OPINION: Russia’s Outrageous Treatment of a Right-Wing Ukrainian Film Director

Eric Zuesse

Oleg Sentsov is an anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalist who also happens to be a screenwriter and director of Ukrainian-language movies.

Because he hates Russia and refuses to accept Crimea’s being again a part of Russia (which it was between 1783 and 1954, and which the vast majority of Crimeans wanted it to return to being), he is now treated by Vladimir Putin’s Russia in the same way that Barack Obama’s America treated Osama bin Laden’s bookkeeper Zacarias Moussaoui in a federal penitentiary until recenly (incommunicado) and continues to treat the inmates at America’s Guantanamo Bay Cuban prison: barbarically detained before (or even without) trial. Sentsov might possibly be being treated as atrociously as America treats its “black site” prisoners around the world, but no one can really know, because Sentsov is blocked from communicating with the outside world, except via his lawyer, or during two brief pretrial court apearances on July 7th and September 29th to issue his not-guilty pleas.

Oleg Sentsov’s treatment this way is not only outrageous in itself, but is downright stupid – and no one can deny that Russia’s President Putin is actually behind this barbarous stupidity.

After all: Putin comes from the former Soviet KGB, which in Russia became the Federal Security Bureau or FSB after the breakup of the U.S.S.R. Furthermore, it was the FSB itself that seized Sentsov from Crimea and whisked him away to detention in Moscow.

Furthermore, Putin is the addressee in many of the international pleas for Sentsov’s release prior to trial and for that trial’s becoming an entirely public matter, no longer being prepared as if Russia were a mere dictatorship like today’s America.

What makes Putin’s treatment of Sentsov especially stupid is that it provides an argument for release from Russian pre-trial imprisonment of actual Ukrainian nazis, such as the hunger-striking Ukrainian Air Force pilot, Nadiya V. Savchenko. Putin would be correct to allow her hunger-strike to end her existence, rather than for him to yield to the international pressure and free her; she was captured in Ukraine and sent to Russia where she is accused of having murdered two Russian journalists, and there is no reason why Russia should yield to that international pressure and violate its own laws by releasing her, nor would there be any sense for Putin to respond to that pressure and so make a mockery of the bedrock foundation of all real democracy: equal treatment under law. But no one is saying that Sentsov had murdered anybody. He isn’t even being accused of that; so, treating him as if he were is plainly stupid.

Sentsov’s case is purely a political one. If Putin cannot recognize the difference, then he’s really not much different himself from Barack Obama. Putin’s treatment of Sentsov is, in fact, Russia’s unintended gift to Obama and to America’s ‘news’ media and its other propaganda-agencies (CIA, IMF, OSCE, etc.). It makes no sense.

The best way for Russia to come out of this PR foolishness and violation of democracy (since Sentsov shouldn’t have been arrested to begin with) would be if Sentsov is presented to the world public in a fair and open trial and given every benefit of law to be declared by the court innocent on all charges and then released back to his beloved Ukraine, to become a hero in that country which is going from bad to worse and which won’t then be able to say that Russia’s system of justice is worse than their own, because it’ll then look lots better than their own. The Ukrainian Government thus had offered on September 10th a deal with Russia to release Sentsov in trade for some ‘terrorist’ soldiers whom Ukraine had captured, but that offer was just bait; and, if Russia bites it, and thereby avoids an open trial and clean verdicts of “not guilty” in the Sentsov case, then the onus of everything that Russia has done till now on this case will remain, and the only opportunity for turning the entire case finally against Ukraine will be forever gone, just a gift from Russia to the Ukrainian Government.

Russia’s Government will be shooting itself in the foot by the Sentsov case if this opportunity is missed. It’s their call to make; and how it turns out will actually say lots about Vladimir Putin’s leadership, because he’s going to be the ultimate decider in how the case is handled. Either he can turn this lemon into lemonade, or else it’ll become poison, but he and Russia will be drinking it, either way. And, if it turns out to be lemondade for them (and also for Sentsov), then it will become poison for Ukraine. It will be Putin’s judgment-call to make, and a very revealing one about what type of leader he actually is.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.