rest is hot air. By positive clauses I mean that Ukraine is discarding the ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation. – Ed.] acronym, although the lawmakers didn’t have the guts to call a spade a spade. ATO or a state of war made it possible to file damage claims against Ukraine, totaling $100 billion, a devastating sum. People filed such claims according to Article 19 of the Law of Ukraine ‘On the Struggle against Terrorism.’ Russia’s clandestine agencies encouraged such motions and paid lawyers to support Ukrainian citizens who filed damage claims against their state. It was important to discard the acronym ATO to avoid using double standard. It is now formally referred to as Operation State Sovereignty Restoration. So far, so good, considering that some t’s have been crossed and i’s dotted. I mean now we know what’s happening in Donbas and the occupier’s name. They finally found the guts to do what we’ve done in court for two years running… Among the drawbacks of this bill is the dangerous possibility of opposition trying to use the Minsk agreements. We must not allow this to happen. Also, their attempt to grade the occupied territories as, first, Crimea and then Donbas. The closing paragraph of Article 6 of the bill reads that Ukraine cannot be held responsible for any steps taken by Russian or puppet authorities [in the occupied territories]. Right, but there should be a reference to the 1949 Geneva Convention and protocols, thus making the Russian Federation fully responsible for the safety of the people in those territories. In other words, the no responsibility clause should read that the Russian Federation bears full responsibility for whatever happens in the occupied territories, be it a gang raid or combat operations carried out by Russia’s regular troops. Also, our President appears to be making every effort to avoid fulfilling his constitutional duty as Commander in Chief. To do so, he came up with the idea of the Operations Command Headquarters. The General Headquarters is mentioned several times and OCH is mentioned most times, without any data pertaining to the OCH infrastructure and chain of command with regard to the General Headquarters – in other words, who will give and take orders. This may result in a chain-of-command conflict and irresponsibility, when no one will know whose orders to follow...” Mr. Senchenko proposes deoccupation and reintegration as a topic for nationwide discussion.
NO CLEAR-CUT PROGRAM FOR GETTING BACK OCCUPIED TERRITORIES
The Ukrainian administration apparently lacks a clear-cut program for getting back the territories currently occupied by Russia, despite the de jure facts of aggression and occupation; there is no algorithm for restoring national sovereignty. Restoring sovereignty means working with all those people who are still in the occupied territories, and those who left their homes only to find themselves faced with overwhelming moral and material losses.
Says Nadia Poberezhna, a lawyer of Luhansk, currently residing in Kyiv: “Let me cite several examples. My husband hasn’t visited Luhansk for more than three years. My son is a government official, so he can’t pass through the checkpoints – it’s forbidden by the law. He won’t be able to visit the Russian Federation after the restrictions bill is passed. We have private property registered in [one of] the occupied territories, and we have to visit the place, otherwise our property will be confiscated. Above all, we won’t be able to visit the cemetery and pay homage to our parents’ graves. Russia will surely take advantage of this situation, considering that it stands nothing to lose. Russians have long-standing spy networks in Ukraine and now they will make every effort to use this situation to their advantage, by brainwashing all those hurt by this bill into siding with them. Ukraine has done nothing to make its frontier with Russia secure. Ukrainian customs charge each 50 hryvnias for crossing the border. This and going through the motions of checking your luggage, meaning you can carry whatever you want as an official or ordinary citizen. Russian customs procedures are a different story. They meet you with a smile and polite words, leaving you with the impression that Ukraine doesn’t give a damn about its citizens, that there is no plan ‘upstairs’ for getting back the occupied territories. Mentality comes first here: Russia apparently wants to keep Donbas under control. The gap between the occupied territories and the rest of Ukraine is something Russia likes best. I also know that most our officials will keep visiting the occupied territories through the Russian Federation, except that from now on they will have to pay more. Each legal restriction against the backdrop of chaos serves to strengthen the corruption component, rather than serve national security.”
Corruption at the Ukrainian border checkpoints has long been a pain in the neck of the current administration, considering that it has been driving every national security effort to zilch. What good all those lists of unwanted/unwelcome visitors can do if a granny can pay 50 hryvnias and carry across the border whatever she wants? Any visiting restrictions under the circumstances should be complete with a master civil rights protection plan. What we have now is a number of statements declaring their authors’ readiness to liberate the occupied territories, with the populace receiving no support from official Kyiv. Here, in the capital city, one is swamped under countless populist statements and declarations. Dmytro Yarosh recently declared that Donetsk would be liberated on the date marking that of the formation of the Right Sector [faction in Ukrainian Parliament. – Ed.] in 2014, adding that there would be clean-up operations. Defense ministry officials said Donbas would be liberated there and then, at the start of the year. As it was, the President and Parliament mustered up the courage to call several spades a spade into the fourth year of the war.